Have you ever been faced with a crowd of people turning up and expecting to be fed?Just imagine the scene on the grassy slopes by lake Galilee. A huge crowd of people were gathering, they had seen Jesus work miracles and heal the sick, and they knew that this was the best gig in town.The first thing Jesus asks his disciple Philip is, where will we get enough food to fill all these people?This was an interesting question for several reasons. First, Jesus was thinking about the practical, about the physical needs of the crowd, and he was also taking on himself the obligation as host to provide hospitality.He didn’t need to do this did he? After all, he hadn’t sent out invitations to a banquet, asking them to come and be fed. No, they had all come by themselves, knowing that they would indeed be fed, but probably thinking about spiritual feeding, or at least seeing some amazing miracles and healings that they could tell others about.
Well, maybe that’s the mens’ perspective. Did you notice that the crowd consisted of 5000 men or thereabouts? Other gospel accounts make it clear that there were indeed 5000 men, but also, as you would expect in any normal town, women and children too. I bet the women were thinking, it’s all very well to stay here in the hopes of seeing something interesting, even a once in a lifetime display of miracles, but it’s going to be dark soon, and the kids are already whining.I bet the kids too were thinking, dad said it would be cool, but I’m huuungry!!!
No, I’d better stop that line of thought in case Iget accused of being sexist – modern men aren’t like that are they?
Maybe Jesus could hear the quiet grizzling of the children?Well, he responded in such a practical way.How are we going to feed all these people?Philip thought about the obvious solution – gather up our money and buy food. He was starting to think along the practical lines.But then Andrew, Peter’s brother about whom we hear very little noticed the obvious, like that ad for Tivoli cars. But instead of stating that the car had four wheels, he spotted a boy who had been sensible and brought some food with him. Then he thought, hang on, there’s food but there’s not enough.
Have you had those moments of thinking, there’s food in the house but it’s not enough? Have you ever had to add an extra vegetable to the stew, a weetbix topping to the mince, to feed an extra mouth or three?In our house that happens fairly often, as the number of people home for dinner is quite fluid. I have discovered that it makes sense to text Morgan to see if he’s going to be in for dinner before I start putting it all together, rather than when I’m getting the plates out, and counting them twice to make sure it’s the right number.
John’s account is so economical isn’t it. ‘Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat.’What would it look like? As he broke the bread and handed it around, it would multiply and multiply until there was more than enough for everyone! If you were sitting a wee way back in the crowd, and saw this happening down there in the distance, you could be forgiven for thinking, nice gesture Jesus but I’m resigned to going home hungry tonight. Then the rising hope as people seemed to be getting something to eat in the second row back, and the third, and waves of laughter and somewhat muffled conversation as you realised that there was indeed enough for everybody!
Then Jesus did the same with the fish! I wonder if those with less faith would have eaten their bread before the fish came through, and those with more faith, maybe even the boy who had given it in the first place, would have split his bread apart, waited for the fish, and eaten it as a sandwich!This was an occasional for faith!It was also an occasion for generous hospitality.
This was the theme of our ministry conference last week – generous hospitality, or Manaakitanga. The Maori word has a nice richness of meaning. Mana you may be familiar with – someone’s reputation, their mantle of authority, the respect others accord them. Aki means lifting up. Manaaki means lifting up someone’s reputation, giving them more respect. Tanga is the noun ending that makes it ‘the business of lifting up people’s respect and reputation.That’s what Jesus was doing wasn’t it? He was according respect to the crowd by offering them generous hospitality. He didn’t just give them what they had come for – not just the healing miracles. In fact they’re not even mentioned. But Jesus acted as host – the one whose role it was to look after the others and raise their esteem. Jesus always does this for us. He died so we might be forgiven of our sins – that is definitely manaakitanga. He has promised to be there for us, to provide for our needs to be met.Are you generous in your hospitality? Do you give not just of your stuff, but of yourself? Jesus did that on the cross. We too can give of ourself.There was an article recently about the ‘give a little’ campaign, about how easy it is to click your mouse and Hey presto you have donated to the charity of your choice.But how about those who stand outside the shops with their collection buckets, asking for your change to support today’s charity, and giving you a sticker. Have they given more generously of themselves? Yes. They have they have given their time, their comfort, their energy.When you invite someone to your home, are you prepared to share your family with them, in all the rich complexity of family life? That is a nice way of saying the house is a mess. Can you bear the thought of people coming around when there’s nowhere to sit because the kids have made a fort out of the couch cushions, nowhere to eat because the table has a sewing project on one end, a gluegun and homemade arrows in the middle and a valiant start on a jigsaw on the end? That’s what my house is usually like, and I have to admit, I feel uncomfortable letting others see it, and I hesitate to ask people over. But I am challenged by Jesus’ generous hospitality to ask people anyway, letting them see the real us, the muddle and the lack of perfection that is our private life.
Nathan and I play a game of Opposites sometimes,. It starts off easy. What’s the opposite of Black? White.What’s the opposite of Yellow? He asked me. I figured out Purple.What’s the opposite of a Cat? A Dog? But hang on, if we define all the characteristics of a cat, a dog is actually quite similar. It can’t be an animal, it can’t be small, and furry, it must be a large non- furry non-animal. Maybe a car? You see how it gets complicated?
In today’s story about David and Bathsheba we see the opposite of generous hospitality, in so many ways.David was the king, he had power over all his realm. He commanded the wife of his general to be brought to him, so he could sleep with her. He didn’t ask anyones’ permission, and Bathsheba’s consent wasn’t sought. He thought of no-one but himself. Bathsheba was taking a ritual bath which Jewish women have when their monthly period is finished. Those of you who remember fifth form biology will know that if she was at that point in her cycle she would be likely to conceive. David didn’t consider that he would get her pregnant. Only when Bathsheba sent him the news – which could be rephrased as ‘you got me into this mess, it’s your problem’, did David think about how to get out of it.His first thought was to get her husband back into town so he could spend the night with his wife, and the baby be passed off as his, albeit with a bit of dodgy arithmetic. But Uriah was a man of honour and would not enjoy the comforts of home when his soldiers could not. Plan B then – David sent Uriah to the frontline, commanding the others to draw back so he would be killed. What a horrible thing to do! Killing another man so he could have his wife! Contrast this side of David with the ruddy-cheeked shepherd boy who bravely slew Goliath, and it makes us uncomfortable. After all, here is one of the heroes of the Old Testament.There’s another message here though – that people can be heroes one minute, and stuff up terribly the next. This is a word of comfort for us. No, it doesn’t mean go and sleep with someone inappropriate and try to cover it up, no thanks to Ashley Maddison! It means that you can still be a worker for God, and your dodgy past and mine will not get in the way, if we turn away from what is not pleasing to God.
So what is the message I want to leave you with? That generous hospitality is a Jesus- thing to do, giving of yourself to bless others. That the opposite of generous hospitality can be all too human, but in God there is hope.