Our scriptures from Isaiah, Psalms, and Matthew are inter-connected with the themes of Compassion, Generosity, Abundance, and … Food.
In the days prior to my grandma Peggy’s death in 2015, she was informing the care-home staff that her husband was hungry and waiting on his plate. My grandpa Bill had died in 1987. Thus, the morning that our grandma died, my sister envisioned that grandpa became impatient and he took her out for breakfast. An uncle, however, informed her that there is no food in heaven, to which she replied “then I don’t want to go there”.
Thankfully for Amanda, myself, and perhaps a few of you, the Gospel of Luke is continually painting the image of heaven as a grand banquet with space, food, and drink abundant enough for all people.
We know that food is important for our physical wellbeing.
Perhaps, the majority would agree that home-cooked, comfort food is important for mental and emotional wellbeing.
But, can food be important for our spiritual wellbeing?
A study may imply, that food is indeed important to our spiritual wellbeing.
The survey asked persons to rank practices or otherwise per their personal sense of spiritual fulfillment. It had surprising results for religious institutions and faith communities, for the practices of prayer/meditation and attending worship were ranked among the least fulfilling. While the most fulfilling would become referred to as the 4 Fs:
- Fido (companion pets); and
You might be puzzled, or perhaps amused by these 4 Fs.
In our Isaiah text, God provides a rich spread of the ‘good stuff’: wine, milk, and bread. This is offered at my favorite price… FREE. This is an illustration of God’s compassionate generosity through providing an abundance of grace without cost by invoking an image we can all relate to… good food and drink.
Our Psalm repeats and echoes our most foundational understanding of the Triune God, which is:
- Full of Compassion;
- Slow to Anger; and
- Abounding, or abundant, Steadfast Love.
It notes that God gives us our food. God with open hands satisfies not simply our need, but also our desires (in accordance with the Kingdom to Come).
Then, this theme of compassion, generosity, abundance and food continues in our infamous miracle: the feeding of the multitude. This is the only miracle, performed by Jesus the Christ, shared within all four canonized Gospel accounts. Additionally, the Gospel according to Matthew includes two, separate feedings of the multitude (Matt. 14 & 15).
Jesus is grieving the murderous beheading of John the Baptist, who according to Luke was not only Jesus’ friend and partner in bringing forth the Kingdom to Come but also his cousin. Thus, in Jesus’ grief he was weary and sought solitude, quiet prayer, and rest.
Unfortunately for Jesus, his restorative sabbath (or rest) was interrupted by the abundance of human need. Jesus, moved by compassion, begun to heal those suffering in mind and body.
Then, once those physical and mental needs were met, Jesus begin to feed the souls of the multitude as their Rabbi, or teacher. This multitude included 5,000 men and an additional unknown number of women and children.
As the evening approaches, the disciples become concerned about the increasing risk of the multitude, or perhaps themselves, becoming hangry (the struggle is real). The well intended disciples bring Jesus’ attention to the late hour, the observation that the people may be physically hungry, and encourages him to wrap it up and dismiss the multitude for evening.
Jesus, however, refuses to do so and reminds the disciples of their responsibility to imitate him in word and deed, including the loving, caring for, serving, and it seems feeding of the vulnerable persons.
The disciples consider their gathered, collective resources but it re-enforces the truth that they are all too well aware of, which is they do not have the food or financial means to feed the multitude. The disciples struggle to part from those resources, especially while overwhelmed with the abundance of need. This is the opposite of generosity, this is hoarding rooted in fear.
Similar to the disciples, we hoard because of our own sinful, that is self-centered, fear that such generosity will leave us without, whether it is financial resources, knowledge and talent, or time and energy. Additionally, we hoard compassion, mercy, and love fearing these are also limited resources to be afforded to a few, at the cost of another; however, these are NOT limited resource and can be afforded to all persons, in all places, of all times.
Within this account (Matt. 14) the disciples provide two fish and five loaves of bread. However, in another account (John 6) it is a small, nameless, and uncounted child who steps forward from this multitude of persons with a comparably minor offering of five fish and two loaves of bread. This may not be enough to satisfy the hunger of Jesus and his inter-most circle of twelve. This would definitely not be a enough for the 5,000 men and additional uncounted women and children to each have a single bite. This offering was in pure, perhaps naïve, faith and generosity.
Jesus, however, graciously receives the offering and blesses it before distributing it to the masses. Those two small fish and the five loaves of bread abundantly fed Jesus, the disciples, the 5000 men, and those uncounted women and children until their tummies were full and again their physical need was met.
In summary, Jesus (in his divine nature) receives our relatively minor offerings of resources, talents, time, energy, compassion, mercy, and love returned to God for the sake of the church universal, all people, all creation, and the Kingdom to Come. Jesus blesses such generosity transforming it into abundance for fulfilling the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of the whole from the uncounted women and children to the 5000 men, and to Jesus’ inter-most circle.
Food is important for our physical wellbeing.
Comfort food is important for our emotional and mental wellbeing.
AND food can be important for our souls.
Returning to the survey, it was not food alone fulfilling physical hunger that caused spiritual fulfillment. The fulfillment was found in a 5th F that interweaves Family, Friends, Fido (companion pets), and Food. It is Fellowship, or engaged relationships. Fellowship with family, friends, and Fido creating memories around cooking, baking, snacking, and enjoying a shared meal together.
In a moment, we will gather before the table in the ancient practice of Holy Communion. The nibble of bread and the sip of wine or grape juice will not fill your tummy. Sorry. However, it is the rich and abundant grace of God that paired with the Word nourishes and fulfills the soul.
This ancient rite is rooted in the more ancient Table Fellowship, which persons gathered in faith and fellowship around a table and shared a meal that nourished their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
As the multitude gathered at Jesus’ feet, may we practice generosity offering our financial means, knowledge and talents, time and energy, compassion, mercy, and love with the pure intention, heart, and spirit of that small, nameless, uncounted child (Jn. 6).
As the multitude gathered in table fellowship with the faithful of all time and all place at Jesus’ table, may we bear witness to the abundance of grace, compassion, mercy, and love of God in, among, through, and despite ourselves and our lives.
For this miracle, as is our mission in faith, is firmly rooted in grace, compassion, generosity, abundance… and food. Amen.