As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Less than a week before Christmas the government introduced radical changes to the way we had been expecting to celebrate the festive season. For some time we had been led to believe that families and friends would be able to gather together for a period of feasting and conviviality. Then, with less than a week to go, everything changed. Within our community people seemed to be grouped into one of two categories: those with too much food, and those with not enough. Those who had prepared to play host had cupboards, fridges and freezers overflowing with festive fare; those who had expected to be guests suddenly woke up to their total lack of any of the traditional trimmings of Christmas. Upset and disappointment were expressed by all.
This unprecedented contemporary scenario, placed alongside today’s reading from scripture, should give us all the impetus we need to reflect upon so many personal and social issues. In earlier times gluttony was highlighted as one of the seven deadly sins, that is one of those human traits that distance us from God. No matter which way we look at the Yuletide scenario of 2020, whether as host or guest, we can see the sin of gluttony rearing its ugly head. As a host we can probably see just how excessive our ‘stocking up’ for Christmas has proved to be. As a potential guest we can detect gluttony in our panic to add to the food we already had in our store cupboards and freezers. If nothing else, Christmas 2020 provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon our self-centred greed, our gluttony.
So, how does this picture of modern-day excess sit alongside Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand? To begin with the first century crowd of five thousand and the millions affected by the 2020 Christmas restrictions were all, ostensibly, celebrating the same thing: the very real presence of Jesus. But … the first century crowds gathered in trust and hope and faith. Unlike our modern manifestation of the crowds celebrating the presence of Jesus, those first century crowds did not prepare hampers and feasts … just in case. Rather, they rushed to hear his words and to feel his healing touch, giving no thought to personal comfort. In response to their faithful celebration of his presence, he fed them. Jesus fed them with simple life-sustaining food. He took what was available and turned that into a feast.
The question is, as we journey through this time of need, what are we prepared to let Jesus do for us? We like to be in control. We like to stock our own larders, even if that means leaving others with little … or nothing. Will we ever be brave enough to leave that gap for Jesus to fill in recognition of our faith and trust in him? Or will we just carry on widening the gap between God and ourselves because we are convinced that we know best?