Yr A ~ Pentecost 8 ~ Matthew 14:13-21
This is one of those gospel stories that seem to be so clearly about one thing but is actually about something entirely different. On the surface it looks like a story about how Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men (plus women and children) with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Except that it isn’t. It’s much better and much more profound than that. It’s a lesson in actual abundance in the face of supposed scarcity.
Let’s look at the text. Matthew 14:13 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
The thing Jesus heard was the news of the horrific death of John the Baptizer who was beheaded by Herod at the king’s dinner party. So Jesus withdraws from everyone, takes a boat to a deserted place where he can be alone, and prays. In the face of terrible, overwhelming news Jesus turns to prayer.
Then when the crowds hear the news they come looking for Jesus – ostensibly John’s successor in their eyes. When the news is bad people tend to look to spiritual sources for answers, so they went looking for Jesus. And where are they? Out in a deserted place, in the wilderness, just like John.
Now, it doesn’t say that Jesus saw the crowd and came rushing back to help. I think we tend to read that into stories like this. I fully suspect that Jesus took all the time he needed to be alone and pray. He needed spiritual strength to face the next parts of his journey – a journey that with the murder of John the Baptizer was clearly becoming increasingly dangerous.
Verse 14 tells of Jesus showing the crowd compassion, teaching and healing them until the evening came. Then the disciples enter the scene and it all falls apart. (how often have we heard that!)
Matthew 14:15 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.”
On the surface this seems totally logical. The disciples wanted to send the crowds home at this point because they were not equipped to take care of such a large number of people. Remember, this is the middle of nowhere, not in a fancy well equipped church like this! But let’s stop here and go beneath the surface!
What’s at the heart of the disciples’ concern?
They don’t have enough. They don’t have enough.
A colleague of mine wrote a plea for wisdom on Facebook recently. She wrote, “Everything in the news is hitting me hard from the Calgary grandparents and a 5 year old declared dead, the Malaysian airline shot down, the plane crash in Algeria, the Hamas/Israel war, the civil war in Iraq, unrest in Libya, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – makes my sermons seem paltry and insignificant. I just want to crawl into a cave. Any words of encouragement welcome.”
Ever feel that way?
Ever tune into the news and find yourself mumbling “enough already!”?
Ever feel utterly overwhelmed by the world and your inability to do anything about it?
Ever feel like you’re not enough?
Here’s what I wrote back to my friend.
“You are not enough. I am not enough. We are not enough. Couple of loaves and fishes were not enough. It’s insurmountable and irreconcilable. Until we let God take it. Then it becomes enough. God is enough. Jesus is enough. The Spirit is enough, through us, for now, here. That is more than enough.”
You see, the problem is that we’ve bought into a lie.
The lie is that we modern humans are so smart and so powerful that we’re supposed to be able to handle anything that comes our way.
The lie is that if we just try a little harder, or dig a little deeper, that we can muster the personal resources to solve any problem.
The lie is that we think we’re supposed to be enough.
It sounds like affirmation and empowerment and it’s meant to be helpful but it’s a lie.
The disciples hit the same wall in this story. They looked at the crowd and freaked out because they knew their paltry resources were never going to be enough to feed a few thousand.
How does Jesus respond? Matthew 14:16-20 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he urged/ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
Now, if it’s a miracle story who is it for? Miracles are supposed to dazzle people and be convincing signs of God’s presence. But that’s not what happens here. The crowds never seem to realize that there wasn’t enough. When they were done there were 12 baskets-full of leftovers. As far as they knew hanging out with Jesus means there is more than enough! (Yes!)
It was those duh-sciples who doubted it. So maybe it’s a miracle for the insiders, but I don’t think so. It doesn’t have to be a miracle at all. In fact, there’s nothing in the text that suggests there’s anything miraculous or magical about it.
The disciples are the only ones who are reported to have been concerned over the scarcity. The crowd is not clamouring “feed us!” The disciples just assume there is not enough. Sometimes church people are the least confident in God’s sufficiency.
Now, don’t mis-hear me. I’m not saying that because Jesus blessed the food there was enough and that scarcity isn’t real. Of course it’s real. I’m not saying if we just trust in Jesus that all our problems will disappear and scarcity becomes abundance. Look deeper.
The insiders panic because they perceive that what they have isn’t enough for everyone. And they’re correct. It isn’t!
The sign of the kingdom here is that when you trust in God and put your faith in the abundant love and abundant life Jesus offers that “enough” emerges. It is totally logical that the crowd had always intended to feed themselves. Would you walk out into the wilderness without packing a snack? Of course not! These people aren’t stupid. Why do we insist on painting them as unprepared?
Jesus tells his disciples “You feed them! You give them something to eat. You be the expression of the kingdom.”
All they had to do was to believe their own brochures!
All they had to do was say, “Hey everybody, it’s time to eat, let’s take care of one another!”
This was a church group – surely everyone was expecting a pot luck!
And maybe Jesus wasn’t talking about food at all! Maybe Jesus wanted the disciples to get in the game and spiritually feed these people who had come to the wilderness looking for support in a time of trouble. Maybe it’s not so much a loaf of bread but the bread of life that Jesus wants us to feed the world with.
Look, we will never have the resources to fix the world. It’s like I said to my friend, “You are not enough. I am not enough. We are not enough. Couple of loaves and fishes were not enough. It’s insurmountable and irreconcilable. Until we let God take it. Then it becomes enough. God is enough. Jesus is enough. The Spirit is enough, through us, for now, here. That is more than enough.”
Perhaps our job is to work to shift the culture from a self-absorbed narcissism to a Spirit filled open-hearted one-another-ness?
Like those thousands in the wilderness with Jesus maybe what the people are looking for in today’s wilderness is a vision of and an invitation to participate in an alternate way to see things – a way in which when we get out of our own way and share our gifts we end up with not less but more, more than enough – a way in which when we’re overwhelmed with “enough already” Jesus reminds us to breathe deeply, trust in the shalom of God, remember that we are not alone, and that in that we have enough, already.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled…
“And all ate and were filled.” The word actually suggests being gorged, stuffed, filled with abundance. We’re about to have communion this morning. I will stand behind the table in Jesus’ name and bless and break the food and we will ‘give it to the crowd’. And afterward we’ll proclaim “And all ate and were filled!”
Does that mean we’ll be so gorged and stuffed that we’ll skip the fruit and chocolate chip cookies at coffee time after worship? Not on your life! It means we’ll be filled with the Spirit – filled with the real presence of the Christ – filled with spiritual nourishment. There is abundance in the food at the table. A cube of bread and a thimble of juice are pretty meager if you’re talking about lunch – but it’s an abundant feast of Spirit if you’re talking about communion. It is more than enough!
The table that Jesus presides over is a feast of abundance. Compare that to the table that Herod presided over in the previous part of this story. Herod’s table was a table of deceit, lust, power, violence, and rampant self-interest. While appearing to have riches it is actually the epitome of scarcity, because it lacks everything that is really important. Darkness and death are served on a platter.
Jesus’ table is the absolute polar opposite. Jesus’ table is about bringing what you have, offering it to God, seeing it blessed, and sharing it with your fellow journeyers. It’s a table of truth, love, generosity, blessing, and joy. While appearing to be simple it is actually the epitome of abundance, because it represents everything that is really important. Light and life are served on a platter.
In the earliest church the celebration of what we call communion resembled more of a pot luck dinner. People of vastly different social classes and situations would gather and share what they had – and all ate and were filled! Over the centuries we ritualized and symbolized the communion meal and the church tended to focus more on the Last Supper/Good Friday aspects of it rather than the loaves and fishes feast of abundance aspects.
I pray that as you come to the table today you will picture yourself sitting on the grass in the wilderness, celebrating God’s abundance and the renewed and reenergized life that Jesus offers and the Spirit animates. All this in a cube of bread and a drop of juice.
Jesus heard horrible news and took some time away to pray about it. The people heard horrible news and said, “Enough already!” and went in search of some spiritual food.
The disciples were moved to respond to the news and the needs of the people but found their personal resources to be too scarce. They were, on their own, not enough.
So Jesus showed a new way. A way that is more than enough. He broke and shared the bread of life – and all ate and were filled!
This story isn’t really about a miracle of multiplication.
It’s a story about awakening to something truly wonderful – that here, at this table where Jesus presides, when we know our resources are insufficient and we feel overwhelmed with scarcity, we discover God’s great gift – we discover abundance and light and life. Here, at this table, there is enough, already.