Tenth Sunday After Pentecost – Pr. Smith
Message for Aug 2, 2020 Matthew 14:14-21
Right at the start, we should probably take a minute to say that we should read the Gospel claim at face value and that Jesus really did feed tens of thousands of people miraculously. Yes, Jesus and the disciples and the crowd were up in the green hills of Galilee and away from the little towns and Jesus really did miraculously feed people to the point they had not only enough to eat, there was more left over than what they started with. I think we get started off on the wrong foot if we think that what really happened here is the people just opened their picnic baskets and started sharing with one another. There is a view of the Bible that discounts the miracles and says we should look for the moral value instead. I don’t think that’s the way we should read the Bible and I don’t think that’s what happened here. Instead, we should see this for what it is, a moment when Jesus provides for the people of God.
The point is, Jesus fed what, ten at least maybe as many as twenty thousand people miraculously. Interestingly, all four Gospel writers record this event. And nowhere in any of their accounts is there any indication that the crowd understood what was happening, except maybe in John and after the fact. But the disciples certainly know what Jesus has done. And I think the detail that there were twelve baskets left over gives us something to think about too. That Jesus is able to provide and more than enough.
There’s nothing special about the loaves and fish. It’s the standard peasant’s diet in Galilee. And Jesus is here meeting the daily needs of those who are following Him and listening to His teaching. But there does seem to be more than a mere physical eating here too, doesn’t there? Instead of being dispersed by the disciples in groups to different villages, Jesus has them sit down, recline, actually. They didn’t just plop themselves down in the grass, they reclined as though they were at a banquet. And they ate together as a community. And did you notice what Jesus did before the dinner was distributed? He took the bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and gave it. Now where have you heard those four actions in that sequence before? Now, I’m not suggesting that the Galilean crowd were having some kind of proto-eucharistic feast. This is the way the head of a Jewish household gives thanks for supper. But I am saying that all those things are also what’s happening when Christians today come to the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus gathers us together and welcomes us at His Table He still does the same four things and in addition to dinner, He has attached to this supper here the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life. Certainly, His Supper is a foretaste of the Great Messianic banquet that has no end. This dinner in the Galilean countryside is but a foreshadowing of something yet to come. Jesus, God’s Messiah provides.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that day if they knew their people’s stories. God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness, a lonely place and fed them manna from heaven. With the quail and the water from the rock it was enough to sustain them. The prophet Elisha, too, had miraculously fed a hundred men with twenty ‘loaves’ (2 Kgs 4). In both cases, God provided real food for people in need. And if you had asked a Jewish man in the crowd in Galilee that day if Messiah would feed people and take care of their physical needs when He came, he would have certainly agreed. We know from literature outside the Bible like 2 Baruch 29, “And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will have arrived at the consummation of time.” And even from Revelation 2:17. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.” Jesus the Messiah provides.
Before we go to the end we should go back to the beginning and consider again how this event came to be. Jesus had just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. He was deeply troubled by the news. Jesus was not only mourning over the loss of His cousin but it’s pretty clear that what happens to John is going to likewise happen to Jesus. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t know the cross lies ahead of Him but that in a very human way, seeing what happened to John, it just became more real. Jesus’ reaction is to withdraw and take some time to pray and be in communion with the Father. So, He tries to get away in a boat but the crowds recognize Him and follow Him. Maybe we should note that yes, we call it the sea of Galilee, but you can see across it. It’s smaller than Palmlico Sound. The widest part is like seven miles wide, that’s a third of the distance from Cedar Island to Okracoke, where the ferry runs. The part Jesus was in here was more like four or five. So, the crowds can see Jesus in the boat. And they follow Him to where the boat lands and instead of getting out of the boat grumpy because people won’t give Him a minute’s peace, He looks at them and has compassion for them and He gets to work healing the sick in the crowd. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying, if you want to get a good idea of who God really is, probably the divine attributes like all-knowing and all-powerful and present everywhere, while true, cause as many questions as they solve. No, if you want to get a glimpse of who God is look at Jesus. As sad as He is about what happened to John and what lies ahead for Him, He looks at people with compassion. It is as much an act of self-denial and self-emptying as any other we see but it’s more subtle and internal. It points to the ultimate act of self-emptying on the cross and when we arrive there, we are not surprised that Jesus gives even His life.
And now fast-forward through the healing and the reclining and the taking, giving thanks, breaking, and giving and distributing and eating and arrive at the end. The disciples go around with their baskets collecting the leftovers to highlight that there is more left over than there was to begin with and so many thousands ate and were satisfied. We shouldn’t be surprised by this but like the disciples we’re astounded. But this too is what we have experienced before. We offer Jesus was little we have and in some mysterious and invisible way He multiplies it. Because of who He is, He gives it back to us and then tells us to give it to others too, to one person after another after another and we don’t run out. This idea is captured in the first verse of our hymn today.
Jesus provides. Amen