Sermon on the "Feeding of the 5000" - Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus is a compassionate healer. A healer that doesn’t wait for insurance or diagnosis before he will be present. He does not stop doing what he does because he has done enough. He comes to you as the large crowd you are and has compassion, showing mercy, lovingkindness, grace and peace to the distressed, the angry, the vengeful, the tired, the hated. He even continues to do so, after the healing.
At first, we hear of a Jesus who withdraws. It says here, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” What did he hear? Well we have to go back up a few verses to hear the dreadful story of the death of John the Baptist. A story of lack of mercy, of use of power. Short version, Herod has a party, thinks his step-daughter is hot, promises anything to her. Her mother wants John dead because he had the audacity to tell Herod and his wife that it was wrong for them to be together. You see, When Herod visited Rome, he hung out with his brother Philip and Herodias, Philip’s wife. Herod got a little infatuated with Herodias, who was not only his sister-in-law but also his niece. He abducted her, divorced his own wife, and Herodias became queen. This leads to John being awakened in prison and executed for doing the right thing.
This is what Jesus heard, and so he goes to a secluded space. Probably to grieve the death of his own cousin. To grieve the death of his partner in ministry who set the table for Jesus to come. To pray for strength as he continues to do the work he was sent to do. In part because he knew the people.
The people needed him. They needed John and his preaching of repentance, but they needed Christ even more with his proclaiming of forgiveness and salvation. A forgiveness that poured from him as compassion.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
He had his time away, and now he goes back to work to finish what he started. Seeing the crowd, looking upon the masses, some who came to him trusting that he could heal them. Others coming in doubt but left with no other option, “Let’s try this Jesus guy,” they think. And he can’t stop himself. Where ever sinners gather, where ever brokenness is found, Christ can’t help himself. He desires to heal, a healing that extends to us in his suffering – By his stripes we are healed, says Isaiah.
Not just physical healing either. We all want that. We desire it, but how many of you have been in a place where there is absolutely nothing you can do about an illness except wait and trust? Wait for something to happen and trust that it will. Beseeching God, who doesn’t promise long life but does promise to hear. Beseeching. That’s an old word, but a good one. A pleading, not a groveling. A pleading for something because you know that it only can come from one place.
But what of other healing, other hunger, other suffering? Yes, there is a massive feeding, a miracle in fact, as part of this lesson today. A miracle we like to explain away. “Well, Jesus just taught them by example to share.” That’s one of the more popular interpretations by intelligent folks who fail to see Jesus as a wonder worker. Or, “people had food in their pockets and shared amongst the other hungry people.” Another attempt to rationalize away something extra-ordinary. All because we want a neutered Jesus. We want a Jesus with no substance apart from what we can do ourselves. We want people to share so we think that is what he did, instead of taking the ordinary, the simple, the meager, and making it overflow. Because we think we should be Jesus. We think we should read this to tell us we need to feed and heal people.
But how can we see miraculous events in our lives without knowing we are the hungry, the weak, the sick, the lame, the crowd? Herod was a taker. He took his brother’s wife. He took the life of John the Baptist. He saw his stepdaughter and wanted her as much as he wanted her mother.
I can read this and seem me here. I want something and I take it. The crowds are in the taking mode. Taking from Jesus what he can give. What he does give. Healing, compassion, deliverance. We are always taking.
That is where Jesus comes in. Jesus, who steps down out of the boat and takes you by the hand to raise you up. To give to you. Always giving by taking from you the things you can’t get rid of. Calls you by name to take your pain as his. The Suffering Servant as he is described in Isaiah, walking among the wounded and dying to bring death to the old man, the old Adam, the sinner, the old you, and creating the new you. Where we find in Jesus compassion when life is compassionless. When our life begins to fade, age catches up to us, or the brokenness of our bodies try to get the better of us, Christ stands in our stead to say – Death already tried it’s worst on me. Take your best shot big D. Big Death. We’ll have the final laugh as you are vanquished by a cross and empty tomb. By a God who has conquered death by death. Destroyed true suffering by suffering.
We always are obsessed with the number 5000. “No way could that have happened. I can’t even feed my teenager with 5 loaves and 2 fish.” But when we think of the math we miss the miracle. When we get distracted by something that just seems weird, we miss the even more bizarre work of Christ. A work that begins and ends with the crowd being satisfied. Satisfied in seeing God come to them in their humanity to love and linger a while, and then to be with them when the hunger pains come. Imagine that. Healed and yet still become hungry. Still need to eat or you will die. A continual dependence on God for all things. For rain, for sun, for healing, for energy, for food and water. A God who gives life, who gives satisfaction, who becomes our dependence and source of all goodness and refuge. Even while we are healed, then become hungry and need and take more, Jesus stays, asks no questions, looks you in the eye, and gives you of himself. A little breaking of bread and some fish. No Starbucks. No Filet Mignon. Probably not even walleye. Possibly sardines and hardtack, but it’s Christ who gives himself to you. Compassion in the flesh. Thanks be to God. Amen