Mission has been an integral part of the Church’s life in one way or another for the whole history of Christianity and as with anything that is really familiar it is easy to just keep going as we have been without much reflection on how and why we do what we do. While our mission work is for the benefit of our neighbors and the whole of creation it is not a task that we do by ourselves, but rather a cooperative effort between God and us. The story of the feeding of the 5,000+ in Matthew’s Gospel illustrates this collaboration well.
13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. 14 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. 15 That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16 But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”
17 They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”
18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21 About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.
The initial instruction to feed the people comes from Jesus after his disciples suggest sending the crowd away. Similarly our call to serve our neighbors, to advocate for their needs, and care for them comes from Jesus. The work of mission involves intentional listening to the needs of others and the voice of God, it's not something we decide to do just because we want to or we think it makes sense to.
The collaboration between Jesus and the disciples begins when they bring forward the five loaves and two fish. They gather what they have and Jesus turns it into more than enough for the task at hand. After which Jesus gives the food to his disciples to distribute. The feeding could not have happened without both Jesus and the disciples’ efforts. This is how all church mission works, we use what we have and trust God to lead us in making it enough for the task at hand. In mission we are called to cooperative work with God and one another. We are called to faithful creativity in how we might use our resources, even and especially when they seem like they are not enough. As the disciples trusted Jesus, let us do likewise, that he might use our hands and our resources to serve those around us in ways expected and unexpected.
“There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”