“But Jesus answered them, You give them something to eat.”
Most of us at one time or another has been assigned a job that initially seemed way above our pay grade. My first in a life-long series of such events happened the summer before my senior year in high school when I was a “mercy hire” for a small construction company. Most of the time I assisted a master carpenter, who everyone called Smokey. Smokey found new ways almost every day to communicate to me that I better stay in school, because I had “no future as a carpenter.” It goes without saying that I spent the majority of the summer installing insulation, roofing in the heat and any grunt work a project required.
One day, Smoky took me to a site where we had added six feet to an existing garage. The huge wooden garage door was totally dismantled with what seemed like a hundred pieces of hardware scattered all around. “Your job today,” Smokey stated, “is to re-hang the garage door.” He smiled and left. With no instructions and even less aptitude, I began. About an hour into the process, I was cursing Smokey. By lunch time, I was cursing myself for not having paid better attention in geometry and physics classes. But I kept at it all afternoon. About an hour before quitting time, I finished.
Unfortunately, I had about a half dozen parts left over.
Smokey arrived and without saying a word, he inspected my work. He opened and closed the door multiple times; I thought I caught the slightest of smiles. I meekly approached him with my bucket of left-over parts. He looked at the orphaned hardware; then he looked at the door; then at the hardware again; he opened and shut door multiple times.
Silently, He walked towards me and said “Let me see those parts.” Taking them from my hands, he walked over to the garbage bin and threw them away. “Job’s done,” he said with a smile. “Quitting time- see you tomorrow.”
There is a lot of unspeakable suffering in the world. Every day we see new injustices happening both near and far. Many of the most critical and pressing social problems are both chronic and complex. And to make matters worse, we live in a political climate where compassion and care for the most vulnerable is dismissed as a sign of weakness. Most of us are willing to do a little charity once in a while-a little community service now and then; but for the most part the critical needs of our world seem way too overwhelming to bring about meaningful change.
Then another master carpenter comes along.
In Mark’s version of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” (Mark 6:30-44), at the end of a long day of preaching in the wilderness, the disciples want to send the crowds home. Jesus, having compassion on the hungry mass, tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples protest-the cost is beyond our budget; there are way too many needy people to feed; they should have not left their homes to be here in the first place; we do not even have enough to take care of ourselves…. You get the point.
The story ends with the disciples feeding the multitude in spite of their limitations, through the power of Jesus. Even after the crowd was fed, there were twelve baskets left-more than enough for each of the reluctant disciples to have their fill. After 2000 years do we get the point?
In spite of what religious experts will tell you, there is no best practice when it comes to church and ministry. All of us are working with “missing parts.” The church is in trouble and it is not even able to solve its own problems let alone the critical issues of our time. Yet Jesus keeps telling us to address the needs of the world as well as “feed his sheep.”
Perhaps this is part of the ultimate mystery of the Gospel. Again and again, we are asked to do things beyond our means; to address problems out of our control in order that our only option is to trust God and maybe begin to pray as much as we plan, project, and procrastinate. And who knows? We might even have a few parts left over.