22 October 2019Matthew 14:13-21
Then he 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. (v. 19)
Psalm: Psalm 81
One of the narrative texts included in all four Gospels is that of Jesus feeding masses of people. The numbers of people in the stories may differ, but the actual headcount isn’t important. Jesus feeds a lot of people with only the resources at hand – five loaves and two fish.
Perhaps of all of Jesus’ miracles recounted across the Gospels, this is the easiest one to explain away in simple, material terms. It is difficult to imagine that people would follow Jesus over distances, from town to hillside to lakeside, and not bring along provisions for themselves and their family members. Matthew’s account does not tell us who offered the five loaves and two fish that Jesus blessed and the disciples then distributed to the crowd. Perhaps we have heard sermons in which the preacher has suggested that the people in the crowd decided at the last minute to share what they had. The leftovers come from the whole crowd pooling their resources so that there is more than enough to go around. It is important for Jesus’ followers to share what they have to provide for the needs of others. When the disciples encourage Jesus to let the people leave to find food, Jesus instructs the disciples to feed the people. Feeding the hungry is an important job for the disciples until the coming of God’s reign.
The story is about more than sharing and the role of the disciples, especially if we accept it as a miracle story. The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) contain quite a lot of stories about miraculous healings and feedings, calming of natural forces and casting out of supernatural entities. The point of these stories is usually to reveal something about the essential nature of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; or to reveal some aspect of the kingdom of God. Jesus, as the Emmanuel – God with us –brings the kingdom of God near. All of the hopes people might have about God’s reign on earth are represented in Jesus. He represents and reveals through his actions what the ultimate uniting of heaven and earth will be like.
At the heart of this story is a proclamation that when God’s ultimate reign comes, there will be physical wholeness. Jesus demonstrates the power of God, creator of everything, to provide for the physical needs of God’s children. Prior to feeding the large crowd, Jesus healed their diseases. He then takes the most basic elements of the people’s diet at that time, bread and fish, and consecrates it through his blessing. The abundance of food is a theme that runs throughout the Bible when writers describe being in God’s presence. Think of Psalm 23’s allusions to the psalmist at a banquet and of the overflowing cup. The people Jesus encountered were not, for the most part, wealthy people. They engaged in subsistence farming and fished for a living, seeking what food they could from the resources of the land and sea. They knew what it was to be hungry. The scripture texts of Judaism taught that when the Messiah came, the hungry would be filled with good things. By providing a simple meal where all eat until they are full, Jesus brings the promise of the heavenly banquet into the midst of the earthly crowd.
- Although Jesus ultimately feeds the crowds, he first commands the disciples to give the people food. To what extent is it the responsibility of Jesus’ followers to meet the physical needs of those in our broader community?
- Does God still work through miracles today?