- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

The following is excerpted from a sermon preached yesterday by the Rev. Albert Scariato at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown:

Anyone who has been even a casual “churchgoer” has probably heard the story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5,000 people.

I remember the first time, as a Christian, I heard a sermon preached on this topic. I sat down prepared to hear an explanation of this wonderful miracle. Well, the preacher proceeded to explain that when the people saw that Jesus and his apostles were willing to share the little that they had, they felt guilty about holding back the food that they had brought with them, and so began to share their food with others. So there developed a super-abundance of food. There you have it. The story explained. Note how God was simply crossed out of the equation.

Now I don’t know about you, but I really doubt that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would have wasted so much time on a story about collective “Jewish/Christian guilt.” Why is this story so important that it gets six mentions in the New Testament? It seems that there must be other reasons why this story was preserved in our tradition.

First, Jesus said to the apostles, “Come to a deserted place by yourselves and rest.” Even Jesus and the 12 needed rest and relaxation. That is a point worth remembering in a society filled with cell phones, instant messaging, BlackBerrys, you name it.

Second, when the people saw that Jesus and the 12 were leaving, they started after them. Why? Because they were hungry. Not for food at this point. They were hungry for what Jesus was giving them. He was giving them something their own compatriots could not offer. Jesus was healing them inside and out. He was telling them that God was pleased not by slaughtering animals on an altar, but by altered lives. Lives that were directed toward God and toward other people’s needs.

Third, Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. When we hear the word “compassion” nowadays, we think of a “warm, fuzzy” feeling. The word that the New Testament uses for compassion is the same one that is used to name the nerve that innervates our gut. Compassion is a gut-wrenching response to the needs or hurts of another. It means that if we see someone hurting, we cannot walk by that person without hurting deep inside of ourselves.

Fourth, when it became late, the apostles were filled with fear over what they would do with hungered masses surrounding them. Jesus was filled with faith. He told the apostles, “You give them something to eat.” He took a little, and then He looked to heaven. He asked God’s blessing. God was clearly in the equation here. Then something happened. I do not know what it was, you do not know and the apostles did not know. But over 5,000 people were fed.

But what does all of this mean to us today? We live in world with lots of hunger. But the world hungers for other things as well. In a world of Katyusha rockets, people hunger for peace. In a world filled with people seeking purpose, it hungers for what we know about God in Jesus Christ.

So here we are. We know what compassion should feel like. We leave this place to feel it and respond to it. Now you and I must listen to our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as he commanded the apostles, he is commanding us today, “You give them something to eat.” It’s that simple. Are we up to it?

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