Imagine living in poverty-stricken Niger and hearing today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus provides food for the five thousand in such abundance that the disciples filled twelve baskets with leftovers after everyone had had their fill. The fact is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to read this story in light of actual poverty. Poverty is so far beyond my personal frame of reference that I cannot interpret the Gospel as if through the eyes of one who suffers such physical anguish every day. That is the thing about interpretation. Our context is a large determinant in our ability to understand a text. Our life situation shapes what we believe, the choices that we make, even the meaning that we give to the words and actions of Jesus.
You and I read this miracle story with our satisfied eyes. We read it as people who will not go hungry this evening, whose children will not cry from the pain of malnutrition, whose lives are filled with the comforts of relative prosperity. However, we can allow the experiences of others, even if all we do is read about them, to serve as correctives lenses to our own interpretive eyes.
One such corrective lens comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We all know Tutu as the Nobel winning spiritual leader who fought apartheid in South Africa. Several years ago, Tutu spoke at an Episcopal Charities luncheon in Chicago. He reminded his listeners that the omnipotent God that we worship became impotent by becoming one of us.
“Why,” the Archbishop asked, “doesn’t God come down and intervene when the most appalling atrocities are happening? When brutality is all around? Why didn’t God send lightning from heaven against the apartheid government in South Africa?
“Because,” said the Archbishop, answering his own question, “God was waiting for a human partner! God was waiting for a human partner to transform South Africa. And God found human partners in many people, especially in Nelson Mandela.
Summing up his message, the Archbishop said, “God is even willing to put at risk the God Project while God waits for a human partner, while God waits for you and you and you and you and you,” pointing to members of his audience.
You and I read about today’s miracle feeding, the God Project in Tutu’s language, not as the hungry but as those with bread. As the haves of our world, God calls us to participate as partners in the God project. Notice in today’s story that Jesus did not act alone. Sure, he did the hard stuff – blessing, breaking, and giving the bread to the disciples to distribute. However, he did not act alone. He said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” When they responded that they had very little to give, Jesus asked only for what they had. Ronald Wallace (sorry, I've lost the citation) describes this when he says of the disciples, “They had little to offer. Yet, he took what they brought and used it and used them … The glorious adequacy of our inadequate resources only appears if we surrender them into his hands.”
Could it be that those who participate in the fulfillment of the MDG's, regardless of their religious tradition, participate in the God Project? Much has been written of late about the fact that the world is falling behind in its effort to accomplish the goals set for 2015. However, when we participate in the God Project, in whatever form it might take, we commit not so much to success as to faithfulness, believing that we offer to God that which we have and trusting that God will turn it into enough - in fact, into more than enough, into an abundance!