Pentecost 8: Proper 13
Psalm 17: 1 – 7, 16
The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000
This is one of the best known stories about Jesus. All four Gospel writers include it in their narrative of Jesus’ life. The story comes at an interesting time. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had just been killed by King Herod. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place, probably to reflect on what had happened to John—perhaps even to spend time grieving the loss of his cousin.
He just wanted a little space – a time apart, but the crowd would not leave him alone. They followed him on foot. When he saw the great group of people following him he had compassion for them. Matthew tells us that he healed their sick. This was the kind of man Jesus was. His primary task was to train his disciples and to proclaim the kingdom of God, but he had enormous compassion for people’s needs. So, when people came to him for healing or for guidance, he could not help but respond.
Evening was approaching, however. The disciples came to Jesus and said that he should send the crowds away, so they could go to the villages and buy themselves some food. “That is not necessary, Jesus said, “We can supply them with food. Well, you can imagine the disciples’ surprise when he said that. I can relate to their surprise and I know many of you can too!
As much as I love gardening, I love cooking and being around the water. The gospel reading today is one of the miracles that on the tiniest of scales I have experienced.
I have three grown boys now, but when they were in high school my house always had 8 or 10 boys seemingly always at supper time. I taught with a teacher who raised 5 boys and she said that she cooked in caldrons. I thought that was funny as a newlywed until much later I began nightly cooking in the biggest pots and pans I owned. Looking back at my own childhood now, I realize that I grew up in a very hospitable family. Because we grew up on Prien Lake there are always people who came up in boats to visit and in the summers relatives came to stay with us for their vacations. So our family did not go off on a summer vacation, because we entertained others. There was always room at the table for whomever came.
Thus, I can now relate to Jesus wanting to withdraw in a boat to a deserted place by himself to pray and be restored. Young parents never find a moments’ rest as toddlers follow them to every inch of the house asking questions and wanting to be picked up to join the activities of their parents and others.
Imagine that you are Jesus and the crowds were not toddlers-- they were adults who were going to need a meal and you could not prepare by grocery shopping that day. I know this sounds familiar to some of you. There are many options. Here are two of them. (1) You can simply see what you have to stretch the meal you are cooking and invite everyone to stay or (2) You can let you own family wait, hoping the crowd will leave and you can have dinner much later. The latter causes lots of problems with most of the meals we prepare. Have you burned the roast or the rue when things were just too hectic in the house to pay attention?
Jesus picked the first option – stretch the meal and invite everyone to stay. In John’s gospel account of this story one of the disciples said, “There is a lad here who has 5 barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many? “
Going back to my family for just a moment, we developed over the years a standing rule: Everyone was welcome to eat and share a meal with us but the home team, my family, that is, had to be served first so I could be sure they all had a meal. Then, everyone else could line up and serve themselves. When the line had about 5 extra high school boys, I wondered how the last one had any food at all. Herein lies the miracle. They each took food but as they saw the amount dwindle each boy took less and less and there was always enough for the last one.
Now, mind you, it might not have been enough to completely fill their hungry appetites, but we all gathered around the table and enjoyed many, many suppers together.
When you trust that the Lord will provide for you needs, and you do your best to provide for them yourself, He shows a new path, or sends a friend, or opens a door that you never would have believed was even there. Many may think that the miracle of multiplying the little boy’s 5 loaves and two fish was unbelievable, but I don’t. Miracles happen all the time if you just are looking for them. (Andy and I prepared to bake 24 loaves, but we ended up with 30, didn’t we?)
Little children have the trust in everyone that has not yet been diminished by hard life lessons. That is the faith our Lord is seeking for us to have. That seed of faith, like those we planted, in time will sprout and bear fruit. It may not be in the exact way you had hoped or the time frame you want, but trust God to always be there for you.
Now one part of the story differs greatly from my own experiences at home feeding what always seemed like 5,000. The gospel says: …all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. At our house there were never any left overs! I talk today about my personal experience so that you can think in your own life what miracles were around you and you simply did not recognize them. You were too busy or caught up in your own life to see the many blessings. I would not have traded one day cooking for the multitudes and being a part of their conversations and lives for going out to dinner in a fine restaurant leaving them behind.
God does not need a lot. If you offer him what you have, he can do great things with it. My grandson, Andy, helped me bake bread for you today as a sign of hospitality and a reminder that this story is a foreshadowing of Jesus being present with us in the Eucharist – another miracle! Please take it and share it as your sign of hospitality to others. Hebrews 13: 2 says: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Amen.