Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
The invitation arrives and offers a party of special excellence in its company, its refreshments, its décor, its provender and its entertainment. Nothing but the best is in prospect, and only a fool would ignore or reject it.
On receiving it we might wonder just who is making the invitation and therefore just how much trust to place in its promises. Even “a party” can suggest one of any number of possibilities.
For some the idea of a party may imply dingy surroundings filled with boring people and insipid food and drink and indifferent entertainment: for others the whole idea points to palatial accommodation filled with scintillating company, and excellence in all aspects of a well-appointed occasion.
So what about this: an invitation dating back some 2500 years, offering a beleaguered and besieged people wine, milk and rich food. They may accept the invitation just as they are for they can do nothing to earn or deserve it; and the host Himself will make them into fit company arrayed in the best of attire and fabrics.
This is where we are in the book of Isaiah, as the exiles in Mesopotamia were invited to renew their fellowship with God and to draw close to His table.
There is one point that we should note however in that even though the invitation was made to the exiles of ancient Israel, it has never been withdrawn: even during or since the time of Jesus. It was made to the Jews and it is still valid, for God does not deny His word and He does not withdraw His promises.
And more than this, if He continues to honour the promises He has made to His ancient people the Jews, then His promises to us whose history does not contain the giving of the law, the building of the temple, the writing of the laws and songs and histories and prophecies of the Old Testament, are also wholly and fully trustworthy. Equally if God will cast aside the Jews, then why should He not cast aside us also who take such modern pride in re-writing and re-interpreting His writings in the New and indeed Old Testaments?
For this we may be sure: we are supported by the spiritual heritage of the Jews and dare not make ourselves superior to them. As Paul says to the Romans in a different part of his letter to them:
“Has God cast away His people? Certainly not!” (Rom 11:1)
“Have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not!” (Rom 11: 11)
God still has a plan and a purpose for His people and even if we criticize their politics, let us be sure to do so with a wholly balanced judgment, taking all relevant factors into full account and not giving in to any kind of bias. But there is another aspect of God’s invitation. It is that He draws us into making that invitation and in ensuring that all have the opportunity to receive and accept it.
In feeding the 5000, Jesus accepted the pathetic offering of 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Jesus took them, blessed them, broke them and then gave them. But the giving was not to the crowd but to the disciples, who were charged with giving the food forth.
If the disciples had failed at this point then the crowd was not going to be fed and I find nothing convincing in the flaccid rationalization of this story that in sharing their food the disciples set an example for others also to share their packed lunches with their neighbours. After all the gospel story is clear in stating that the people had nothing with them and the disciples urged that they should be sent away to buy food for themselves.
But secondly, the bread loaves and fishes were multiplied in the hands of the disciples. It is they who handled this multiplication of the food and it is they who saw it with their own eyes. If they had been astonished by Jesus’ teaching, now they would be astounded by His actions.
And in His actions Jesus was entrusting Himself to His disciples for the continuing and effectiveness and fulfilment of His work.
What we have before us therefore is not only an invitation to the supper of the Lord, but the privilege of extending that inviting to others so that they also may receive the invitation and have the opportunity to accept it and to enter its sense of anticipation.
It is invitation that also grows and multiplies itself in our hands as we hand it on, and as we look for opportunities to do so.
To some extent Jesus also takes us and blesses us. He draws us into His presence and He gives us a new life with new priorities and a new agenda. There are new ways of seeing things and of responding to them. There are new hopes and horizons and new ways of coping with all the pressures and temptations of our culture.
But Jesus also breaks us and gives us. The loaf of bread has to be broken or cut into pieces if it is to be eaten – and we also are not to be surprised if the buffetings of normal life expose us in our need to rely on Jesus wholly and fully when our inclinations may draw us in different directions.
And we also have to be broken of ourselves in order that Jesus may use us and give us as bearers of His message and invitation. The extraordinary thing is that as we allow ourselves to be broken and given forth, then we also will find that whatever in us honours the Lord is also multiplied so that others may also be blessed and fed.
• The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish is a Roman Catholic church located in Tabgha, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine, where the miracle is believed to have taken place.