This reflection is based on Matthew 14:13-33 and was offered at St. Andrew’s on February 24. The first part is a re-telling of the story from Peter’s perspective. The second part is my own reflection on the reading.
I’ve been following Jesus around for months now and he continues to surprise me. Like yesterday I knew he was tired. We’d been travelling a lot and teaching and healing people. He went off by himself to rest and I could tell the strain was getting to him. I thought he would finally get a break but the crowds followed him. I don’t know how he continues to care for people when he is so run down himself. I thought for sure he would send the crowds away but instead, he just kept healing people and more people kept coming and bringing sick people to him and he helped as many as he could.
The crowd kept growing and growing. It got late in the day and the sun was getting ready to set. I went to him and told him he should shut it down for the night. I told him that he should send everyone away because they would be getting hungry and there was nowhere nearby for them to buy food.
I thought for sure he would agree with me. Not just because they would be hungry but because he would be tired. I thought he might be looking for a way out. Instead, he said: You give them something to eat.
How was I supposed to respond to that? I had only enough for his followers—just five loaves and a couple of fish. There was no way that amount of food was going to feed thousands of people. I scoffed. I will admit I was skeptical and I even told him it wouldn’t work. I was afraid there would be a riot. That little bit of food and so many people. I was scared we would be trampled as people tried to get enough for themselves.
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But Jesus, always the optimist called for calm. He invited people to sit down on the ground. He blessed the bread as we had been taught since we were children. He gave us the loaves and told us to pass the food around. I still wasn’t convinced. I’m all for hospitality and feeding a big crowd of people but I knew it wouldn’t stretch that far. And yet we kept passing the food and the baskets didn’t seem to get any emptier. There was more than enough. When all 5000 men plus their families were full, we gathered up the leftovers and there were still twelve baskets full.
I don’t know how he did that. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and I can’t quite explain it. Maybe Jesus has some magic powers that allowed the food to multiply. Maybe, there was other food already in the crowd that people shared. Maybe we’ll never know but somehow there was enough.
And then the story gets even stranger… Jesus sent us away so he could finally get a break. We decided to cross the lake in the boat. We started rowing and got to the middle of the lake and there was a massive storm come out of nowhere. We didn’t see it or sense it coming. The wind came up and the waves were crashing over the side. There was water everywhere and we were soaked to the skin. Then in the darkness and water and wind, there was a shape. I couldn’t make it out very well but it looked vaguely human.
I watched it come toward us and I thought it must have something to do with the storm—that I was seeing things. Slowly it glided toward us—completely oblivious to the storm. The storm on its own was scary but this was another whole league of scary. We clung to each other in the boat, convinced that we were all going to die.
And then there was a voice, a voice I knew. A voice of calm: Take heart, do not be afraid, it is I.
That voice, those words, had an instant impact on my fear. I felt calm and strength come into my body and spirit with those words. I knew at that moment that I could do anything that God required of me.
Tell me to come to you and I will come.
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I stepped out of the boat. No fear. I was certain I could walk across the water without sinking, I trusted that the same spirit that kept Jesus on the water would keep me on the water. I took several steps. I looked down and saw that I was walking on the water and realized how impossible it was. People don’t walk on water.
In a matter of seconds, I found myself floundering and knew I was going to drown. Jesus reaches out. Took my hand and helped me into the boat.
These stories really speak to me personally. I had a time not so long ago, where someone needed help. There were all sorts of reasons to send the person away. It wasn’t safe. Their presence would be disruptive to my routine and personal space. I looked for other options. I asked other people to help and nothing worked out.
And then I heard these words in my head. “You give them something to eat.” It wasn’t quite the same as feeding 5000 people, but my inclination was to send someone away when they needed help that I had the resources to give. As I heard Jesus’ voice speak to me, I knew I could not turn this person away—even though there were lots of reasons I could use to justify doing that.
I have a sense of how the disciples might have been feeling as they saw the crowds and heard Jesus tell them to feed the crowds. It’s easier and simpler to send people away than to become personally involved. As help was initially offered, I was nervous and anxious about how this would all work out and I knew it could end badly. But those words would not leave my head.
There are moments in my life and in ministry where I feel like I can do anything. I have gifts and skills and I feel competent and able. So, we do ministry together and it feels good. Then I will have a moment where I look around, maybe it’s on a more difficult day and ask myself: What did you get me into God? I should be the one to lead this community of faith. I don’t know enough about…. It feels like everything might fall apart if I can’t hold it together. I feel like Peter stepping out of the boat. Sometimes, life and ministry feel solid and strong and I feel supported by the spirit. And sometimes I feel like I might be sinking.
The commentary we used at Bible study this week focussed on the role of imagination. The disciples couldn’t imagine five loaves and two fish feeding the crowds, but Jesus could. Jesus calls us to dream big and use our imaginations to change the world. “Who am I to end poverty? Who am I to bring peace? I’m one person, I can’t do it.” When we say these types of things to ourselves, we limit our imagination and we won’t be able to do any of it. When we use our imagination, we can help even one person and the possibilities become limitless.
When we forget to use our imagination, we flounder. Our imagination is what gives us hope and allows us to see possibilities. Our imagination gives us the courage to risk doing what seems impossible. Peter didn’t step out of the boat alone. When he forgot his imagination, God was there to pick him up, dry him off and send him into the world again with renewed faith and hope.