Fishing for More9th Sunday after Pentecost
I’m sure you have seen the Dream Coach in the Mega Millions Jackpot Lottery commercials encouraging people to try their luck at the lottery. The Dream Coach encourages, “Dream bigger!” What he doesn’t say is that his encouragement is really about buying a $5 or $10 ticket as opposed to a $2. The question underlying his coaching is really about, “What does it take to put your faith in more than you dare hope for? Today’s scripture passages are not about the risk of playing the lottery. Instead they direct our focus on believing in and acting upon more than we dare imagine.
Isaiah 55 is the end of a section of Isaiah’s prophecy called “the book of consolation” which begins in chapter 40 with “Comfort, comfort my people.” The passage provided words of consolation to the Jewish exiles who had been captives in the land of Babylon for two generations. The verses we read sound similar to a street vendor hawking his wares. “Everyone that thirsts come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat!” Come and buy wine and bread but you won’t need money.
Then Isaiah asks a deeper question, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and why do you labour for that which does not satisfy?” He is not talking about food and wine and water and bread. He is talking about a deeper relationship with God.
Isaiah points the Jewish exiles back to King David and reminds them of the everlasting covenant that reassures them that they are not forgotten. They had forgotten who they were as God’s people. Their faith did not seem as important as the security of the provisions they gained through their work in Babylon. The exiles had learned to place their trust in Babylon because that is who they depended upon.
The passage in Matthew is about the feeding of the 5,000 – a story that we think we know well. But, the story is not only about food and feeding a hungry crowd. If we only look at that story from a surface level, we miss the deeper truth.
Jesus had been teaching the crowd in a deserted place. When it was evening, the disciples wanted to send the crowd away so they could go buy food for themselves. Jesus challenges the disciples by saying, “You give them something to eat.”
The disciples were confused and said, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” What can we do?
Jesus said to bring him the loaves and fish. After Jesus had blessed the food and the disciples gave the food to the crowd, they ate and were filled. The disciples took what was left of the broken pieces which turned out to be twelve baskets.
We can focus on the miracle of the loaves and fish feeding a multitude, but Jesus taught the disciples a deeper lesson that day that God does not work alone. There were other variables in the story. There were hungry people and people who had no resources. There were the disciples who were out of ideas and solutions.
Jesus didn’t take the fish and bread and do the work himself. He prayed a prayer of thanks and handed the bread and fish back to the disciples. The facts were the same. They still had the same amount of food and they were still staring into the faces of 5000+ hungry people. What began to resonate in their hearts was that they now had a fantastic opportunity to participate in God’s abundance.
The disciples realized that it was not up to them to create the miracle, but they could indeed participate by taking the bread and the fish and moving in the direction of the incredible need. Abundance is not ours to create. We experience the joy of serving God that does far more abundantly than we might ever ask or imagine.
The same is true in the Old Testament story. The Jewish exiles were cut off from their homes and caught in political situations that they were powerless to reverse. Isaiah reminds the exiles that their relationship with a loving God is what satisfies them. In Matthew, it took people who had scarcely enough, who were out of food and out of ideas. It took the disciples, well-meaning as they were, who had to be convinced that their meagre efforts could produce dramatic results. They had to be the ones who passed out the food and collected the leftovers after people had consumed all they wanted.
Again, these two passages are not about what is at the surface level. It is not about the food. It is about a deeper trust and a sustaining relationship with God that can easily be missed because we are focused on what we have or what we don’t have. We are focused on what we need to do and who needs to do what. We are focused on the externals as opposed to the internal condition of our heart and our mind and in whom we place our trust.
Our baptism marks us as God’s own. What are the fruits of a committed relationship with God? It is that deeper relationship with God that calls us to believe and act differently. Would you hear these words of hope for your life, take them to heart and live them out this week and beyond? Amen.