Feeding the 5000: In Jesus’ Hands

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Where We Are

As we enter the seventh week of practicing physical distancing so that we can curtail the spread of COVID-19 in our community, we should not be surprised by the weariness so many of us feel. Has any aspect of our lives remained unscathed by the pandemic? Work, worship, school, sports, socializing, shopping, graduations, weddings, births, funerals – all have been impacted. We are tired, yet we know that we have work to do. This is true for you. This is also true for the staff at The Next Door.

Perhaps you have read some of the articles highlighting the increased risks that those who are battling addiction are facing during the pandemic. The Next Door remains open because women still need a safe place to go get treatment, a place where their physical, mental, and spiritual needs will be met by compassionate professionals.

Where We Have Been

A story that is recorded in all four Gospels gives us hope for the living of these days. Ironically, this is a story of a crowd scene – one that could not safely unfold today in our country. On a day 2,000 years ago, over 5,000 men and their families gathered in an isolated spot on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, hoping to hear Jesus speak. Jesus and his disciples were trying to take some time off to rest, but when Jesus saw the people, his heart was filled with compassion, for “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Moved by the immensity of their needs, Jesus got out of the boat and began to teach them.

Late in the day, Jesus’ weary (and hungry) disciples made a recommendation to the Teacher: Send the crowds away so that they can buy food in the nearby farms and villages. But Jesus had another plan: “You feed them.”

“With what?” the startled disciples asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”

Undeterred, Jesus instructed the disciples to go and find out how much bread was available in the crowd. The report was discouraging – at least from the disciples’ point of view. A little boy had a lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish that he was willing to share. In Jesus’ hands, this humble offering – blessed and broken and shared – was enough to feed the multitudes, with twelve baskets of food to spare.

I wonder if others saw the child’s gift and then felt compelled to share the food they had been secretly hoarding. Perhaps some believe this possibility diminishes Jesus’ display of divine power, but when a hardened heart is broken at the sight of great need, isn’t that an act of God?

Whatever the mechanics of the miracle, we miss the point if we fail to notice that the resources to meet the needs of the crowd were found within the crowd. Jesus possessed the power to transform rocks into bread the same way he changed water into wine, but we know from his experience in the wilderness that this was something he had already chosen not to do. Instead, Jesus opted to involve his disciples in the miracle: You feed them.

The Lesson

Today at The Next Door, we clearly hear Jesus’ call: “You feed them.” In other words: “You meet your clients’ needs.” In many ways, our clients are like sheep without a shepherd. They have been traumatized, used, and abused. They have sought to fill the emptiness in their spirits with substances that have left them addicted, estranged, unemployed, or imprisoned. Most of our clients have an addiction disorder and a mental health disorder. Their needs are great.

At times it feels like we lack adequate resources to meet all of our clients’ physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Yet this sacred story of the feeding of the 5,000 gives us hope.

First, we are reminded that Jesus got tired, too. We can pray and ask for strength knowing that Jesus experienced compassion fatigue. Second, we are reminded that we can rely on God to empower us to carry out God’s work at The Next Door. Third, we are reminded that in Jesus’ hands, our resources are more than adequate to meet our needs and the needs of our clients.

Will you pray for the staff of The Next Door, asking God to give us the energy, the compassion, and the creativity needed to meet the needs of our clients? Will you give generously to provide resources that will enable us to carry out our work?

Thanks be to our Good Shepherd, who feeds us so that we can feed others. God is still working miracles at The Next Door.

Published on April 29, 2020

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