Feeding Others As We Are Fed
Lent 3 / A
15 March 2020
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
"… the disciples (urged Jesus), 'Rabbi, eat something.'"
We are advised never to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. And it seems I can now also advise against sermon preparation.
I must have been hungry when I sat down to read the lessons for this morning and begin work on a homily. Or perhaps I was anticipating this morning’s chili cook-off. For whatever reason, this was the verse that jumped out at me from this morning’s lengthy Gospel reading: "Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, 'Rabbi, eat something.'"
It is not often that we find anyone in the Gospels giving Jesus advice or telling him what to do. He is after all the Lord, the Son of God - the one we would expect to find telling others what to do. Jesus does not routinely need anyone’s advice. Even his mother, in the story of the wedding at Cana, simply announces to him, “They have no wine.” Then she leaves the rest to him. Even Mary – unlike most Jewish mothers - does not tell her grown son what to do.
So it is surprising, and somewhat touching, to find the disciples in our Gospel account for this morning, telling Jesus to eat something. Jesus was, we are told, “tired out by his journey”. Perhaps that is why the disciples leave him at the well while they head into town for food and he has his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Taking note of his weariness, the disciples urge him in no uncertain terms to get some nourishment. Take care of yourself, they seem to say.
Beyond their genuine concern for Jesus, the disciples are probably also at least a little fearful that he will burn himself out, use himself up, and in the process, leave them in the lurch, bereft of his strength and presence and guidance. So, eat something! Mange! Mange! Bon appetit! No doubt offering him the food they had just brought from the city.
But they need not have worried.
“I have food to eat,” Jesus responds, “(food) that you do not know about.”
As is so often the case, the disciples – always a bit slow on the uptake - at first fail to understand. With a note of puzzlement in their voices, they say, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat!” But Jesus explains, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.”
He reminds the disciples - and us - that we are all on a mission; that, like the Hebrews with Moses in the wilderness, the one who sends us forth is also the one who will provide for us; and that in doing the will of the Father we find that we ourselves are spiritually fed and emotionally nourished.
People will often comment – and you may have experienced for yourself - that in the act of doing something for others, you receive so much more than you have given. Doing the Lord’s will nourishes and sustains and enriches us still. It brings us together in community for prayer and fellowship – as we find ourselves doing here this morning. And it also propels us out into the world, to go among those still in need of the Lord’s comfort and care. That is why the Lord tells the disciples, “The fields are ripe for harvesting.”
In an age of fast food and supermarkets where no food item is ever out of season … in a nation where less than ten percent of us live on farms … it can sometimes be difficult to be in touch, or even know the time for harvesting … difficult to remember the sowing and the reaping and all that goes into growing our food resources … more difficult still to remember that it is only through the harvest itself that we are nourished and fed. But without the harvest, there is no food. Without the harvest, there is no life.
Food not only keeps body and soul together, it knits together families and communities. And the Church is no exception. Indeed, our primary worship service, Holy Communion, is itself a ritual meal in which bread and wine are consumed, having become the body and blood of our Lord.
In this sacred meal that we share each week, we are nourished and strengthened for whatever may await us outside these walls. But if we in the Church feed only ourselves, we will find that we are never truly and completely fed. If we concentrate only on ourselves, we will always hunger for more. We will starve to death in the midst of God’s bountiful harvest. As followers of Christ, we are called to bring spiritual sustenance to a world still starved for God. “We only live,” wrote Lucy Larcom, a nineteenth-century American poet, “when we feed one another, as we have been fed.”
The Samaritan woman at the well is an unlikely disciple and evangelist, but the people of the town, having heard her testimony, come out to meet Jesus and see for themselves if he is the Messiah; to see for themselves if he can bring them the living water and food that will assuage their inner hunger and satisfy their inner thirst. And as the Gospel tells us, “many more believed because of his word.”
People still come today to be fed and nourished and have their life sustained through hearing the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. We can testify to that fact, for we are among them.
“Rabbi, eat something.” At this point in the story, the disciples were undoubtedly thinking only of physical nourishment and the strength and renewal it brings to our tired bodies. They did not yet grasp that it is Jesus himself who feeds us and strengthens us with his word and Gospel and hope and promise.
But we are nourished and sustained – in fact, we truly live! - only if we are willing to first “eat something” ourselves; and only if we then enter out into the harvest and feed others as we have been fed.