Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev Rod Sprange

Matthew 14:13-21

Susan and I don’t have TV access at our cottage, but we do have a DVD player and watch movies and old TV shows. Sometimes Susan will ask me to choose a movie from our small collection. I have a difficult time, because I think, “I know that movie, we’ve watched it several times before”. But, when we do watch a familiar movie there are often parts of it that I don’t remember, and I find there are still things to discover in it.

There is a danger that when we read or listen to a familiar biblical passage we turn off or tune out and think “Oh I know this one”, “I know what this about”. And that’s such a pity, because one of the amazing things about the Bible is there is always something more to learn from even the most familiar passages.

Today’s reading from Matthew is probably familiar to you. The story is told in all four Gospels, but each tells the story a little differently. Probably we have merged them altogether in our memories. We need to listen to what Matthew specifically is telling us in this passage today. Put aside your preconceptions and hear the story again. Begin by discarding the popular title of this story “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand”. That title immediately limits our thinking about what Matthew has to tell us.

Try and put yourself into this story, feel for a moment what Jesus is feeling. He has just heard that his friend and cousin John the Baptist has been brutally murdered by King Herod. He has lost someone very special to him. John had baptized him and believed him to be the Messiah. Now he is dead for daring to speak truth to power. Jesus is deeply troubled and needs time to grieve and pray.

Have you ever felt the need to be alone after receiving devastating news. Have you felt the need to get away by yourself to a quiet place. Free from the questions and demands, even the comforting words of others. Perhaps you needed to go to a place where you could pray and grieve in private. Can you imagine how heavy was Jesus’ heart at this moment.

He decides to leave the place where he has been ministering and even to leave his disciples behind and goes off by himself in a boat around the lake. He needs some time alone, and is looking forward to reaching a desolate spot.

When he gets there he finds that the crowds have figured out where he was going and have arrived ahead of him - thousands of them.

Now think about the crowds who have been clamouring to see Jesus. We know Jesus as Saviour, teacher and healer. The crowds certainly were intrigued by his new teaching, but it was mainly as a healer that attracted them to him. They brought their sick children, family and friends. They were in desperate need of hope and this itinerant healer offered that.

How would you feel, needing so much to be alone, to have some time to yourself to grieve and pray, only to find crowds of anxious people demanding your attention and help. Would you want to get back in the boat and sail away?

Jesus saw them, and despite his tiredness, his grief and desire for quiet, Matthew tells us “he had compassion for them”. This is remarkably important. Remember Jesus is Immanuel - God with us. He has come to show us the true character of God. Our God is a compassionate God. We are made in God’s image. Jesus was compassionate, we are called to be his disciples.

Jesus spent the rest of that day healing their sick! He put aside his own need for healing for theirs.

The disciples start to get anxious, the evening is coming and it will get dark. They recognize all these people will need food. But they don’t take responsibility for this, they tell Jesus to send the people away, so they can go and buy food for themselves. Then Jesus says something that we need to hear. He tells the disciples “You feed them”. Can you imagine the disciples looking at one another. Maybe he is not feeling quite right, the grief and busy day have got to him. The disciples reply that all they have is five loaves and two fish. Do you see them shrugging their shoulders as if to say - we’d like to help, we just don’t have the resources. But Jesus says “Bring them here to me”. He holds up the food to God and gives thanks for them and for God’s many blessings as creator and governor of the universe, and he asks God’s blessing on the food. Then he tells the disciples to distribute the food to the crowds. Notice, in Matthew’s account, it isn’t Jesus dividing the food among the people, it isn’t Jesus feeding the five thousand men plus women and children, it is the disciples empowered by Jesus blessing who were able to do infinitely more than they could ask or imagine.

Then Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat and he remains to dismiss the crowds. At last then he walks up the mountain alone to pray. Finally he has his quiet time with his grief and his God.

Three points I’d like us to think about in re-reading this story this week are these:

  1. Jesus put the needs of his people ahead of his own and showed us compassion in action. He didn’t just feel sorry for the people he acted and did something for them.
  2. The church and many of us see the desperate needs of people around us and tend to think that we don’t have the resources - as an organization or as individuals to do much about it.   We tend to think in terms of scarcity and limitations. But when we take our concerns to Jesus, maybe, just maybe we will see the incredible amount of resources we do have, if we are only prepared to offer them to God and share them. Perhaps we will see that each of us has gifts that when added together make us capable of great things. Each person’s skill, ability and knowledge may seem insignificant on its own, but when joined together in God’s work, blessed by Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, we can do infinitely more than we imagine.
  3. And finally, I think we need to understand prayer differently. We call our prayers of the people ‘intercessions’. I have a bit of a problem with that. If we are not careful we can fall into the trap of thinking God needs reminding that people are sick, starving and suffering from violence. I think that when the Holy Spirit brings these concerns to our minds to pray about, the Holy Spirit is reminding us of these issues. Perhaps when we pray for peace - the Holy Spirit is calling us to be peacemakers - not peace wishers. How will you be a peacemaker this week?   Perhaps when we call for an end to hunger, the Holy Spirit is calling us to share with those in need. Who are you called to share with this week? So, let’s be careful how we pray. We may say to Jesus “Send the crowds away so that they may buy themselves some food” but he may say to us “They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”