When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Matthew 14: 15-16
I expect, if you are like me, there have been days during recent months when you have felt that you’ve got next to nothing left to give. As if the struggle to completely reorient your personal life on a moment’s notice was not difficult enough, there are the added burdens of societal upheaval and partisan conflict that seem to dominate our news reports every day. And then there is the burden of planning for a future which seems murky at best.
Does this sound familiar? You wake up in the morning and the first thing you think is, “I’ve got nothing–or next to nothing. I’ve got nothing left for my job, I’ve got next to nothing left for the people I love, let alone my neighbor who is in need. I’ve got nothing left for my friends. I’ve got next to nothing to get me through this day.”
If that is how you are feeling, or at least some semblance of how you are feeling, you are going to appreciate this week’s gospel.
Things are not going well for Jesus. The reading begins, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” What is the “this” that Jesus had heard? The news of John the Baptist’s murder. The passage immediately prior to this reading recounts the murder of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. That section ends, “[John’s] disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus”—who then, in turn, withdrew to a deserted place to be by himself. Prior to that, Jesus himself had returned to his hometown, where he faced rejection and where the people took offense at him.
Can you imagine Jesus saying to himself, “I’ve got nothing left to give?”
But Jesus is not left alone for long. The crowds follow him from all the surrounding towns. And when Jesus sees them, he is overwhelmed by feelings of compassion for them. He begins to heal their sick, and then when it is getting late, Jesus wants to feed them. The disciples want to send them on their way, let them get their own food.
But Jesus turns and says back to them, “They don’t have to go away. You feed them.”
You can almost hear the disciples’ stammering, flabbergasted astonishment. Stuttering and a little bit outraged, they say: “We’ve got nothing.” Well, except for just 2-1/2 fish sandwiches between the 12 of them. Not really even enough for themselves and Jesus. So yeah, “We’ve got next to nothing.”
And with that, Jesus multiplied the food, fed the multitude, and had plenty leftover.
For all of you who are saying that you have nothing left–or next to nothing. Good news. Next to nothing is Jesus’ favorite thing to work with. Because Jesus can turn next to nothing into more than enough.
* This devotion borrows heavily from this week’s reflection written by Rolf Jacobson on Workingpreacher.org.