Loaves and Fishes

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard (about the beheading of John the Baptist), 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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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.” 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 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. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Pent7 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 7-31-11

Children’s Time: Show a sign with the word: “FREE!” on it. Ask them if they know what that means? When something is free is it usually expensive? Or is it ‘junk’? (like a Happy Meal toy) Why would someone give away something of value? Can you think of anything that’s free that isn’t junk? Like using the library? Like receiving a hug from someone? Jesus’ love is free, but it’s not junk. It cost him his life on the cross and he rose again to save us. The FREE gift of God’s love requires only that we believe it.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Two images come to mind, this week, as I’ve been preparing the sermon: The first one come from the movie Castaway, where Tom Hanks plays an executive for Federal Express who survives a plane crash only to be stranded alone on a desert island for 4 years! Every day he must learn to survive, scrounging for crabs along the shore, drinking coconut milk to stay hydrated, befriending a soccer ball he names “Wilson” and building a fire to keep warm (“Look what I have created!”). Years later, when he’s finally rescued, and on his way home aboard a cruise ship – there’s this poignant scene where he’s standing by the buffet table, full of ice (something he hasn’t seen in years) and a heaping mound of crabs legs – most of which will probably go to waste. And he gets it.

Someone else who gets it is the mother of “Mihag Gedi Farah,” a seven-month-old child from Somalia (this is the second image that came to mind for me this week). Mihag weighed only 7 lbs. when his mother brought him to the refugee camp hospital at Dadaab, Kenya. He was so malnourished that his skin was pulled taut over his face. He was so frail and dehydrated that he couldn’t even cry. Later, after receiving vital fluids and first aid, he is slowing recovering. Thousands like him won’t be as fortunate.

As Americans, we seldom experience hunger like that. We don’t know what it’s like to have to scavenge for our next meal on a desert island. Or, as in Somalia, to flee our homeland for fear of persecution and famine – to be forced to walk four days to an overcrowded refugee camp, so short on staff and supplies that just arriving there safely is no guarantee for your children’s well-being.

The photo of this child is so disturbing that I can only look for so long. But for those who live daily with this reality there is no turning away.

Isn’t it ironic that in the midst of an economic crisis in our country (where jobs are still scarce and Washington is divided on how to manage the debt ceiling) that a famine should break out a half a world away? Only for our people to cringe and turn away?

“Lord, it’s getting late and these people aren’t our responsibility. Send them into the village to buy food.” “No, you give them something to eat.” Jesus said.

How are we to make sense of such hunger and so heavy a burden? Some have advised that we all “live more simply – so that others might simply live.” It’s not a bad place to start. Ghandi once said, “There is enough for our need, but not for our greed.”

Jesus, however, gives us a new way of living and eating in our gospel lesson for today: He has just received the news that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded – and he goes off by himself to pray (good for him – way to take care of yourself, Jesus). He gets in a boat, in fact, to sail across the Sea of Galilee. Trouble is, the crowds won’t leave him alone. They decided to follow him. In fact, they were so drawn to Jesus that they made the 10 mile hike around the shore and were waiting for him on the other side when he arrived.

So, he did what he had to do. He showed compassion and healed the sick. When evening came, he fed them. They were out in the middle of nowhere, and the disciples ask Jesus to send them home. “No, you give them something to eat,” he says. “What? There are 5000 men here, besides women and children. All we have are five loaves and two fish.” Jesus said, “Bring them to me.”

And so begins the story of the miracle of Jesus feeding 5000. In presiding over a meal, Jesus stands in a grand tradition going way back to the Passover Meal, which the Israelites shared the night they were set free and led from Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land. But before getting there, they had to sojourn in the wilderness for 40 years! There, out in the middle of nowhere, again, God provided a meal: manna from heaven. All had enough to eat and no one had too much.

Another story about a meal comes from our first lesson in Isaiah 55, where we have the strange pronouncement:

Ho, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; especially all who are penniless!
Come, buy and eat! Come and pay no money for wine and milk that are priceless.

It may sound absurd (“How can I buy expensive food if I have no money?”) but what Isaiah is referring to is an old Jewish tradition. Every year, during the reign of Israel, the king would have a royal picnic where all the poor could come and eat for free – as kings for the day – the same food typically reserved for royalty. And these words were used to call the feast: “Ho, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters… come and pay no money for wine that is priceless!”

But now, when Isaiah says it no one’s laughing… because they’re in exile. They’re prisoners of war. There is no Jerusalem – they’ve been taken captive into Babylon. They haven’t had a king in 50 years! “What do you mean in bringing up that old tradition? We’re stuck here in Bablyon and you’re telling us this king will throw a royal picnic?!”

But what Isaiah meant had nothing to do with a political kingdom – he was prophecying the coming Messiah. And in his kingdom – you won’t be just kings for a day… I will make with you an everlasting covenant – you’ll become a royal people forever!

And Jesus is the fulfillment of these words. Three things happen in this miracle of feeding the 5000.
1. No one goes hungry. When Jesus is around there is enough for all when all we see is scarcity;
2. There is community, where once we were strangers: “Have them all sit down together. I’ll say grace.” …and
3. Jesus gives us the job of feeding the hungry: “You give them something to eat.” We’re in this together – as the hands and feet of Jesus – in a world hungry for freedom.

Now, no one knows for sure exactly how he did it: whether he made the food magically multiply; or whether it was their act of sharing that was the miracle – perhaps each person there, moved by their example, opened their own satchels to share their food; or, whether it was but a tiny morsel that filled them spiritually (as in, “Man does not live on bread alone.”).

Whatever the case, it’s the only miracle story that occurs in all four gospels. So, God meant for us to remember it. And, even moreso, to live it.

Let us pray: We give you thanks, O God, that you provide for all people daily bread. Help us live simply that others may simply live, in the strong name of Jesus Christ, your son our Lord. Amen.

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