Have you ever heard of the saying, “Every dark cloud has a silver lining”? If so, then the story of the loaves and fishes is a good example. Let me explain.
This story happens just after the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus heard that his cousin was beheaded, he did what some of us do when a friend or relative dies-he went off to a quiet place to think, pray and grieve. Unfortunately, to paraphrase the words of that great Scottish poet Robbie Burns, Jesus’ best laid plans were led astray by God.
You see, Jesus wasn’t the only person who was mourning the death of John the Baptist. His followers were also in mourning. They had lost their powerful leader. If he could be killed, then no one was safe-not even Jesus. They were seeking a new leader.
People had heard of Jesus and his teaching and healing, and they wanted what he had to offer. They searched for him and found him just when he wanted to be alone. Was he angry with them? No. On the contrary, he had compassion for them and taught them and healed the sick. By night time, the people were still there, and they did not have anything to eat all day. The disciples wanted Jesus to send them away so they could get food in the nearby villages, but Jesus had other ideas, and just like the crowd interrupted Jesus’ plans, Jesus in turn interrupted the disciples’ plans. He told them to feed the crowd.
Now, the disciples had a problem. Where were they going to get enough food? All they had was five loaves of bread and two fish, and that certainly would not be enough to feed everyone-or so they thought. Jesus took the food, blessed it and had the disciples distribute it to the people. Low and behold, there was MORE than enough food-in fact; there were 12 baskets of leftovers!
The miracle of the loaves and fish is not so much what Jesus does as what happens among the crowd in Jesus’ presence. Jesus’ compassion was contagious in the way the people cared for each other and shared the food. The miracle shows us God’s character, the nature of the coming Kingdom, and the nature of the Kingdom in our hearts when it has transformed us. Our heavenly Father, as the head of the household, establishes the household, sustains and liberates us and guides us to spiritual fulfillment. The foundation of God’s household is the duty he imposes on us to care for each other.
Jesus always seems to be asking more of us than we have to give-as spouses and parents and students and workers and on and on. He calls on us to love, even when love is difficult; to forgive, even when we have been wronged; to stand fast and firm on our principles, even when it mean standing alone. And those things are not easy to do. After all, we are not Jesus, and our powers are not unlimited, as his were.
God’s abundance is right here, right now, wherever right here and whenever right now may be. We think we don’t have enough not because our supplies are too small, but because our “we” is too small. The “we” includes God and the gifts of all those among whom we are sent as Christ’s body. Indeed, far more of the gifts are “out there” than “in here”. That’s how it is that ministry in God’s kingdom grows by becoming viral and multiplying. God meets daily needs daily. He will give us what we need when it is needed. Matthew 6:32-33 reads, “Your heavenly Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
Jesus bore witness to our spiritual duty to care for each other. There is enough for everyone when we live in right relation and harmony, but in reality there are millions of people who live in poverty and are starving. What can we do? Well, we can do what Jesus did. Jesus took the small amount of food that was offered and used it to do his work by using it as an example for the disciples and for us. When we work together and use what we have to do God’s work, God will multiply what we offer. For example, those of you who donate food or money to a local food bank might not think that your small contribution will make much of a difference, but all of the donations, when combined, go a long way to feeding the hungry in your community.
We are not to be a band-aid that provides a small amount of healing and protection for the hurting people around us, only to be taken off and once again made separate. The church must be fused with those who have been hurt by society, working as a unit to bring about healing. Part of our strategy is to become a vital part of life in our region, not just a place for people to visit on the weekends but truly to be a healing place for a hurting world.
For example, our ministers take the bread of communion to those in “deserted places”-the sick, dying, imprisoned and elderly. They often feel on the fringe of life, less than appreciated, less than valued. When they receive Communion, the ministers are essentially telling them that they are part of our church community, part of the people who are fed by God.
This story is the only one that appears in all four gospels, although there are some slight differences. For example, John 6:9 mentions the involvement of the small boy. Some scholars propose that the boy’s generosity inspired the crowd to share the food which they had brought-with the result that there was plenty for all. Unfortunately, there are some problems with this proposal. First, the boy is only mentioned in John’s Gospel. If his gesture was the key to understanding this story, surely it would have been included in all four Gospels. Second, this proposal seems to be motivated by discomfort of the supernatural. If we explain away the supernatural in the Bible, we are not left with much. Finally, Matthew’s version clearly emphasizes the great size of the crowd, the need for great quantities of food, and the great miracle that fills the need.
Every one of us has a hunger for something-a hunger we try to fill with food, houses, spouses, careers, cars, sex, drugs or something else. This hunger is why many of us go to church. We have a hunger that only God can satisfy, and it can only be satisfied by regular weekly church attendance. Those who only go to church on special occasions, or who refuse to go because they don’t like the minister or the service book that is used will never have their hunger completely satisfied. God gives us strength, because we get discouraged. God gives us grace because we don’t always feel accepted. God gives us generosity because we tend to be selfish. God gives us love, because we want to be loved.
This story shows a contrast between two different parties-a party hosted by Herod and a party hosted by Jesus. Herod’s party was one of lust, cowardice, rash words, hatred and murder-all because he was so enamored by the dancing of his step-daughter that he made a rash promise that led to the death of John the Baptist. In contrast, Jesus’ party as shown by the miracle of the loaves and fish is one that leads people to freedom and life.
Those who serve the Lord get to enjoy the fruit of the abundant supply that Jesus gives. God’s rewards are for anyone who commits themselves to his kingdom work. Jesus is the example we are to follow. Each and every one of us is invited to follow him, to take and eat of his life, of his love, of his forgiveness. This story is a witness to the power of God. It is a story of grace that is sparked and motivated by the love and compassion of Jesus.
Jesus is going beyond feeding the people. He is transforming this moment on this remote hillside into a holy moment-a sacred celebration. He intends to offer these people something to eat, but he also intends to offer them something more. He plans to involve them in a holy occasion-a moment when they can experience the presence of God in their midst-a moment when they can see Jesus revealed to them as the Son of God.
When we dine together at the Lord’s Table, God’s power is alive. His power produces an abundance of grace, power, love and the fulfillment of our needs-just like there were twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone in the crowd was fed. This can only happen when everyone is included. Only then will the faith community become a beacon of welcoming light to the disadvantaged and the less fortunate.
We remember the bread every time we return to the Communion table and see the blessing given, the bread broken, and the food shared. We again commune in memory of and in the presence of the one who gazed towards the crowds and us with compassion. Sharing a meal creates and maintains a sense of community. When we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ satisfies our deepest hungers, heals our brokenness, binds us together as if one body and strengthens us to do his work in our world.
God has given each of us different gifts, talents and abilities. We are different parts of the same body of Christ. Architects, engineers, volunteers, teachers, pastors and evangelists all stand together to help slow the spread of famine and accomplish the work of the kingdom. Some are called by God to make great sacrifices, but God wants all of us to respond to his call in our lives. For those who have little, they can pray for those who are willing to serve in a foreign field, and the wealthy can help out of their abundance to support those who have walked away from well-paying jobs to serve the less fortunate in society.
Jesus’ actions with the crowd are actions that even the playing field, actions that make sure everyone is taken care of. They were radical actions at that time, and they are radical actions today. They seem foreign to our culture driven by dollars and profit, and they were so foreign in Jesus’ time that he was put to death over them. But following Jesus is a radical lifestyle, and Jesus asks us if we are willing to do the same. Are we willing to give up some of what we have, that others might not go hungry? Are we willing to give out of what God has given to us?
- Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
- Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXII, No. 4 (2011: Lectionary Homiletics-Preaching Conference, Midlothian, VA, pp. 73-79)
- Exegesis for Matthew 14:13-21. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “The Parties People Put On”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. David E. Lenninger, “Hungry People”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. Dr. Randy L. Hyde, “Send Them Away”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- Bishop Stephen Bouman, ELCA, “HIC”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Bishop Woodie White, UMC, “I Love a Mystery”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Max Lucado, “Count to Eight”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Mike Benson, “Bandage’. Retrieved from www.forthright.net/kneemail
- The Voice of the Lord for Nissan 6. Retrieved from www.studylight.org
- Marybeth Whalen, “Bring It to Me”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Dr. Jack Graham, “Finding God’s Blessings through Service”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions: 18th Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Preaching Peace. Retrieved from www.preachingpeace.org/lectionaries/yeara_proper13/
- The Rev. Billy Graham, “Compassion and Stewardship”. Retrieved from www.billygraham.org
- The Rev, Beth Quick, “They Need Not Go Away”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermons8-4-02.htm