Sermon Preached by The Reverend Charles Royden 31 July 2011
Ordinary 18 Year A The Feeding of the 5,000
Matthew 14: 13-21
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. "Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
We have set before us today a remarkable contrast. the reading begins with the words 'When Jesus heard what had happened.' The event referred to was the murder of John th Baptist. At that terrible feast, Herodias, the wife of Herod had tricked her husband into beheading John. Jesus has now heard of the death of his beloved cousin. This is why we are told that he goes away to an isolated place. Jesus is mourning the death of his relative, as surely many would have done. He is coming to terms with this most dreadful news and he seeks solitude, to grieve and pehaps also understand the inevitable parallel with his own life, which is surely also on a collision course with the powerful men in Jerusalem.
It is whilst he is mourning his loss that he sees the crowd and has compassion on them. I wonder if you have ever seen a child falling off a bike ? It is a dreadful moment especially if the child is your own. Before the child actually hits the concrete you can feel the pain and your own body feels a rush of anguish. This is a compassion, it is being able to feel the pain of another almost as if it is your own. This is what happened when Jesus got out of the boat in the story today.
Even as Jesus is contemplating the terrible feast of Herod in which his cousin John the Baptist had been murdered and had his dismembered head paraded around on a meat dish, he looks on the crowd in their grief and he felt their pains and anguish as he felt his own. His heart was moved with compassion and we are told that he also cured their sick.
At this time of personal loss he turned away from introspection and he spent his time in caring for others. It is of course a wonderful model for us as we struggle with our own problems, to be reminded that we find most comfort in concentrating not on our own difficulties but helping others with theirs.
But this isn’t a story is not foremost about how we should behave towards one another, rather it is a lesson in how God cares for us. We are invited today to make a contrast between the feast of herod in which there was greed and envy, lust and death, and the feats of Jesus in which the poor hungry are fed and the sick get well. To the banquet of Herod there is a limited guest list, the great the good and the powerful. To the banquet of Jesus, held not in a palace but on a hillside all are invited, nobody turned away. They sit on the grass, not couches and they eat bread and fish not fine cuisine. yet at the feast of Jesus all are fed, and there is sufficient for all so that there are leftovers, which are gathered up so that there is no waste.
In the story we see the disciples sound very much as though they want the crowd to disperse, they want to be rid of a huge problem which was developing.
"This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."
The disciples must have felt overwhelmed by what they saw, "a vast crowd." How could these few disciples ever address all the needs, physical and emotional, they were looking at? How could they expect to deal with it all?
We are like those disciples. We look at our lives, those around us and the needs of our world. There is a "vast crowd" of people and issues that need addressing: in our families, jobs, financial woes, our children’s future, our friends, the physical and mental needs of the community , etc. As disciples we look out and have pity as we see so much need. It’s a vast crowd. The disciples weren’t heartless, nor are we. With such huge issues both here in our country and around the world, we tend to want big forces and institutions to deal with them. And we are right, they should address those big issues of education, care for the sick, elderly, migrants, homeless, financially ruined families, etc. But we should do something too, as we hear the echoes of Jesus’ words to us disciples: "You give them some food yourselves."
Jesus is saying, that as small and as insignificant as it feels in light of the world’s issues, we must all play our part, do our bit, even though it feels like just five loaves and a few fish in front of a vast crowd.
If you are a disciple of Christ you love the world, one person at a time, you show Christ’s compassion one person at a time. We are asked by God not to have be concerned that we do not have wonderful resources for this. The feeding took place because people gave what thay had got. Today we are asked to bring what we have got. So what have you got ?
- A bit of time
- A bit of concern for others
- A morsel of goodness which you can share
Jesus takes what we have and through us he gives himself to others. It turns out, that there was enough after all–more than enough.
We are God’s children and God knows our hungers even before we express them. Indeed, God knows our deepest hunger and knows what kind of food to give us. That food will be more than enough for us – the food of eternal life, Jesus Christ.
Mercy has converted more souls than zeal, or eloquence, or learning or all of them together.