Madsen: ‘Somebody’ causes problems

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 16, 2017


The minister stood in the pulpit and looked out over the congregation and, in a loud voice, said, “We need to get rid of somebody.”

The eyes of the congregants sparkled with delight and wonder.

“We need to get rid of somebody,” he said again.


Everyone, especially those who had seen the sermon title in the bulletin, began thinking about who that somebody might be. And anyone who has been part of any group knows that someone in that group thinks the group would be better off if some particular someone was not a member of the group.

As the sermon developed, it became clear that the preacher did not have one somebody in mind. He had in mind “somebody,” as in “Somebody needs to paint that wall.” Or, “Somebody needs to cut the grass.” Or, “Somebody needs to talk to so and so about this or that.”

What the preacher had in mind – and this is a true story, by the way – is our tendency to think that somebody other than ourselves needs to do the things that we think need doing and the only thing that keeps those things from getting done is “Somebody.”

The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all record such a conversation taking place between Jesus and his disciples. It comes as part of the accounts of the feeding of the multitude.

The disciples have looked at the crowd, figured out they are hungry, and have gone to Jesus to tell him it is time to send everyone away because it is late and the people are hungry. They are saying, in essence, “Somebody needs to do something about all these hungry people.”

And Jesus says to them, “You give them something to eat.”

What Jesus was telling his disciples was that they should not stand around and look for somebody else to solve the problem they had identified (even though he eventually does solve the problem). He is telling them that they are capable of solving the problem, if only they will.

Well, the disciples tell Jesus they don’t have the resources, they don’t have enough money to buy enough food for everyone. They don’t have enough food on had, just some loaves of bread and a few fish. And in some tellings of the story the fish and bread belong, not to the disciples, but to a boy who happens to be there.

When I read these stories in the gospels, I imagine this is one of the points when Jesus looks up at the heavens and just sighs; sighs in exasperation.

But, as we know, Jesus looks up toward the heavens and prays. And then he does something. He takes the bread and breaks it, takes the fish and divides it, and gives some to each of the disciples who carry things out into the crowd. And, when everyone has eaten their fill, they collect all the leftovers and have more than they had when they started.

When we are confronted with difficult situations, it is natural to look for somebody to take charge and solve things. And if we have spent anytime working in organizations, we are accustomed to lines of responsibility and authority and expect that some sort of system will facilitate addressing the problem. We also know that such is not always the case.

We can roll our eyes and sigh, or we can roll up our sleeves and pitch in.

We can stand around moaning the fact that we can’t possibly do enough, or we can do what we can.

The only thing we can’t do, is expect somebody else to do what Jesus calls us to do.

And when disciples do what Jesus calls us to do, somebody may take notice and wonder whether disciples know something that they need to know because they are doing something that somebody could do. If only somebody would.


The Rev. Bob Madsen is the pastor at Andalusia’s First Presbyterian Church and a member of the Greater Andalusia Area Ministerial Association.