St. Augustine of Hippo

Episcopal Church


“Between Theory and Practice: What We Must Do as Disciples”

(Matthew 14:13–21)

August 2, 2020


The Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre

Have you ever been taking a class and haven’t seen the pertinence of that class in what you want to do in your life? I have never seen what trigonometry has done for me. After high school, I cannot remember one day I had to apply the sine, cosine, tangent and cotangent formulas I had to memorize in order to deal with angles. What I can remember is how the more the teacher was trying to explain, the more confused I was.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus taught the disciples about the kingdom of heaven. He told them many parables to lead them to understand what the kingdom of heaven is, and the disciple’s role in making it happen. In today’s portion, the disciples lamentably failed, like a person who understands the theory but cannot apply it in practice. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 

Hearing the gospel of Jesus is a good start, but what do we do with it? Where do we move to, from the time we hear it? How did the disciples apply the parables they were taught? How do we apply them in our lives today?

Jesus did not finish providing them with the theory they needed to master using the parable of the mustard seed, and teaching them that no seed is too small for God to transform into a pervasive bush, that they’ve already forgotten what is asked of a disciple when comes the time to put it into practice. Like our elites nowadays, the disciples were then, and many of us today, are just concerned with self and personal preservation. We cannot see the little actions we can do to transform the nightmare in which some live to the dream that God intended. How many of us are still acting like the disciples when we hear people complaining about racism, and joblessness? How many of us are watching hunger gaining ground all over the world and in this country but couldn’t careless? Instead of bringing to God a part of what we have for him to multiply, we choose to keep that for ourselves and tell God: “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus realized that he had to expose the disciples to a moment of application. The theory needed to be implemented so that they could really learn. 16 “… They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Jesus told them. Where humans, in our ego-centeredness, see impossibility, God sees new possibilities 18 And Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. And before their very eyes took five loaves of bread and did the unexpected.

Sisters and brothers, miracles do not happen out of a vacuum. Going to God empty-handed, as if we have not been blessed enough to have something to offer, is egocentric. We have all received a gift of some sort from God. Bringing a part of it to God, as little as what we have, is to trust that God can do with it what we cannot. Sometimes we pray, only asking God for more and more. It is as if we will never have enough. We don’t understand that faith is not working without putting in the work. For miracles to happen, we must do the work. We must walk the walk besides talking the talk. In the chapter 13th parables, Jesus taught that we don’t need to have too much to start sharing.

Some of us come to this sacred place we call church, only to get something from God. Some of us even believe that our sole responsibility is to make sure any nickel or dime donated by others (those who are the most compulsive about checking the books are not among the most generous), is not spent unnoticed. We don’t even respect God enough to give him our time, as we are too busy running our personal errands; we don’t bring God our talents and we don’t bring God our treasures because we think someone is out to take them from God. “Change does not come in nickels and dimes. It comes in dedication and sweat.” Instead of having transactional relationships, Jesus taught us to try transformational relationships. How can the kingdom of heaven come into being if no one is contributing time, talents and treasure to bring it to fruition? How can we demand accountability when we ourselves are investing nothing in the kingdom of heaven? When we want a reward for each and every work we do for the kingdom? When salvation become so personal that we are racing against another sinner thinking we’ll get there before? What do we bring to God so that the kingdom of heaven can establish itself here and now on earth? If you see the world falling apart around you and contribute nothing to fix it either because of fear or laziness, do not blame those who are trying to fix it, but not in the way you would. Having faith is one thing but living our faith is much more important. 

That is why agriculture was such a great metaphor for Jesus. When we plant corn for example, we bury one seed in the ground. We do not know what the outcome will be. The outcome is always unexpected but we are always amazed to see that when we work hard to water the plant, when we defend the land from the attacks of vermin whose goals are to destroy our investment, when God use the sun to bring to the plants the right amount of light and heat, the harvest is positively rewarding.

In a world so afflicted by many pandemics, what can we do to provide the bread of justice, the bread of respect and the bread of love to those who hunger for them? What? You are going to pretend you don’t know? You will pretend that you can only fight racism, sexism, and social injustice to the limits of your abilities? When we start to be willing to transform those vicious signs that are prepared to ruin what we have planted, nothing is too small for us to bring forth and I guarantee you that little by little, we can redeem a world from the inevitable forfeiture toward which it is heading.

The decision to be either the bank robber or the bank owner is ours. We can get into good troubles to change the unjust structures of our world. We can be indifferent to the needs around us and tell the crowds to get lost or go get what they need to survive on their own. If there is something that I deeply believe it is the following: Nothing we bring to God goes to waste. God is our provider and God’s job is to provide. But if we are not part of the solution to hunger and social injustice in the world, we are part of the problem.

Jesus does not want our indifference

Jesus does not want our deference

Jesus does not want our divergence

Jesus wants our inference

Jesus wants our interference

To follow Jesus is to be willing to sacrifice the little that we have for the good of all. It is to trust in Jesus’ ability to multiply what we bring so that all can find some relief. Jesus is teaching that there is no real satisfaction when one has a full belly and the crowds are hungry.

What are the deprivations of the world today? Why is healthcare a privilege of some and inaccessible to all? The kingdom of heaven can only be among us when all can be fed, all can have access to healthcare and education. Until then, we must remain involved even if that means getting in good trouble. This trouble is good enough for us to get involved. Amen.