I said, “I can’t!”
Matthew 14: 13-21
This is a story in which I can hear myself saying, “I can’t,” but God gently says, “yes, you can.” Then after learning that I did something I never thought I could do God tells me to do something else and I say, “I can’t do that!” Guess what God says?
God doesn’t only say, “you can,” but says, “I have sent you my Son to show you how you can!” When I remember Jesus I find that I am filled with new strength and can overcome the impossible. I say, “I can’t!”, God says, “you can!” and shows me how I can when I remember what Jesus did and said. Remember me, Jesus says, when breaking bread to share with two or three, one hundred and three or 5,000 or 10,000. How many doesn’t really matter because we have plenty left over to share with those who aren’t at the meeting; at the table; at the picnic or the great celebration.
“I can’t do it!” I say when confronted with people who need healing when all I want is to be left alone with my own grief:
Now I am about to start a discussion I know I am going to regret, but I’m just doing what Jesus shows me to do and following his example when I sacrifice my time off! I start off with the best intentions to find quiet space for some spiritual refreshment, but am so often distracted in the process. Just as he is!
At the beginning of the reading today Jesus doesn’t go looking for people, but people follow him and find him. His intention is something we are all encouraged to do and find that space we need for our spiritual refreshment, but the experience can be very different to anything we planned.
It is a cost of ministry as we commit to following Jesus and it can be described as “carrying your cross” or being prepared to “lay down your life” because you love people as if they are your friends. (John 15: 13) Jesus encourages us to find our spaces to be still, but the needs of other people are greater than our own.
We need our places where we can be still at the best of times and in the worst of times we can be in desperate need to escape the crowds so that we can be alone with God, or just on our own!
It can be times of grief or the stress of caring for someone with depression, dementia or some other disability or a fear of confronting an uncertain future. Jesus encourages us to escape to a place of quiet and he is doing it in the context of hearing some bad news which would have caused him great distress. We know how he wept for Lazarus and for the people of a city who did not understand what was needed for peace and on hearing the news about John what he most wanted was time to cry with his Father. How often do you feel like that?
I have had a number of conversations in recent weeks with people who were worn out by grief, worry or fear and recall how they then met someone and after pouring out their troubles thanked them for listening.
I will be honest, there have been many times when I have felt the same and say to God, “I can’t!”, but God says, “yes, you can!”, and the compassion of Jesus within us encourages us to stop and listen. Through our own grief we can be an inspiration for others and provide the healing they need at that time. It’s our quiet time we have sacrificed, but there is no measuring the value of that time to their life.
I remember what was supposed to be a day off many years ago when I was managing a hostel for homeless young people. I should have ignored the phone when it rang, but I answered it and it was a woman who had taken an overdose. We managed to get an ambulance to her and the medics had to resuscitate her before taking her to hospital. She now has beautiful children and grandchildren following her healing on that day.
Together, as the Body of Christ, we are called to a 24/7 ministry that can distract us from what we want to do as compassion motivates us to stop like a Good Samaritan to help the wounded in the crowd. We can be on our way to a much needed quiet time in our prayer oasis and want to say, “I can’t do it!” God says, “you can!”
The importance of finding that time to be still and cry with God is not lost in the busy demands of the crowds because Jesus does dismiss them and sends his disciples ahead of him so he can be alone on the mountainside to pray. (14: 22). He’s always ready though to respond when we are struggling with the storms of life. Another story for another day! Next Friday we can go for a walk on water.
For now I want to say, “I can’t cope with the needs of the crowd so please, Lord, send them away!” Then God says, “listen to my Son!” and he says, “don’t send them away, but give them what they need!”
Our first thought is to send people away to fend for themselves because we don’t have the resources to provide what they need. That’s up to Social Services, the National Health Service or some other agency that has the funding and the qualified people. We don’t have enough money or the workers so what can we do?
All we’ve got is a few faithful people, some buildings that we can’t use because of coronavirus guidance and a bit of money in the bank that we want to save for a rainy day in the future. Better to send the people away to find what they need somewhere else! We can’t do much about the mental health issues or the physical health, but we are the doctors of spiritual health that is sadly neglected!
Our hearts are full of compassion for the sick and hungry, but our heads are empty of answers to how we can possibly do it with the resources we have. “I can’t!” we say, “You can,” says God and Jesus says: “Bring what you have!” It isn’t much, but God doesn’t need much.Your bit of bread will do.
Give thanks for the bread you have, break it and as you eat it remember how Jesus multiplies everything we give to him so that there is plenty to share. We don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God so hold bread and remember the words that Jesus spoke. Then ask yourself what those words call you to do. “I can’t”. “I haven’t got the time!” “I haven’t got the ability!” “I haven’t got the energy!” All I have is…. This bread that reminds me of the Word of God.
All you have is enough for Jesus to take and bless and then give back to you so you can pass it on from one person and then another, and another and more until everyone has been fed by you and your friends. Then, as if that wasn’t enough of a miracle, there is plenty left over to share with those who aren’t present.
The words that come from heaven are the manna that can feed a nation, the daily bread for which we pray, because they are the will of God that brings the kingdom to earth. The word of God expresses the will of God for which we pray to be done on earth as in heaven. “Do my will,” God says. “I can’t,” I say. “You can…”
We can if we give the little we have, NOT a little of what we have. The two copper coins of a poor widow (Luke 21: 1-4) are of more value to God than the 100 gold coins from rich people’s wealth. She gives everything she has for God’s kingdom to come as a Rich Young man in Luke’s gospel is told to give up everything if he wants treasure in heaven. (Luke 18: 22) If we give up who we have become on earth we can become who God wants us to be for the kingdom of heaven.
Our few loaves of bread and a couple of fish are hardly enough for a child’s lunch box, and it equates to all we have, but Jesus transforms it into the biggest picnic the world has ever known. He will use the little we have and transform it into a plenty for many. Jesus can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, like a glass of water that you can hold and imagine it has become wine. “I can’t,” I say. God says, “You can…”
We can if we give the little we have, NOT a little of what we have! Love is the wine for our feast and we can give that love with a cup of cold water to a thirsty child (Matthew 10: 42) so imagine for a moment what that water can do to someone’s life. Lord, may the water be like wine to all who drink what I give!
What I find in Matthew’s gospel is the shape of the Church to come in which believers come together in fellowship to break bread and pray — and see miraculous signs! They are together with everything in common, selling what they have so they can share as people have a need. (Acts 2: 42-46)
Our community needs healing and feeding. We can’t send them away because they have heard about Jesus and want to know him better so we give what we can to show how the Body of Christ can produce miracles together. “I can’t,” we say. “You can,” God says and when we’ve done what we never thought possible the crowds disperse taking with them plenty of broken pieces to share.
Now we can go to our quiet place to pray and be refreshed having done what we never thought we could do. I said, “I can’t,” God said, “You can!” and God never gives us more to do than we CAN! Amen