PostScript: A little sustenance
Comments, prayers, questions and discussion on the week's news.
Food, glorious food! At its most basic, we need it to sustain us and keep us going. But it can also become much more than that: a source of delight and joy, whether through culinary magic, or through the company with which we share it.
In this week’s reading from Matthew 14.13-21, we hear how Jesus meets this basic need in a miraculous and creative way, bringing people together through the small act of sharing some simple gifts: five loaves and two fish.
During the lockdown period food has been one of the most talked-about aspects. First there were the shortages – possibly the first time that those of us normally blessed with a comfortable lifestyle will ever have experienced worry about what we will eat:
- empty shelves where the eggs or fresh vegetables would normally be in the supermarket;
- no online delivery slots even for loyal customers;
- no chance of signing up if you weren’t already a customer.
Once the panic-buying subsided, the sourdough bread-making began, with every Instagrammer showing off their new lockdown-learnt baking skills. Now we’re hearing how big retailers like Amazon are taking advantage of food shopping habits moving online, and how much less many of us – myself included – should eat if we are to stay well and save the NHS.
That’s one side of the experience. On the other, many in our society have to struggle to feed themselves and their families. In the current crisis, with schools closed and work and income drying up for many, it has become harder to ignore just how many people live in or close to the edge of food poverty. Perhaps this time their cries will be heard and their needs met?
In June, the campaign headed by the footballer Marcus Rashford won its battle to secure summer food vouchers for children in need. Now the government’s own National Food Strategy review says free school meals should be extended to all children in households on universal credit and equivalent benefits, to provide them with the “foundation of equality and opportunity” they need. What is not clear yet is how this extension will be funded.
The crowds who gathered to listen to Jesus will have been just as mixed as our society. Some rich, some poor. But their experience on that day was levelled out by their distance from anywhere to get food quickly, just as, perhaps, lockdown has levelled out our own experiences a little, giving us shared struggles and a clearer glimpse of others’ needs.
The crowds were all hungry and needed to be fed; the disciples saw and brought that need to Jesus. But they were understandably daunted by his demand that they meet that need. Feed all these thousands of people with just what we have here? It’s only five loaves and two fish, barely enough for us!
I know that when I am confronted with others’ needs, that is sometimes my reaction too: But Lord, I do not have enough time, energy, courage, hope, wisdom, skill, strength, love, money, even to sustain myself! See what little I have, how can it be of any use to the situations I see in front of me?
Jesus shows how. He takes the little that is brought before him and blesses it, looking to heaven, to God. With God’s blessing the small gift shared grows in the sharing until it is enough to meet the needs of everyone present, and to overflow beyond. What we bring, God will bless.
“And all ate and were filled” (Matthew 14.20). Thanks be to God!
A prayer for ourselves, drawing on Psalm 145.8-9,14-21 from this week’s readings
God of grace, good to all,
You have compassion over all you have made.
When I am falling, hold me up.
Raise me to my feet, so that I can walk with you.
When I am in need, meet with me.
Open your hands to me, to satisfy my longing.
When I call out to you, hear my cry.
Watch over me, that I may live in your love.
When I am hurt, lend me your grace.
Open my heart, that I may forgive.
When I see need, help me to face it.
Open my hands, to offer all I have and am.
When I hear you, help me listen.
Open my mouth, to bless your name.
There is also “a prayer for others” on this week’s “Live your faith” sheet that brings those who are hungry, and the work of food banks, to God.
If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem, of being too little, the song “You Say” on Lauren Daigle’s album may be a helpful one to hear.
If you want to explore further how God meets with us in even in isolation and in our mundane every day lives – just as Jesus recognised the crowd’s need to meet with him and then their basic need to be fed – then you might like to hear the new song “Immanuel” by Andy Flannagan, commissioned by LICC.
As mentioned in the All-Age Introduction for 2 August in the ROOTS weekly material, you could take time to think about what small things you could offer to or share with others: a meal; companionship for a walk; a phone call; a letter? And if you think it’s not enough or no one would welcome it, offer it in prayer to God anyway and talk to someone else about it – perhaps it will meet a need of which they’re aware?
If you’re lucky enough that your own material needs are met, you could consider investigating local or national charities that help those who are not in that situation. For example, you could find out how to help your local food bank. The Trussell Trust website could provide a starting point, or just do a web search for food bank and your local area.
Rebecca Froley was web editor for the launch team for ROOTS nearly 20 years ago and now works in the digital content industry as a product manager. She normally worships at a Baptist church in the London Borough of Sutton but in lockdown has been enjoying the opportunity to explore the virtual worship shared online by other churches too.
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