John was gone. Beheaded in prison. On hearing the news, Jesus yearned to be alone. His cousin John had leapt in his Aunt Elizabeth’s womb when his mother, Mary, came to visit her before he was born. John had prepared the way, called people to repent, and had stood in the Jordan River and baptized him. Now John was gone. And Jesus needed some time alone.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus tried to withdraw, to get some time alone. He put out in a boat, but the crowds saw where he was headed and took off on foot beating him to the other side.
Yet, even though he was grieving and had come to the wilderness longing to be alone, when he saw the crowds, compassion filled him, and he healed the sick they brought to him.
But then it was evening, and the disciples were concerned. No one had planned to travel here today. They hadn’t packed up before they came. And now they didn’t have any food.
So they came to Jesus and whispered in his ear, “Send them away, so they can get to a village and get food for themselves before night.”
To which Jesus replies, “They don’t need to go away; YOU give them something to eat.”
Rev. Roy Almquist suggests that “The Church treasures this story because it captures the way in which Jesus challenged his disciples to address a problem and not ignore it. Now the disciples were shocked by what Jesus was suggesting, because, like many of us, the disciples approached problems with a theology of scarcity … we do not have enough, we cannot do this, it is out of the question, we should not even try. We have only five loaves of bread here and two fish!
But Jesus wanted his disciples to think not in terms of what they did not have but rather in terms of what God had given them … a theology of plenty.… not because they had the money in the [treasury to run to the village and get food for everyone] but because they had the vision, they sensed the need, and they were willing to trust that God would provide.”
But I wonder if the disciples exchanged a glance when Jesus said, ”You give them something to eat” – you know the look – the knowing one with the half eye-roll. Jesus knows they don’t have enough food for all these people. There are 5,000 men…not counting the women and children! “Jesus, we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish.”
To which Jesus responds, “Bring them here to me.”
And he took the 5 loaves and the 2 two fish and he looked up to heaven and blessed them. “Blessed art thou, Jehovah, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” And he broke and gave the loaves to his disciples and they gave them to the crowd.
There were twelve baskets full of left-overs. Twelve – a number used in the Bible to represent completeness and authority given by God. Blessed and under the authority of God, the resources of the crowd were completely enough.
All four Gospels record the story. As enlightened people, we have a tendency to try to figure out how the food stretched. Was it a miracle of multiplication? Was it really that the bread multiplied and everyone ate and ate until they were full and then there were left-overs? How could that have happened? Maybe their satisfaction is spiritual rather than physical. Perhaps they each broke off a bit of the bread, and “were strengthened for their journey and were content.” (Barclay) Or maybe the miracle is one of transformation rather than multiplication. When the disciples asked if anyone had brought food, had everyone kept quiet thinking they would have to share what little they had, afraid there wouldn’t be enough? Maybe when Jesus sat them down and took the lead and broke and shared what he and the disciples had everyone else began to share what they had and there was enough for all. William Barclay calls this “the miracle of the birth of love in grudging hearts.”
I’m not convinced that it matters what kind of miracle it was. What seems important to me is the story line. There is a problem presented – hungry people and no food. An instruction given – YOU feed them. Scarcity claimed – we ONLY. To which Jesus reminds them that they have another resource – bring what you have to be blessed. And he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives what resources they have – and all are satisfied, with left-overs.
I think we follow this pattern all the time- in our lives and in the church. We have a problem, and are charged to use what resources we have to fix it. To which we lament that we can’t, we only have this little bit…it’s not enough. And Jesus says, bring it to me…bring what you have to be blessed, to be under the authority of God. There is enough to be satisfied with leftovers. Twelve baskets full.