Feeding Hungry People

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

July 25, 2021
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture readings: 2nd Kings 4: 42-44 and John 6: 1-14

Notice the pattern in both of today’s readings from Scripture:

  • First, there is a problem.
  • Next, there is a solution.
  • Finally, there is evidence of God feeding hungry people.

In each case, the pattern is fulfilled even if the stories are widely different, separated by untold generations, and with different manifestations of God’s good work.

In both readings that we heard today, we have the following:

  • People are hungry; that’s the problem.
  • A little food is provided; that’s the solution – but it’s obviously not enough of a solution to completely solve the problem.
  • God intervenes and somehow – somehow! – plenty of food is produced to fill everyone’s stomachs.  Evidence that would pass a logical, scientific test is not necessarily there…speculation on “how did God do this?” can border on ridiculous, yet the stories are there for us to examine.

But this pattern is not unique.  Just a cursory glance at Scripture reveals this in other stories: 

  • A Passover meal served with lamb’s blood smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrew slaves that led to those same Hebrews fleeing Egypt and following Moses;
  • Those same Hebrews failed to bring any food for their trip, and the Lord sent manna and quail to feed them;
  • Jesus inviting himself for dinner to the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector.
  • Jesus eating fish in front of the Apostles during his first appearance to them after he rose from the dead;
  • Even Peter’s vision of unclean animals and the Lord’s voice telling him that what God created cannot be unclean.

In each case, the problem is obvious, the solution is there, and the evidence varies wildly – but it’s there for all to see.

Are there other stories in history that would also fit this pattern?  Let’s hear three:

First is the story of the Maccabean Revolt.  During the Seleucid occupation of Judea in the year 168 B.C., the occupying army descended upon Jerusalem, slaughtered the Israelites mercilessly, and took over the country.  When they got to the Holy Temple in the center of Jerusalem, they removed all symbols of faith that were there, placed a large statue of the Greek god, Zeus, in the middle, and slaughtered a pig on the sacrificial table.  This led the Israelites to rise and up and fight. After two years, the Seleucids were driven out and the Israelites once again ruled their own country.  When they went to clean up and rededicate the Temple, they found only enough sacred olive oil for one night.  The King ordered that the lamp be lit anyway while someone traveled find more olive oil and bring it back.  When that rider returned eight nights later, the lamp was miraculously still burning. This is the tradition upon which the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is founded.

The problem?  Only enough olive oil for one night.

The solution?  Light what is there anyway.

The evidence?  The lamp continued to burn for eight nights.

In this story, the hungry people were not fed ordinary human food; instead, Israelites – who were hungry for the presence of their God – were fed with just enough oil for one night.  Finally, the supply of oil was replenished, and the lamp never went out; their faith was increased!

Again:  problem, solution, evidence!

The next story is about a very familiar explorer from the Golden Age of Discovery:  Christopher Columbus.

Most people know that Columbus sailed in 1492 and discovered a small island in the Bahamas that he mistakenly believed was part of the Spice Islands.  He made his way back to Spain and led three more voyages, each time trying to find that elusive route to those islands – which would make the King of Spain and Columbus himself incredibly rich!  

During his fourth voyage in 1502, Columbus was running out of time and out of luck.  His ships were stuck on the island of Jamaica.  At first, the Jamaicans provided food to the explorers, but they grew tired of caring for and feeding the men.  At the time, Columbus had made the voyage with all the latest technological sailing equipment and tools.  One of them was a book that contained charts of the sun’s and moon’s movements over time, a great help in sailing long voyages; no self-respecting sailor would leave home without this valuable book.  Columbus looked through the book as he planned to sail away again in search of food when he noticed a total eclipse of the moon would occur in two nights.  So, Columbus met again with the Jamaicans, told them that his god was angry with them for not feeding them, and their punishment was for the moon to be blocked out in two nights.

The doubtful Jamaicans waited to see what would happen (so did Columbus’ crew).  Sure enough, in two nights, the moon went completely dark.  The Jamaicans freaked out and began running to the Spanish with armloads of food.  This frenzy continued for several minutes.  Finally, Columbus told everyone he would go and pray to his god to restore the moon.  He disappeared into his own tent and used small hourglasses to measure the time.  Just before the eclipse was to end, Columbus emerged and told everyone the good news.  

The moon returned, the Spanish crew was well fed, and Columbus and his men were able to leave Jamaica safely.

The problem?  No food from the Jamaicans.

The solution?  Trick them into believing Columbus’ god would block the moon.

The evidence?  An eclipse of the moon that can still be proven using modern mathematics.

Once again:  problem, solution, evidence!

Finally, we get to the third story, which takes place at the very end of the American Civil War.  As we all know, General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant met in a private home in a small town in Virginia to negotiate the Confederacy’s terms of surrender.  Lee fully expected to be taken prisoner that day; he also wondered if he would be put on trial and even executed.  Still, Lee had a job to do, and he was determined to do it well.  Grant met with Lee, and their initial conversation centered around their time together in the Mexican War almost 20 years earlier.  Finally, Lee pressed Grant to return to the business at hand.

Grant surprised Lee by offering to let all Confederate officers keep their side arms and their horses.  All rifles would be confiscated, but any personal weapons could be kept for their protection as all the soldiers returned to their homes.  As their conversation came to a close, Lee realized he was going to be free to leave.  Before he left, Grant asked him if there was anything he could do to help Lee’s army.  Lee thought a minute and then admitted that his men were starving.  Grant immediately offered 25,000 rations to help Lee’s men.  They both shook hands and left the house.  As they did, Grant’s men started to offer three cheers for the Union – but Grant stopped them by saying, “The rebels are our countrymen again.”

Problem?  Lee’s men were not just hungry…they were starving.

Solution?  Grant gave Lee’s men 25,000 rations.

Evidence of God’s work?  Grant understood with great sympathy that any general is ultimately responsible for the lives and care of his men; to ignore their hunger, when Grant could do something about it, would have been wrong.

In some quarters, both men were roundly criticized for their actions that fateful day.  To any decent historian, both men behaved honorably that day in caring for their men.

The pattern I described at the beginning of today’s message occurs throughout history and even in our own lives.  It doesn’t matter if actual food is involved in the story.  What matters is where and how God touches the hearts of his people, how God provides solutions even when no ready solution is apparent, and how God continues to be present in actions that inspire people to do whatever they can to serve one another.

Feeding hungry people is only one part of that service.