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Pentecost 9A Sermon
Matthew 14: 13-21, 44-52
2, 2020


Sermon Archives


Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

If you were to list the best known miracles of Jesus, I would venture to guess that you would have the story of the feeding of the 5,000 near the top, and for good reason. It is recounted in all four of the Gospels, it has an uplifting, surprising ending, and it is about people gathering in a group of more than the ten people that the state of Ohio is permitting legally right now to enjoy a late afternoon meal of bread and fish. As I read that story once again, I was nearly salivating at the prospect of being part of such a gathering; not because I could go for some good fish and bread right now, but I would really love to do it as part of a large gathering of people. In my article in the Bellringer Newsletter sent out this past week, I dreamed of a time when I can put a huge pork shoulder on my smoker, set up a bunch of tables and chairs on our back lawn, and have all of you over at our house to enjoy the fellowship that a meal like that affords us. I trust it will happen soon … but for now, I hear this story and hope for a time to do it again.

Matthew sets this story up as he tells us that Jesus is looking to get away. He has just learned of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, at the hands of King Herod, and he wants to get away to a place alone. I cannot blame him for that either. Just like now when crave a time with family and friends, there are times when I crave solitude, peace and quiet. A time to just do nothing. That is what he is craving, and that is what he is attempting to attain. But the crowds in the area around the Galilean Lake will not have it; they follow on the shore as his boat sails to another area away from any population. They are determined because they are hurting. And Jesus’ response is not to send them away until he gets his rest; his response is to be physically moved by their plight in life. We are told that he has compassion on them – a Greek word “splagnidzomai” which literally means that he felt it in his guts. He got physically sick when he saw them and considered how the tyrant Herod not only brutally beheaded a respected prophet of God, but that he has no concern for the people that he was called to shepherd. And so, Jesus, hurting, grieving, wanting to be alone, heals the sick among them and loves them as only he can. One might say that there are two miracles recounted in this story – the miracle of the tired healer, tirelessly healing … and the miracle of the feeding of 5,000 men, plus (probably) about as many women and children.
What happens next is a sign of what God does for God’s hurting and hungry children everywhere. The disciples point out the obvious:“it is getting late, there are no shops or markets around for people to buy food, plus we’re all tired so let’s all call it a day and enjoy this meager lunch that we brought.” Now, I have heard (and probably preached) sermons that make this miracle of Jesus into a story about the importance of sharing. That the loaves and fishes provided by the disciples in Matthew (or by a small boy in other Gospel accounts) inspires others in the crowd who may have brought along a loaf or two to give that to Jesus as well to add to the supply. Maybe some people had plenty of food but were afraid of going hungry if they gave all of it away – after all, five to ten thousand people is no small gathering! But seeing others do the same, a chain reaction was set off, and everyone shared with everyone else. Now, sharing what we have with those who do not have anything is very important … but I do not think that has anything to do with this miracle story. As a matter of fact, if we were to lift up the generosity of the crowd in feeding their neighbors, we take the focus off of Jesus and put it onto the people.This is not a story of us and our ability to share from our abundance; it is a much deeper story about Jesus, and his miraculous ability to offer daily bread precisely when we have nothing at all to share. This is a story about how Jesus responds when people are hurting and when tragedy strikes close to home.

Remember, everyone was still trying to figure out just who this Jesus was; and with John – the one they believed was like Elijah,preparing the way for the messiah – now gone, they were probably even more confused. But they also would have known the writings from the Old Testament, especially from the prophet Isaiah. We just heard the words from the end of the section of Isaiah pronouncing hope to an exiled people – HO! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; you that have no money, come … buy … eat! Buy wine and milk without money and without price! In Isaiah’s time there wasn’t really money as we know it today. To be rich meant to be rich with food, to enjoy rich feasts. And in Jesus, these people are seeing the rich embodiment of God’s grace and mercy alive and on their own side. If they are still wondering how Jesus responds when tragedy hits close to home, they have their answer now – he is made so physically sick on the inside that he freely offers an abundance of daily bread to everyone that this tragedy has affected. In response to the terrible sin committed against his dear cousin, Jesus gives the free, life-giving gift of daily bread. Sure, his first inclination is to go off by himself out of grief or even fear; but when he sees the hurting people overcoming all obstacles to get to him, he compassionately heals and feeds them.

We all have tyrants in our lives still. They may not go by names of kings or rulers, but they are powerful none the less. The presence of the coronavirus may be likened to a tyrant, wreaking havoc to our physical and mental health. Poverty and social ills can be seen as tyrants, especially for people whose unemployment or homelessness has been exacerbated by this pandemic. Illness, addiction, broken relationships, regret – all of these have the power to bring tragedy to our lives. And Jesus does what Jesus always does in the face of these tragedies – he hurts right along with us. He gets an ache in his belly because of the un-surpassing love that he has for us. And, being messiah, he is moved to provide. It might not be enough for a month, a year, or a lifetime, but it is enough for today … our daily bread.

It is important to remind ourselves that this phrase, “daily bread” is not to be taken literally. Even Jesus quoted the psalmist who wrote that we do not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Martin Luther teaches us in the small catechism the long list of things that we mean when we use the phrase, “give us today our daily bread” whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Luther says that this means everything that is needed for this life – food, clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbors. Whenever there is a lack or shortage of any of these things for any of God’s beloved creatures, it moves Jesus to compassion – it hurts him to his guts. Jesus then intercedes into our lives to provide out of an abundance of love for all who are hurting or experiencing tragedy.
Then … then, the sharing is to take place. As I said before, sharing is good! It just is not the focus of the goodness of God suddenly and unexpectedly breaking into our lives. Our response to this miracle is to be moved ourselves to be part of God’s daily bread provisions for the world. We do this by using our gifts as God has given them to us – it may be literally feeding people, like Norman Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist, plant pathologist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and life-long Lutheran Christian, who was known as the Father of the Green Revolution. He laid the groundwork for agricultural technology advances that alleviated world hunger. Norman’s work resulted in new varieties of grains that are illness resisting and high yielding, which have made a major difference feeding people in developing countries. His gifts moved him to literally feed millions of people.

Others have gifts that produced breakthroughs in medicine, mental health treatment, energy, education, and all sorts of manifestations of our daily bread. Some, like Norman Borlaug, have shared of their gifts because they witnessed the love and compassion of Jesus and were themselves moved to compassion. Jesus still has compassion on us, especially when the tyrants of life oppress us. We are provided enough for the day. May we experience Jesus’ compassion always and especially during challenging times – and may the church be moved by that same compassion to love, heal and feed our neighbors as we are gifted to do. Amen.