Written by Taylor Mertins, Pastor of Raleigh Court United Methodist Church, Roanoke, VA.
Jesus spends the afternoon feeding 5,000 through his divine mercy. And, when all is said and done, bellies full to the brim, a crowd gathers to question the behavior of this God in the flesh.
Jesus’ response – “You all are looking for me but for the wrong reasons. I delight in giving you food to eat, but I also have something else to offer.”
“What must we do?” The crowds intone.
“Believe” Jesus answers.
“Okay, we get that, but how do we really know you can make good on your promise? Can you rain down from manna from heaven for us like Moses did?”
And then Jesus says, “Moses didn’t give you the manna! It was God who gave the good gift!”
“Sure,” they say, “That’s fine. We’d like some of that bread from heaven please.”
And Jesus answers them, “Have you not heard anything I’ve said? I am the bread!”
What wondrous good news it is that, when Jesus showed up proclaiming the beginning of God’s new kingdom, he did so not with sermons about the Trinity, or the atonement, or justification, or any other big and abstract theological mishmash. Instead, Jesus began by pointing right at our stomachs, to that gnawing, unsatisfied, emptiness within and then invited us to dinner.
Jesus feeds the hungry – that’s who Jesus is.
Think of the crowds during the days of Moses and during the days of Jesus, imagine how they felt while eating the bread.
Did they deserve it? Did they earn it?
The Psalmist reminds us that they had done everything but deserve it! God’s wrath was kindled against them and yet God gave them the bread anyway. The 5,000 didn’t have to lay out all their good works before Jesus delighted in filling their bellies.
This is grace.
Grace plus Nothing.
Just when we, the people of God, expect to be clobbered with guilt – “You didn’t listen in the wilderness!” “You haven’t loved your neighbors enough!” – we actually get clobbered by grace.
And, when that happens, we begin to realize that whenever we’ve gone looking for peace or happiness by doing this, that, and the other we’ve actually overlooked the God who has always been looking for us.
The One who offers us the gift we simply don’t deserve.
The heart of Christianity is this – We don’t have to give or say or pay anything – In Christ it has all been given, said, and paid for us.
It is by grace and only by grace that we are accepted by God.
Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
That question is often still our question. We look at the wildness of our lives, we spend more time looking backward than forward, and whenever we encounter our own disappointments and shortcomings, we wonder if God can really do anything about it.
Frankly, it’s why some of us keep showing up to church week after week, in-person or online – we want an answer to our question. Can God make something of our nothing? Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
And the answer is, quite simply, yes.
God can and God does all the time. God is the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep, God is the Prodigal Father who rushes out to find us in the street even before we have a chance to apologize, God is the One who, rather than leaving us to our own devices, comes to dwell in the muck and mire of this life to offer us Grace plus Nothing. Amen.