by Pastor Cherie Dearth
Today, our scripture passage comes from Matthew 14. You may be familiar with the story, The Feeding of the 5000. It is the only miracle that appears in all four of the gospels. Just before this event another sort of feeding is described. This one is in King Herod’s Palace.
This is not the same King Herod, Herod the Great, that had forced Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus to flee to Egypt. This is his son. When Herod the Great died, the Romans divided the territory among several of his sons and his sister. The area of Galilee was given to Herod Antipas. That is why Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas when he learned of the Jesus was from Galilee.
So on Herod Antipas’s birthday he had a party, a birthday feast where there was drinking and dancing. One of the dancers was his stepdaughter. Meanwhile, John the Baptist was languishing in Herod Antipas’s prison. John the Baptist had aroused his fury by questioning his “romantic” relationship with Herodias, the wife of his brother.
Antipas’s step-daughter’s dancing so impressed him that he offered her anything she asked. With his mother’s prompting, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, conveniently removing that thorn from the family’s side. So, John the Baptist was executed. His disciples buried the body and went to tell Jesus what happened.
This is where our scripture passage begins today at Matthew 14:13-21.
Matthew 14:13-21 NIV
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.
Imagine you are Jesus in this situation. To help you get in the right frame of mind imagine the last time you were really, really sad. Maybe the death of a very close loved one. You didn’t get the job you wanted. You had to move out of a house you loved.
You need some time on your own to process, to think, to pray. The last thing you wanted was people all around you, all of them asking you for something. You thought you found your quiet place for reflection like the sanctuary in the middle of the week… And you found a wedding going on inside, all these celebrating people. That wouldn’t do, so you left. You knew a quiet hillside. Surely, that would be deserted, and you could have some time alone, just you and God. You got there, and… It was inundated with happy hikers! What would your reaction be?
This is basically the situation where Jesus finds himself. He is just heard the news that his beloved cousin John has been executed, not because of his relationship to Jesus, but because of a bizarre request at a birthday party. The word senseless comes to mind. We hear of too many of them in the news these days, another senseless killing.
Jesus has just heard that this man, who is not only his cousin but the man who baptized him, when the clouds opened up and the voice came, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16 – 17) He hears the news, and all he wants to do is get away. He gets in a boat, and when he lands, the crowds have followed him there. This isn’t just a few hundred people, which would be plenty enough. It is not even five thousand, which only included the men. It’s probably more like ten thousand people. More than the entire population of Wallowa County. Not exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind when you think of getting away from it all. It would be like arriving in Joseph or some quiet time and arriving in the middle of the Chief Joseph Days parade!
Can you imagine it? What is his response? Anger? Frustration? Does he hop back in his boat and sail away, avoiding all these people when he’s looking for some peace and quiet to be alone with his thoughts? No, he saw them, and he had compassion on them.
The first miracle of three happens here. It’s internal, and it’s not visible. This very human Jesus channels his sorrow and pain for his cousin into sorrow, love, and compassion for this multitude that surrounds him, people so desperate for help they’re willing to walk to this deserted place to be near him. With it this compassion, the next miracle occurs as Jesus, in the midst of his own grief heals the sick in this huge group.
Jesus spends the whole day helping people. Far too many are sick. They are poor and malnourished. That’s part of the reason that they are willing to track Jesus out to this remote place.
It is getting late, and now imagine that you are one of the disciples, maybe not one of the 12 but one who is drawn to and really wants to learn from Jesus. You see how much he cares for all people, and you want to do that too. You know it’s getting late, and you know that these thousands of people need to eat. You know that you and your relatively small group do not have enough to feed them. In fact, the possibility of providing food for them doesn’t even occur to you.
You come up with a very practical solution. Send the people to the surrounding villages, so that they can have some food. Sending them to one town wouldn’t be fair. One town wouldn’t have enough to provide for all of them.
You bring your idea to Jesus, and he agrees. They need to eat but he throws you a huge curveball. “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Verse 16)
Jesus does these things to us all the time. We bring him an idea of how to help people, something we know we can do, and he turns around and gives us something this seems impossible. The reaction?
I can’t do that! I don’t have the time! I don’t have the energy. All I have… All I have… Is two fish and five loaves, or whatever inadequate offering we have.
Jesus says, bring it here, and He blesses it and breaks it and gives it back to you to distribute to the people around you. The idea that something has to be broken in order to reach its potential for the Kingdom, a challenging idea. Even Christ himself, broken to save the wider world, but then made whole, better than before. That happens with us too. We offer our broken selves, and Christ makes us whole, better than before.
Back to the story. Jesus takes the bread breaks it and gives it to the disciples to distribute. And now, you are a member of the crowd, this crowd of at least 10,000 people. Jesus told us to sit down. We are way in the back. Word has spread that we are going to be given something to eat. It has been a long day. We are tired, and yes, we are hungry. But of course, that is a pretty common state of affairs for most of us. We are poor, and we can rarely grow enough food for ourselves, what with taxes and everything. We can’t afford to buy it. That’s why so many of us are sick.
But what is this? Jesus and his disciples have a few things up there. It doesn’t even look like enough to feed them let alone all of us. The people start grumbling as they realize the impossibility of it all. But then, the disciple start moving among the people, and they never seem to run out. How can that be? But you can hear the mood changing across the crowd. The people who have received their food of started laughing and singing. But the disciples will not have enough to give us food way back here. But they keep getting closer and closer. The disciples never seem to run out, none of them. They keep working their way through the crowd. Finally, one of them reaches our group. We don’t know which one. The truth is that we don’t know their names. We only know that they are the ones always with Jesus.
We all get our food, some bread and some fish. We all got as much as we wanted. Enough to be satisfied, not too much, but enough to be completely satisfied. It’s just like when God provided manna for our ancestors in the desert after they left Egypt. The manna would be provided every day, and they could only collect enough for one day, enough to be satisfied. (Exodus 16:16 – 18) It is like what Isaiah prophesied. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Whispers begin moving through the crowd. Could this man be the new Moses, the Messiah, the new king throw out the Romans? But now, the disciples are coming around again, collecting the leftovers. They are putting them in the baskets they carry on their belts, and by the time that they get back to Jesus they are all full. He must be the Messiah! Antipas just killed John the Baptist. We should march on Antipas’ palace. We have more than enough people. Maybe, we should march on Jerusalem!
But what is this? Jesus is sending the disciples back to the boat and leaving. Now, he is dismissing us and telling us to go home. There will be no revolution today, but I will never forget this day!
And now, finally, Jesus has solitude and peace, so that he can grieve the loss of his cousin in private.
But, his compassion is going to lead him to the solitude and desolation of the cross. No matter what was going on around Jesus, he saw the people around him and demonstrated his compassion. If we are going to be followers of Jesus, we have to see all the people too, not just when it’s easy and convenient, but even if it was the last thing we were thinking of doing that day. But when we do it, it becomes a blessing to us. Can you imagine how the disciples felt distributing all that food, experiencing the gratitude of the people? That is the kind of blessing we receive if we push through the initial response of… I can’t do that! Taking our concerns to God, allowing ourselves to be broken and made whole for God, allowing God to work through us, will provide us with some of the greatest blessings of our lives!
Next week, we begin with our new sermon series, see all the people, where we will talk about what Jesus calls us to do, and how we can see the people around us the way Jesus does, with love and compassion.