19 “When you gather your crops and
fail to bring in some of the grain that you have cut, do not go back for it; it
is to be left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that the Lord your
God will bless you in everything you do. 20 When you have picked your
olives once, do not go back and get those that are left; they are for the
foreigners, orphans, and widows. 21 When you have gathered your
grapes once, do not go back over the vines a second time; the grapes that are
left are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 22 Never forget
that you were slaves in
Matthew 14:13-21: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand
13 When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, and so they left their towns and followed him by land. 14 Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.
15 That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.”
16 “They don't have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!”
17 “All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied.
18 “Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said. 19 He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. 21 The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children.
Thanksgiving and Service
The Gospels all have at least one story in which Jesus and his disciples feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Not only were all these people fed adequately, but there were baskets of bread left over. The phrase “loaves and fishes” conjures up a variety of images of giving and sharing – perhaps images of soup kitchens; of helping those in the community who have less than we have. It also conjures up the image of all that is put in our Saviour’s hands being more than enough, however little it appears to be. Certainly, at this time of year we are all reminded not only to give thanks for our blessings, but to share them with those who have so very little.
Although we are now back into a partial lockdown, at the height of the pandemic – when full lockdown was in place – supermarkets and food shops remained open. And so, especially at harvest time – but indeed throughout the year – even in the most difficult of circumstances – we give thanks for the food and for the labour that makes it possible to shop for groceries. Thankfully, we don’t have to grow food ourselves – we’re able to buy it – thanks to the labour of others. There are indeed many folks to be thankful to and for – those who grow and pick fruit and vegetables; those who harvest wheat and barley and other similar crops; those who raise the animals that go into our food chain. We think of farmers and their cows that provide dairy products such as butter and cheese. And we cannot forget those who process, pack and transport goods and those who serve in shops and supermarkets. But you know, food, clothing, and the necessities of life for us are often taken for granted – such things are for all the earth’s inhabitants to enjoy. Sadly, though, there are many who cannot in fact take them for granted, largely because of our deliberate and selfishly uneven distribution of the world’s bounty – and our wilful damaging and squandering of the earth’s resources. Today then there is an element of sorrow and repentance, of seeking God’s forgiveness, for our part in the unfairness and recklessness of the world.
Put it this way, do we have a right to thank God that we have received the lion’s share of the planet’s gifts? Shall we thank God that the planet’s gifts are slid so askew into our laps? Did God do this? Of course, not – we did it and are doing it. And now we are reaping what was sown in rampant consumerism and greed. Yes, indeed we are facing enormous challenges as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the earth – but we can still eat, have shelter, stay warm. We might have to tighten our belts as the cost of the pandemic hits our economy – not to mention Brexit – but by-and-large, we can still eat and be comfortable. Many elsewhere will go without food or shelter today – even people in this city.
of us, I suspect, would claim to be particularly rich – but it’s all relative: With
my modest income – if I lived in some
countries in Asia, Africa and
In fact, in many ways, the people of these isles are a generous people: We give to good causes around the world and across the country and at a local level. We give as individuals, as groups, as churches and as a nation. Yes, we may consider ourselves to be generous – but inequality is there, and poverty remains, and people still starve. My cats are better fed than many people in the world and that is surely a disgrace: Not that cats shouldn’t be fed but that humans most certainly should! In fact, from ancient times we have been advised, indeed commanded, to give of God’s resources to less advantaged people. In Deuteronomy 24:19 – 22 we read:
“When you gather your crops and fail
to bring in some of the corn that you have cut, do not go back for it, it is to
be left for the foreigners, orphans and widows; so that the Lord your God will
bless you in everything you do. When you have picked your olives once, do not
go back and get those that are left; they are for the foreigners, orphans and
widows. When you have gathered your grapes once, do not go back over the vines
a second time; the grapes that are left are for the foreigners, orphans and
widows. Never forget that you were slaves in
It seems clear that generosity of spirit towards those less fortunate, those on the margins, was ever the mark of the people of God or at least it ought to be: Not lip-service though – genuine concern and a true willingness to act! Here also I am reminded of another story from the gospels found in both Mark and Luke. Here is Mark’s version:
As Jesus sat near the temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich men dropped in a lot of money then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on.”
The story of the widow’s mite certainly teaches us a lesson in giving – that real giving must be sacrificial. The amount of the gift never matters so much as its cost to the giver: It not the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice that matters. I think to our shame we’re largely unwilling to give unless we get something back in return. However real generosity gives until it hurts. Furthermore that story reminds us that if we put all that we have and are at the disposal of Christ, all our resources, he can do things with it and with us that are far beyond our imagining. Today, as we thank God for his harvest, we pray that God may give us a true generosity of Spirit which cares not so much for ourselves and our needs but thinks of the needs of others in grace, generosity, humility and love.
But thanksgiving, however heartfelt, must be more than just gratitude. As one theologian put it “religion begins in gratitude and ends in service.” We begin with gratitude by virtue of being alive on a wonderful planet. Gratitude sustains us and lifts our spirits. Gratitude seeps into our consciousness even in the midst of loss and pain. Gratitude is all very fine, but for the Christian it must lead to service – service of Christ, of his Church of our fellow human beings. Whenever we reflect on why we have been so blessed; we have to then ask: What obligations flow from that blessing? You see it’s not so much thanksgiving but “thanksliving” that should characterise our lives. It implies living with an attitude of thankfulness that might just inspire us to give of ourselves. In the words of a Latin American prayer: “O God, to those who have hunger, give bread; and to us who have bread give the hunger for justice.” The gift of life is yours and mine. Let gratitude sustain us and let service be our prayer and our goal. Thanks be to God. Amen.