Sermon - The feeding of the multitude
By The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
A hard message to swallow
Hard to swallow – but there is more than enough for all
The feeding of the multitude is a familiar story. It occurs in all four gospels, the only miracle to do so, and in Matthew’s gospel, twice. It’s clearly of significance in the overall gospel message. It’s a big miracle and we can’t ignore it.
In the version in today’s gospel reading, Jesus has just been speaking about the parables of the Kingdom; the parable of the weeds, the parable of the net, the parable of the yeast and of the mustard seed
He’s in His home town and He hears of the death of John the Baptist and tries to withdraw to a solitary, remote place, a place where He can be on His own
But rather than ending up on His own, the crowds follow Him and He heals their sick out of His love and compassion for them
Night begins to fall and the disciples suggest that he disperses the crowd so they can get something to eat
But rather than do this Jesus suggests that the disciples give the crowds something to eat themselves
Jesus then takes the five loaves and two fish which are presented to Him, blesses it, breaks it and gives it out to the swarming crowd who He has asked to sit down
When they’ve finished they appear to have more left than they started with
It’s a familiar story but how do we see the miracle?
One way of interpreting it is that many people did, in fact, have food with them and they merely followed Jesus’ example and shared what they had with those around them – perhaps a miracle in itself.
Remember back to the parable of the yeast and the bread – Jesus seems to be saying a little can go a long way so may be this is what happened
But this leads us to focus on how the miracle was performed, rather than why and perhaps begin to say that it wasn’t really a miracle after all – a stance that take us down a very slippery slope, the bottom of which is the unravelling of our faith.
On the other hand, if we make the miracle the centre of the story and emphasise that Jesus can do things that no one else can do, we then miss the reality of the incarnation which stresses that Jesus was fully man as well as being fully divine
So perhaps the real clue to the understanding of this miracle is to look again at the actions of Jesus
His simple actions are at the centre of this miracle: He takes bread, gives thanks and blesses it, breaks it and gives it out
It’s an image of what God has done with Jesus
God takes His Son, blesses and anoints Him with the Holy Spirit, lets Him break away from the heavenly realm, to come to earth where He is utterly broken and given out for all
God does not hold back, He gives all that He has for us, in the incarnation of the body and blood of His Son, Jesus Christ
Jesus’ actions are also a reflection of the last supper and therefore our celebration of the Eucharist: bread is taken, blessed, broken and distributed
Through these actions in both the Eucharist, and in the feeding of the 5000, the participants move from a sense of helplessness and inadequacy to a sense of hope and gratitude for God’s provision
However we interpret the feeding of the 5000, we see that in God’s economy, in His creation, there is more than enough to go round; the disciples pick up 12 baskets of crumbs and leftovers
But if there is enough in God’s economy and creation to go around, how come we have the disasters in the world like we are currently seeing in Niger?
It’s perhaps because the starting point of man’s economy is often self interest; the self interest of an individual or a nation. Will there be enough for me?
The starting point in God’s economy is not self interest; the starting point in God’s economy is the ‘an act of thanksgiving’, literally translated as Eucharist, for what He has given the world
God’s economy starts with thanking God for what we have and what He has given us
Taking what we have, offering it to God for blessing, breaking it, and sharing it with those who need it
The image of the Eucharist also offers another insight into God’s economy
The Eucharist is also about community, not just something we do by ourselves, but something that we do with others, giving and taking from them as they do from us
As we receive from Him the gifts of His body and His blood, we do so with others, one of the great principles of the Eucharist
And it’s also about mission – after receiving from God the body and blood of Jesus we are sent into the world to renew it, together as a community. Jesus never sends the disciples out alone. How often do we try to go from our communion with God into mission without passing through community?
After the feeding of the 5000 Jesus dismisses the crowds. We don’t know how He dismissed them, or what He said, but encouraging them to share with others what they had seen and heard perhaps would not have been unlikely
The final words of the Latin Mass are Ite Missa est, Go, this is your mission
Jesus didn’t plan the feeding of the 5000, but He did take the opportunity to demonstrate practically the love of God
We don’t plan some of the things that happen in our world, like the famine in Niger, but we can take them as opportunities to demonstrate the love of God in the world and the life changing dynamics of God’s economy and show that in God’s economy there is more than enough for all
For some, that’s a hard message to swallow