Hardly Heart, Hardy Heart

It is interesting, and amazing, the manner in which Jesus steps into our prejudices and hatred to paint a picture for us of God’s mercy, his compassion, and his love. How he takes us in our imperfect place and walks us toward light and away from our darkness. Jesus takes those things we attempt to hide as secular, or sinful, and instead uses them to define his holiness.  He reaches into the dark places of our hearts and pulls out those things that keep us from following him with a genuine and a full gait. Whether it is him being seen in the bright light of the day speaking to an individual doubly maligned for her gender and her hated cultural identification, or as he notices an invisible woman bent over dismissed woman in the temple, or even as he publicly dined at the home of a despised tax collector, Jesus never permitted human divisions to hide his love, to stop his mercy, or to limit the scope of his compassion. That was exactly what Jesus genuinely presented in the flesh because that is exactly what God is. It is what God desires that we strive to be.

we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect, we are striving to forge a union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division. Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time. Then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade. The hill we climb if only we dare.

Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb

I was struck by the poem, especially the reference to the scripture, a phrase found in three different places in the Old Testament, everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.’ A passage used almost 50 times in the writings of President George Washington.  In one of those OT passages, the prophet Micah speaks to a people who have have rejected God but have not been rejected by God.  A people who have laid aside their heart for God and exchanged it for a heart that can hardly listen or follow God.  A people who are destined to be bullied and buried under their own ruble and taken into slavery by those who have pronounced judgement against them.  A people who God is promising an ultimate rescue, and refuge, and safety from those who seek to destroy them, a time of mercy, acceptance, shelter, and peace for all who have weathered the same fate of suffering discrimination, prejudice, and destruction.  A people hated by others but always loved by God. A people who God leads back to a hardy heart able to fully follow Him.

It is not surprising that George Washington would be drawn to this biblical phrase.  Our imperfect founding fathers, while personally struggling with it, were  at least in theory, supporters of this concept – as evidenced in their writing of the  the Declaration of Independence,

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ 

Declaration of Independence

They, as we are today, were plagued with the question, ‘is our calling to protect our unalienable rights, or is our calling to promote the unalienable rights of all peoples?’  It is a difficult balance, one that we still struggle with today.  Ironically, this was the calling which prompted Jesus to send out his disciples in Mark 6.

This brings us to another prophet, a prophet who was a big supporter of Micah’s vine and fig tree proclamations – until he wasn’t. The prophet Jonah, a prophet for whom God also provided a vine, or a plant, to give refuge. This refuge, for Jonah, was a place to pout, a place to withdraw from those he hated, those for whom he had decided deserved no mercy or compassion.  Jonah was a prophet, used by God, to call people back to God.  And Jonah was an effective prophet, and he did it well, until God instructed him to go to a people who he could not stomach, a people who Jonah had already condemned, a people for whom he held no hope and even less concern. God told Jonah to go east but Jonah went west.  God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, but Jonah headed to Tarshish. The folks at Tarshish were tolerable, the people at Ninevah were beyond reprehensible. There was hope for God’s message at Tarshish, there was no hope for the people at Ninevah.  They were a waste of time, they were a waste of Jonah’s time. To be honest, Jonah didn’t want them to have the option of hope, such were the feelings of this ‘man of God.’

The crazy thing is that Jonah was incredibly successful even in his rebellion.  All the crew of the ship he attempted to flee on ended up praising the one true God because of his Jonah’s life witness.  Jonah, however, ended up in the belly of a big fish who was traveling east, and soon Jonah was in Ninevah, exactly where God had called him to go originally. So Jonah begins resentfully communicating the message from God. He half hearted proclaimed ‘Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!’ Ninevah, a city of such size that would take Jonah three days to walk the distance, so he began that first day. It was the worst sermon ever, it didn’t even mention God.  His posture communicated a complete indifference towards the people, if not a full on disgust.  Jonah began that first day acting as a ‘mistreated’ adolescent who has been asked to take out the trash by an ‘unreasonable’ parent.  Shoulders shrugged, head looking down, ambivalence in his voice, and a heart that was hardly present. Not only did he not care, he actually hoped no one would listen.  But they did listen, by the end of the first day they had heard, the entire city, they had not just heard but they had taken the message to heart. Logistically this means that Jonah covered a three day journey dismissively telling God’s message as he had to run though the city, or, that the people were so impacted that the word spread fast, accomplishing a three day endeavor in a day’s time. The people responded immediately, the impact was so intense and blatant that the King even joined in, his heart was genuine in its hardy acceptance. The people and their leaders had all responded to God’s message – lives had been changed, hearts had been turned, a miracle beyond miracles had happened, and God’s prophet had totally missed it. With shoulders shrugged, head down, and feet furiously shuffling to get out of the city, Jonah found his vine, a plant that had grown up just to shield him from the heat of the day.  A plant to give him shelter.  It was the place where he retreated to pout and complain.

‘This is why I wanted to go west,’ Jonah complained to God.  ‘I knew that you are merciful and full of compassion and that you would do just this, that you would forgive these horrible, horrible, people. You said you would destroy them but now you are giving them mercy.  You let this horrid group of humans change  your mind and move your heart!’

This experience of Jonah reveals to us that it is impossible to be whole hearted on board with God’s plan if you are not first fully trusting God’s love and his timing.  

If you are unable to be a conduit of God’s love then you are unable to see the miracle of God’s mercy and compassion. The tragic thing is that Jonah was the avenue for one of the greatest miracles of God. An entire people grabbed ahold of a revolutionary movement in just the limited time it took for the sun to rise and set – the lowliest of society to the heights of royalty and ultimately to the King had turned to God. It was a huge miracle and a huge act of God’s transforming power, a miracle that Jonah was invited to witness, instead, Jonah pouted because these people did not deserve God’s mercy, but he did. His hatred and prejudice got in the way.

By the time that Jesus walks out of the wilderness he had seen and experienced it all.  He had experienced human connection, rejection, adoption, and affection.  He had been a part of family, a part of religion, a part of the oppressed, a part of the people.  He had been recognized by God and head on attacked by Satan.  He had resisted, accepted, rejected, embraced, loved, and even left – all difficult and often painful actions. He had been in the midst of holy and at the door of hell; he had stepped into the waters that said ‘yes’ to the Father and had stepped back from the edge of the steeple saying ‘no’ to self; he had been tempted by evil and had instead stuck with truth. As he walked out of the wilderness, reality hit, immediately he was confronted with the oppression of a political system which was compounded by the collusion with a religious system.  The stage was set, it was time for Jesus to step out of the shadows and onto stage center.

Up to this point, Mark has acquainted us with Jesus just through the actions of  Jesus, ‘he stepped into the water,’ ‘he stepped into the wilderness’, ‘He came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.’ But now we hear the words and witness of Jesus as he says, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  It was a statement of undeniable definitiveness said with a confidence and authority that could not be silenced. Quite frankly, we could spend the rest of our time just deconstructing each of these words and phrases, for they all add to this frank proclamation from Jesus.  Instead, we will look at two:

‘The time if fulfilled.’  

A statement of ‘it is time’ 

or an even more frank message that ‘it’s time,’ probably said  with an exclamation point.  

However, it can also be interpreted as ‘that’s enough’, as in a parent deciding that the dinner table conversation has gone too far, too out of control, that it is time to reel it in.  Jesus has not only spent 3 decades in the flesh, seeing the human experience from the inside, he has also seen the unseen, the evil that permeates under the surface, and then he saw the attack on ‘right’ as he learns that John the baptizer has been arrested.  “That is enough’ he yells, it is time to turn this around, to look back to the holy God, it is time for change! This was not a passive moment for Jesus, nor was it a delicate entrance into the public eye, it was a bold, it was unapologetic, it was time.

Repent.’ This was covered in our insight portion of our Take  5 this week but it warrants voicing it again.  Jesus, and John the Baptizer, both spoke of this essential act of repentance.  It was the symbolic waters of John’s baptism and it is the purpose of what Jesus is about to start doing.  Typically, the  word that the Israelites would have expected to be used to say ‘Repent’ would be the hebrew word ‘Teshuvah’ – which means what we still automatically think of when we hear the challenge to ‘repent’ – a focus on our actions, our sin, our disobedience.  We expect the listeners to hear this call as to point out their transgressions against God and their  transgressions against each other.  However, Jesus, and John, both use a different Hebrew word, their choice is the word, ‘metanoia’ which is much bigger and further reaching than just talking about the sin of an individual.  In using the word ‘metanoia’ both of these men are calling the people to not only turn from their evil ways but to instead let God change their heart, to change their inner being, to have an entirely new perspective on life.  This is a call not just to the individual but also a call to be a community of change, a force for good.

Jesus was calling a people to change, bigger than just a personal recognition of one’s own sin but to the way we see life, others, and God. This was the beginning of moving a people forward, forward from an externally monitored law, forward to truth written on our hearts.

As Jesus began to build this community he started by looking for those that were looking for this change of perspective, a change of heart.  They probably could not define their quest in this manner but it was surely the reason they had been unable to find it up to this point.  The tradition was that a rabbi would select disciples from those who had found the rabbi, however, Jesus went looking for those who were unknowingly looking for him.

Jesus walked among men who were in the midst of life.  Individuals who were living life in their own community, working in their reality. They were the beginning of this new community Jesus was forming.  Jesus called first to Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John.  All four men dropped what held them to that place and turned to follow Jesus. They willingly left jobs and family, those left behind knew these men had been looking for. They had been searching and keeping their ears and eyes open, ready to follow, they had been whole hearted in their search and now they were following with  hardy hearts, ready to see, ready to be used by God.

This is what it comes down to, 

A hardy heart.   

A heart that is ready and ‘robust; capable of enduring difficult conditions.’ It is an adjective that is often used to describe a plant that is able to withstand the cold of winter or the heat of summer.  This year we planted some pansies around our house.  Pansies are not anywhere near pansies, they are hardy, the extreme cold and the elements of winter only seem to strengthen their resolve to survive and look beautiful. These delicate flowers have a strong, hardy, constitution.  There is nothing holding them back, they seem to have an inner determination to succeed.  They are the definition of Hardy. In the same way a Hardy Heart is one that is determined in the search and resolved in the finding.  Jesus was looking for followers who had Hardy Hearts, hearts that would have the resolve to survive rejection, grief, doubt, devastation, and even exhilaration.  Hearts that were ready to take on a new perspective, hearts that were resolved to support the new person that God was creating, hearts determined to be community with other Hardy Hearts through the thick and the thin.  

A vivd example of this occurred this past Wednesday a a good portion of Americans watched the inauguration sensing the hope they had not felt for 4 years, there was another portions of Americans who, at the same time, had broken hearts, they were now hopeless after 4 years of feeling hopeful.  Both of these groups of people’s state of hope was based on a person, a politician, a political agenda, an external change – a change which can change again in 4 years.  The hope and the hopelessness of that day were legitimate reactions, however, they were also a lesson for us all – our hope is not in a human being, not in a philosophy, not in an agenda, not in an institution, not in anything earthly, our hope is in God, it is in God alone. It is the singular determining factor of a hardy heart, it is an assurance of a lasting and persevering hope.  

Viktor E. Frankl who survived 4 WWII Nazi concentration camps while losing his parents, brother, and his pregnant wife, wrote in his classic Man’s Search for  Meaning that while in the camps he was struck by

‘the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ After liberation Frankl went on to study what made some survive for a future outside the camp and others who were never able to regain any sense of hope even after liberation.  He came to the conclusion that it all comes down to a future hope, something to look forward which is only possible when we are able to fill the ‘existential vacuum’ in our lives with that which cannot be destroyed by the actions of evil men. He concluded that there is a necessity within all humans for ‘meaning’.

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This is what the Psalmist is alluding to in chapter 62. 

‘For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.’

Psalm 62:5-12

Jonah allowed his those things external to cause him to forget the source of his hope, he allowed his heart to fail. The disciples waited and searched for the source of their hope – they did not miss their hope when it called out to them, they followed with hardy hearts. Our hope is our meaning, it is our purpose, it is our deliverer, it is our God.

Wrestling til’ Daybreak

08.02.20

In seventh grade there was the group of boys who have already become ‘men’ – puberty for them was a thing of the past. Then there was the other half, like me and most of my friends, who were still a decade or two away from puberty.  Then, there was Matt, Matt experienced puberty prior to learning to walk.

No where was this categorization more obvious than in Physical Education class. Everyday, class would begin the same, when seemingly a 1,000 seventh grade boys would cram into the small locker room to change into our required gym clothes.  Not only was this a challenge because of space, but also, because the past puberty seventh grade men would just walk up and rip the lock off their locker, while the pre pubescent seventh grade boys would be in a panic, scrambling to remember their combination – at the end of class, we would all crowd back into the same locker room to take the required shower all together in the no privacy group shower room. It was terrifying.  Coaches would stand at the exit door to make sure everyone had wet hair before leaving. In between the beginning and the end of class, there was the actual class.  Small, beanpole, frightened boys playing games such as Dodge Ball against huge and hairy men. 

While the Friday Seventh Grade Dodge Ball games were enough to send shivers down the spine of a 7th grade boy….we were unaware of the true evil coming our way – until we did, it all began on a late fall Monday, in third hour.

The Wrestling unit.

The coach had quickly educated us on the first move, this was holding down your opponent or freeing yourself from your opponent. Followed by coach pairing us up with our opponent for the entire wrestling unit. His method of choosing partners is best described as ‘sadistic’.  From the beginning pair up, his strategy was painfully obvious – man against boy. The most terrifying of all pairings came at the moment when coach, sporting an evil smirk, yelled, ‘Anthony’, then taking a long pause to build the suspense, his evil smirk gradually widened as we turned and looked at all men waiting to be chosen. There was only one man left, I had been keeping track. He looked at me, and the fear in my eyes, and then turned to Matt and said ‘Matt, you will be Anthony’s partner.’

Coach was now in his happy place.

As Matt and I were called to the wrestling mat, instead of walking to the center of the mat, Matt walked directly to me. He bent his head down to my ear, remember that Matt was a giant, whispering, ‘I will be in thee floor position.’ At this point it was all semantics for me, on the floor or kneeling, the outcome would be the same.  I had resigned myself to a death on a Monday in late fall on the mat in the wrestling room during third hour.

As we took our positions, I unsuccessfully attempted to hide my fear, coach blew the whistle. Matt quickly rolled out of my grasp – exactly the way Coach had instructed, his next move, however, was a bit more unorthodox.  He rolled to his back, pressed his shoulders to the wrestling mat and yelled, ’Anthony pinned me!’

Coach still had the whistle hanging between his teeth, but now his evil smirk had change to a look of pure confusion.  His joy was gone, his sadistic anticipation of a bloody match, had evaporated in an instant.

Matt stood up, looked at coach, and said, ‘I don’t do wrestling.” He then walked away from the center returning to his seat on the edges of the mat.  

It was a surreal moment as coach raised my hand in the air and instructed me to return to my seat.  The next day we coach announced that we had completed the wrestling unit and would be moving on to the second part of the basketball unit.

Matt was now a hero for all the seventh grade prepubescent boys.

Wrestling is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to 3,000 BC.  It was introduced into the ancient olympics in the year 708 BC. My, career in wrestling, began, and ended, on a mat in the wrestling room of West Junior High School of Norman, OK, in the year 1973 AD, during third hour on a late fall morning.

The grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, was a hard and successful worker, but not really a fighter, or a wrestler, he was more of a runner (as in run away), he was a natural manipulator, an even better deceiver, but, he was not a fighter.  However, he was about to face the most epic of all wrestling matches.   

Jacob was on his way home, it had been 20 years since he had run away from a fight at home, a fight, with his brother which he was sure to lose.  During that 20 years he had married 2 sisters, had children by both wives and servants, had amassed a fortune, and realized that he was a good business man. He had also, for the first time, met his match in Laban, his deceptive and manipulative father-in-law….who had warriors to fight for him.

Jacob had weighed the odds of facing his scheming father-in-law, or, facing his brother Esau, who had surely been nursing a very justified grudge for the past 20 years.

As he secretly snuck out of Laban’s house with his wives, children, servants and possessions, he headed home, on the way, Jacob attempted to soften the anger of Esau by sending daily gifts. As he approached the ultimate face to face confrontation, Jacob delayed the inevitable for one more night.  Continually calculating the potential risks, Jacob split up his family, people, and possessions and hid them safely to minimize his losses. Then, after enlisting the use of all of his strategies of manipulations, Jacob went back to the overnight camp and prepared for a night alone.

Even with all of his selfish faults, Jacob was a very determined man.  His very name meant ‘one who holds onto his brother’s heel’ – which is what he was doing at his own birth.  Even in the womb he was determined to get, and be, the most of every category.

Back at camp, as Jacob was alone, there was a man who gave Jacob no option but to engage in the epic wrestling match of a lifetime.  It was dark so Jacob could not see who he was against, but the possibilities were endless. It could have been the ghost of his father, Isaac, who Jacob has deceived, or his bother Esau, who Jacob had deceived, or his father-in-law,  Labah, who Jacob had deceived. That was just the top three most obvious choices.  He did not realize it but he was actually about to engage in an all night wrestling match with God.  If the fight had been during the daylight, Jacob would have never engaged, he would have recognized the odds were definitely not in his favor, Jacob would have employed his most successful maneuver, he would have run away.  It was dark though, and Jacob unknowingly, engaged in an epic struggle.

God, being a father, fought like a father. He withheld his own power to match that of his child Jacob. This was not just a struggle of Jacob with God, it was also a struggle for God against Jacob.  In many aspects, Jacob had been in this wrestling match his entire life.  Battling the powers within himself that were constantly at war with what he knew was right.  Choosing to mistreat and mislead loved ones, leaving them with no choice but to compete with each other for his love and attention; the very ones who should have been able to rest in his love and acceptance, his wives and his own children.  Then there were those who love for Jacob was betrayed by his determination to ‘get more’ – his father and his brother.  This was not Jacob’s first wrestling match, but it was his first honest interaction that mattered, this struggle was pivotal and essential in the life of Jacob.

There is something very different in a wrestling struggle and a mere street fight.  In a fight your goal is to destroy your opponent, to a the point that he cannot even rise up as the fight is over – in a wrestling match, your goal is to prevail, to take inventory of all of all your resources, your strengths and your mind, and then use those resources to out maneuver, to out wit, and to out discern your opponent.  In the dark, when you do not know who your opponent is, reading the situation and the powers against you is much more difficult – all you have is your own resources doing all you can to prevail.  

As a sliver of daylight became visible on the horizon and the two men were still struggling, God,  released his power through a gentle touch.  A touch that displaced Jacob’s hip – a touch that broke Jacob, a touch that reveled to Jacob that this was no ordinary opponent.

Let go of me,’ God said to Jacob.

‘I will not until you bless me,’ Jacob replied.

Jacob was beginning to recognize the fullness of this situation.  While getting a blessing had been the goal of his life, he was fearful yet interested in the possibilities of this moment.  This was a transformative moment for Jacob, his struggle now turned inward, no longer being about prevailing but, instead, it now was about coming to terms with himself.  Understanding that his life was meant to be more than just about Jacob, but, quite possibly his life was about something larger.

The Jewish understanding of the concept of ‘blessing’ was not the self-centered, fortune cookie vision, that we have now. A blessing was given so that the blessed would bless others. God was going to bless Jacob so that, in order with the promise that had passed from his grandfather, to his father, and now to him. 

Understanding the full meaning a blessing, and understanding the cultural and religious understanding of the day, is essential for us to understand the transformation taking place in Jacob. A truly selfless spirit had to exist to receive such a blessing, and, until this struggle with God, Jacob did not have such a spirit. This struggle was the nudge, or push, that connected the dots for Jacob, he had an epiphany as the sun rose that morning. He was finally ready and willing to receive the blessing that he had been seeking his entire life.

Jacob used his greatest power, the power that he had been endowed with in the womb, the power to hold on.  As the night-long exhausting wrestling match depleted Jacob’s strength and power, he held on to this opponent. To which his opponent said,

‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’

God to Jacob

It was all very fuzzy but Jacob thought he heard the words ‘striven’, ‘God’, ‘humans’ and ‘prevailed.’  Jacob had no problem with the word ‘striven’ that had been the storyline of his life, a constant struggle with someone, but the words ‘God’ and ‘Prevailed?” 

‘Have I just wrestled with God all night? and, did I win?’

Jacob to himself

As Jacob considered the implications of his opponent’s statement, an opponent who had now withdrawn himself, Jacob began to have, as he allowed, an experience of transformation. He could see beyond himself, he realized his role in the course of the world, he was humbled and depleted, he was broken, he was being rebuilt.  He now walked with a limp, but there was also a change in his countenance, no longer was he dependent on his own wits to survive, life was much bigger now. He was not perfect, there would still be a lot of rough edges but this was at least a partial metamorphosed Jacob. As can be seen in the name he gives to this place, ‘Peniel’, meaning ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ It was a transformation that his life was no longer about prevailing, he wasn’t a prevailer, he was a runner – he had not prevailed, all he had done was to hold onto God, and in the struggle, he had been preserved.

He was now ready to face life, all the unknown, with no guarantees, no assurance of victories or personal gain, no recognition of importance or worth, but now, he was facing life with hope, sustainability, mercy and humility, all grounded on love.

In in order to understand the pertinence of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, to our own lives, let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years.  We end up at a wilderness place with thousands of hungry humans along with an exhausted Jesus and his weary disciples. Jesus has been denied even the shortest of breaks as he has, once again, has seen the oppression, the suffering, and the misery of the people.  His compassion and mercy compelled him to address their needs.  His passion makes it impossible to ignore. His, was a gut response to the needs, it pushed him to release, to heal, to free. There was an everlasting line of needs, one after the other. Jesus lived in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on earth, a dwelling place that he calls all believers to live in,  a place where the physical needs of others are of priority to address, when the earthly reality is that the Roman Imperial system, as well as the existing religious system, did not see physical needs such as health, hunger, disease, poverty, shelter, abuse, and education as issues of priority.

So, when the disciples suggested that it was getting dark and that it would be best to send the crowds home, Jesus was perplexed.  There were still needs to be met, plus, now the people were hungry.

‘You feed them,’

Jesus to Disciples

‘We do not have anything to give them,’ the confused followers said, ‘we didn’t plan on feeding anyone, let alone a crowd this size.  We don’t have anything! What good can 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread for all these people?’

While what they didn’t have was the earthly focus of the disciples, the kingdom focus of Jesus was on what they did have.  They had a starting point. Jesus took that bread and the fish, and broke it all apart and distributed the small, tiny pieces into the baskets to be passed among the people.

The disciples had to be horrified at the thought of passing these basically empty baskets among the hungry crowd, to a crowd expecting something great to happen. The disciples had to be frustrated.  Jesus needed to rest, the crowds were hungry, the line for help was endless, they were in the middle of no where, it was time to go home.  The disciples were upset, they were struggling, they were in an epic wrestling match.  It was daylight, they could see their opponent, it was the whiny and complaining crowds with all their needs, their suffering, their oppression, their ancestral passing down of this oppression based largely on pigmentation, their nationality, their societal placement, the color of their skin, their enslavement, their poverty, and now their hunger.  They were not prepared and now it was on Jesus, and the disciples to provide.

‘When would this end?’ They questioned.

The more their frustration simmered the more they realized that the crowds were not their opponent, much like Jacob, they were wresting against Jesus, they were wresting against God.

Jesus was the problem, God was the source of this ridiculous situation. If Jesus did not have to stop every time a hurting person appeared this would not have gotten so out of hand.  If only God were to instruct Jesus to dismiss the needs sometimes, if only he would moderate the passionate compassion of Jesus.  Afterall, there were more important and pressing things to get to.

As with all of Jesus miracles, the miracle of creation to this moment of needs and hunger, we do not know the technical details of the abundance of food that filled every person in attendance that day, but we do know that the day ended with an abundance. It could have been a magical moment when the tiny broken pieces strangely multiplied, or it could have been an even more miraculous transformational moment as the people put themselves aside realizing they didn’t have to take more than they needed, or possibly seeing the contribution of the fish and loaves spurred them to realize they also could contribute.  Regardless of the how, the reality is that there was not only enough food there was actually an abundance.

The disciples then realized that their struggle was not with the crowds, nor was it with Jesus, it was with themselves. It was about a struggle with trust that came with living outside of the Kingdom of heaven where earthly things are allowed to hinder us from answering the call of God. Keeping us from addressing issues of injustice, oppression, deep inherited baggage that is more than humans can bear, hunger, sickness, racism, hatred, dismissal, disregard, poverty, and all suffering. All the things that tangle our roots and restrict our sight.

A wrestling match can bring us to transformation if we hold on. A struggle can show us what we have instead of what we do not have.  What is your struggle, what is God bringing into your vision?

With an attitude of willingness to be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, let us pray.