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Bring them to Me

Matthew 14:13-21

The Rev. Jon Roberts

31 July


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Bring them to Me

The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1413

"Can God set a table in the wilderness?

True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed; but is he able to give bread or to provide meat for his people?"[1] The psalmist begs this question of the day. Can God set a table in the wilderness? There's a good chance, some of us are here asking the same. Can God provide me with what I need? When you see that He can, you'll come back wanting for more again and again.

There is a story about those who came back wanting for more. It is a true story.[2] The year was 2008 and a retired, sixty-five-year-old man named Cecil Pitts was facing off against the City of NY. He was retired from being a sidewalk hot dog vendor and cabbie. He lived alone in the South Ozone Park of Queens on a fixed income of $450 a month from Social Security. He had grown up in the same house and moved back for good in 1987 to care for his mother. She died in 2004. With no one left in his life he turned to his love his two old dogs, Lady and Tecumseh, who kept him company. Dogs weren't the only animals he loved. He loved pigeons. Every day he would get the bucket of feed he got from Wal-Mart. In his hand, he cast handfuls of birdseed into the lawn. Feeding of the birds, several at a time, gave him great joy. The joy in his life would come to a crashing halt one day as he heard a knock on his door early one morning. It was the City Health Inspector. Apparently one of the neighbors complained about all the bird droppings left behind after the great feeding and they had enough. The inspector made his way around and walking out the door, he put his pen in his pocket and handed Cecil a ticket. He was cited with failing to update the required rabies shots for one of the dogs and also cited for presenting a health risk to the city by excessive feeding of the pigeons. Since when was feeding birds in NYC against the law? Each incident was penalized for a maximum of $2000. Fearful that he would lose his house by not paying the ticket, he did what he felt he had to do; He sued the city. Paying to take the B train into the city, he went before the judge since he was too poor to afford an attorney of his own. He claimed that he was not warned of the inspection, that the inspector trespassed without a court document, and that the number of pigeons was overstated. He pleaded to the court. His case was won when he said, "We're all God's creatures. This is about me giving as much as I can to this world." He loved those pigeons that craned their necks, bobbing back and forth, thinking of how regal they looked. When the sun hit them the right way and showed off their blue and purple plumage, they were dignified. The judge ruled that the penalties were to be dropped. Nowadays one can find Mr. Pitts abiding by the new law. To avoid making a nuisance he has been downsized by going to his backyard and filling up his little birdfeeder. Oh, and along the way back, he thinks of God's creatures, feeding the thousands and dropping some seeds along the way.

In our gospel today, who can not see that the mass of people, those five thousand men along with an innumerable number of women and children, left their homes to find the healer. In the painting of the Hours of Duc de Berry, the Frenchman takes advantage of deep, royal blues and purples, as he portrays the people who sit by Jesus on the grassy banks of springtime. They crane their necks looking for a morsel. They look so regal, so dignified as if they are royalty. That's what the artist sees. God, who is the greatest artist, set his brush to paint in that particular time in that particular part of the world known as Galilee. It was one of the largest countries in that region, having several towns, none with a population of less than 10,000. It was overcrowded and Jesus had no trouble, drawing from the locals, as his fame of healing and teaching spread. Men, women and children came out to listen. They wanted to be fed. They wanted to hear him teach. What was he really dispensing? On the shores of Galilee, they came to Jesus like those pigeons wanting to be fed. What were they really like? This was a nuisance to the neighbors of Christ, his disciples. They wanted it stopped and filed suit to send them away; But God had other plans.

The people in those days are no different than us today. They were ones who were seeking truth and understanding. In their pain they wondered, "How can my life be healed?" In their despair they asked, "How do I make sense of the world in which I live?" By sharing, by the breaking of bread a miracle occurred. God, who is able to do all things, multiplied food. He created something out of nothing. He renewed within them a right mind and spirit. In Word and Sacrament, He spoke to the five thousand and he fed them. Not only did he feed them, He defended their need to be fed. In front of his disciples he advocated for their right to live. A nuisance, they were not. They deserved to be fed just as much as anyone else.

Jesus calls us to do the same. Let us not send them away. You know the ones. Those who are emotionally unsound; Those who are financially broke; Those who are addicted;Those who are sick; Those who are heavy-laden. It is the Lord who will give them rest. See yourself as one of the five thousand. As you sit before God, here on the banks of spring time, in the church, listen to his voice; And when it is time, come and take the seed he dispenses. With outstretched hands walk, "No", fly towards your savior, Jesus Christ, who loves you, and partake of his body and blood. All good things come from him and of our own have we given back to him. This is the Christian invitation and we are not to send anyone away.
He's calling out today, "Bring them to me."

[1] Ps 78:19-20
[2] Cara Buckley, The New York Times, N.Y./Region, March 20, 2008.

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