Proper 13 (August 3, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Is. 55:1-5, Ps. 145:8-9, 14-21; Rom. 9:1-5; Matt. 14:13-21
This week we visited MCC partners in Lebanon, where Ken and Kass Seitz serve as MCC Representatives. For brief periods in the 1950s, MCC provided relief supplies in Tyre and Beirut. MCC has had a permanent presence in Lebanon since 1977.
Lebanon has experienced years of occupation and war. It now hosts thousands of Palestinian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees. MCC’s programs in Lebanon seek to address these realities by supporting a variety of relief, vocational training, peacebuilding and interfaith bridgebuilding efforts.
The primary purpose of our travel was to work out the details of an MCC grant to the Imam Sadr Foundation in southern Lebanon.
Named after Imam Moussa Al-Sadr – a prominent cleric who disappeared in August 1978 during a peacemaking visit to Libya – the Foundation “seeks to bring about social justice, change and equity by working closely with the local communities in South Lebanon on health, education and promoting a culture of dialogue and reconciliation.” MCC is funding a project that aims to strengthen civil society in Iraq by training 15 women leaders who work for Iraqi NGOs.
This week’s Lectionary texts are about missed opportunities and nearly missed opportunities.
The prophet Isaiah asks why people pay money for things that do not satisfy, when God graciously invites all to eat and drink freely that which is good (Is. 55:1-2). God’s generous offer extends to all who will come to God and listen (v. 3).
Similarly, the psalmist declares that the Lord is good, compassionate, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, just and kind (Ps. 145:8-9, 17). But many fail to experience God in this way because they refuse to call upon God in truth (v.18), to revere God (v.19) and to love God (v.20).
In the Epistle reading, Paul expresses “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Rom. 9:2) because God’s people have failed to embrace God’s adoption, covenants, law and promises (v.4).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples almost miss the opportunity to help him feed a large crowd. The disciples see a hungry mass of people and limited resources. They want to send the throng back to their villages to fend for themselves. Jesus has compassion for the great crowd. He heals their sick and invites his disciples to help him feed the thousands with only five small loaves and two fish. God honors this act of faith. All eat their fill and there are still leftovers!
In Lebanon this week we also heard stories about missed opportunities. For thousands of years, Lebanon was occupied or controlled by outside powers – including Romans, Greeks, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans and the French. Only in 1943 did Lebanon finally gain its “independence.” Sadly, Lebanon is still subject to powerful regional and international influences, which have contributed to the internal strife in Lebanon.
We heard many stories about courage and persistence in the midst of great difficulties. In Lebanon, as in so many places around the world, ordinary people simply want to enjoy the simple things of life – home and health, family and friendship, and enough to eat and drink.
In many ways MCC’s presence in this region feels like small loaves and fish – seemingly incapable of making much difference in the midst of such great need and long-standing conflict. Our prayer is that God will help MCC see opportunities rather than obstacles. And that God will multiply the simple resources that MCC brings and make them a blessing to many.