A Balanced Diet – Matthew 14: 13-21
What do the Diabetic Diet, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-System and TOPS all have in common? They are all diets designed to maintain a healthy, balanced diet for the physical body. Losing weight and keeping if off has become a national obsession for some folks. Once the weight has gradually fallen off, it is really helpful to maintain a regular exercise program and to build a support system of folks who have been on the same journey. Jesus and his disciples got in a lot of physical exercise as well, walking everywhere they went.
Weight management can be a journey filled with days of frustration. There are also days when weight loss survivors want to brave the intrusions of personal space to do something new or to be close to someone they admire–even if it means moving from the armchair in front of the living room television to a stadium seat in the nosebleed section of the ball park to experience the game from a new perspective. There is excitement in anticipating what might happen at the game.
Jesus caused crowds most of the time and people had difficulty even getting close enough to hear what he was saying. He once got into a boat and pushed it away from the shore so that more people could hear him; his voice resonating over the water…and freedom from the crowds pushing all around him. He broke away to spend time in prayer with his Father and to recharge his batteries.
Jesus’ presence was inviting. He issued personal invitations with words like: come and rest, come and follow, come and drink, come and dine, come away with me, and leave that crowd to be with me. Jesus’ understanding of people goes beyond the ordinary and usual. He has the ability to give personal attention to every face in the room or to every soul on the hillside and along the lakeshore.
Singing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” can make the darkest nights sleep-able and make days bearable. Being in a crowd anticipating Jesus is a good time to have a moment of realization, rather than imagining a “virtual reality” moment, so popular today.
In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus has just learned that his cousin John, the Baptizer, has lost his head…literally. He is looking for a quiet, secluded place to ponder the loss of a family member, the same prophet whom God had called to prepare the way in Zion/Jerusalem for the One who was to come to usher in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was always surrounded, whether by his disciples or curious onlookers. They asked questions and shared observations. Who would sit at Jesus’ side in the Kingdom of God? When was Jesus going to overthrow the government? We have a reserved place in the crowd because we have some of the same questions and doubts. Included in Jesus’ peripheral vision, are those with no faith and those who are looking for proof of life in the faith of others.
Jesus sees people who are looking for their place in the crowd. Some come early and some arrive late. How can all fit into their respective places in the Kingdom of God? In the grand scope of life, from beginning to end, Jesus is in control and there is nothing in the crowd that is new or anything that will cause his authority to be in jeopardy.
Jesus does not overlook our needs from day to day or for the future. All are welcome in the Kingdom of God. Jesus looked out into the crowd and had compassion on all of them. They were so needy that it was impossible for Jesus not to notice. They flocked to see him. No coffee breaks, no croissants or watermelon slices. No cookies or bottled water. It was late in the afternoon and the hunger games had started. Jesus saw that there was a noticeable need. His response was tangible. He touched their lives in a way that allowed them to put their trust in him. He multiplied what few provisions that could be found and fed their bodies. His feeding of the 5000 plus was not about future spiritual blessings, but about current tangible needs. It was not about the hope of a brighter tomorrow. It was not about becoming stronger in faith. Jesus cares about what we are muddling through every moment of every day.
Jesus asked his disciples to distribute the loaves and fishes. He invited them not only to sit and eat but to serve all in need. People that day shared a “Jesus Meal–a Jesus Happy Meal.” It was a balanced meal of protein and carbs(carbohydrates), like any of the nutritionally balanced meals I have already mentioned. All present were in need of instant and sustainable energy, to be brought out of a sluggish state to a place of participation and renewal. A chance to get on their feet renewed and ready to get going and share the Word of God. Think of it this way, God’s Word is calorie free, re-energizes and motivates us all to get up and get moving. Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That promise gets us going and gives us hope.
Jesus has already provided at least a few seeds for what he intends to multiply in our daily lives. No crowd is devoid of hope. There was no need for manna to rain down from the skies, or for one thousand quail to flutter through the air. Just five loaves and two small fish. Not much for a crowd of more than 5000 and barely enough for a small dinner party to eat.
But in addition to the bread and fish there was something else: willpower–an initial act of obedience and sacrifice. One small boy’s lunch and his willingness to share, kick-started a miracle. Jesus has a way of stating the obvious, so when it came to feeding the crowd, he asked them, “What do you have?”
Jesus did not search the crowd for Twinkies, apples, Jolly Ranchers, cookies or popcorn–any of the hidden snacks we may have brought along. Most of us would have answered, “Not much!” and let it go at that. Yet, when all was said and done, the disciples collected twelve doggie-baskets/bags, leftovers to take home. Jesus knew this would happen. After all, God had been providing for twelve tribes on their life journey through deserts and oases for years. He had called twelve disciples to be Jesus’ assistants. Jesus knew his crowd, based on their past. He was concerned about their present and about their future. There is more to life than counting calories. Years ago my children participated in a musical at church that the Youth Choir presented. A messenger from God (named “Grace”) passed out invisible vitamin G tablets to all who came saying that God’s grace is sufficient and vitally necessary to all to have a balanced diet. Jesus came to sustain us all and to give us hope, and to lead us into everlasting life. Jesus is the bread of life we all crave on any diet plan.