Year A - August 2, 2014

Homilist: Mel Campbell

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

There are two miraculous events recorded in all four gospels: the resurrection and the feeding of the 5000. The latter was our reading from the gospel this morning. Rather than compare Matthew’s account with the other three, allow me to combine the four accounts. Think about what you bring to the story to better understand what you can take from the text. As I retell the event answer some of these questions in your mind. 

1. Where am I in the story?

One of the 5000 men, one of the women, one of the children. Or maybe one of the disciples, or the small boy. If you identify with any of these why did you come? Curiosity, healing, or what . . .

 

No one interprets in a vacuum; we all come to this story and others with presuppositions our own agenda, and at times with misunderstanding.

2. What is the focal point of the story?

Here is the story again:

When Jesus heard that John the Baptist was beheaded, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people and I do mean a lot of people, from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with compassion and healed their sick.

Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”

 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat. ”Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Here is a boy with only five loaves of bread and two fish and that is all we have.

Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass in groups of 50 and 100. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the thousands. They all ate their fill. Subsequently they gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand men, besides women and children were fed.

So where are you in this story? And why did you come?

I see two types of narratives in the gospel stories. Ones that Jesus told, such as his parables, in which I seem to be invited into and can readily identify with at least one of the characters or one of the objects. The prodigal son, the lost sheep, the sower, you name the parable and I am in it. Then there are stories about Jesus especially like the one we read this morning—the feeding of the 5000 in which I don’t find myself in it at all!! 

To begin with I don’t like large crowds and some scholars estimate 15000 to 20000 in attendance in this story. Camp meetings are out for me as are General Conference sessions. Even in our 9:30 service hardly to be consider a crowd, I sit at the end of the pew, sort of on the periphery. Here in the 8:30 service crowds are not a problem. At times I find myself sitting in a bench all to myself. I am not opposed to other around me but just not large crowds. 

Another reason I am not in this story is, I am not fond of fish. My problem with fish is that it tastes like it smells. And this fish had been carried about all day by this barefoot youngen! I do not see myself having a meal of bread and fish—maybe if were hungry enough. 

There is not much left in the story that I could identify with. Oh there are the disciples, but I have never seen myself moving comfortable with Peter, James and John but I am not sure if the other disciples did either at this time.

If you have found yourself in this story I certainly have no quarrel with you. If you find yourself in this story to enhance your spirituality, I only wish I could be with you.

If I am not in this story then what is the meaning to me, and perhaps to some of you, about this miraculous story of Christ in which we find no personal identity? What were your focal points in this narrative? Mine were the healing of the sick and the breaking of the bread. The feeding of the multitude brings assurance to me that my bread and water will be sure. God promises food to sustain my life. I can take further comfort in three Old Testament passages: 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. and I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread and of course the manna story. 

The story illustrates that problems are never too large for God to handle. With God’s miracles there is always enough for everyone.

The other focal point of the story is one that I had overlooked until recently—the healing of the sick! How can you have thousands of people gathered around our Lord and have no account of what he said? Didn’t he preach a sermon? Why didn’t the writers record Christ’s homily? then I thought just maybe the homily was in the healing of the sick. In a group of 10,000 plus people there must have been hundreds that needed healing. It was never Jesus’ custom to do group healings; always the miracle was done on individuals. The religious leaders were so willing to connect the sickness and infirmities with some sin of the individual or his or her parents. Of course, their criticism and judgments never brought forth one instance of healing. So why not seek an alternate possibility of becoming healed. I can imagine our Lord moving throughout the thousands, restoring health, forgiving sins, and affirming, that in spite of the religious leaders pronouncements, they were sons and daughter of Abraham and a part of the kingdom.

Jesus feed the crowd through his disciples but healed them individually as he was his custom. He feed them physically through his disciples. Peter, James and John, and all the rest could only give as they had received from Jesus himself. Seems there is a lesson there for us in out outreach programs. 

One last thought, I have decided to rename the story to “The feeding of 5000 to the feeding of the 5000 and one. I have rethought about whom I identify with in the story. I think I am one of the men listening and watching Jesus do his miracles. I don’t think I would ever tire of seeing the crippled walk, the withered hand restored, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers given clear skin. I don’t think I would ever tire of listing to Him preach good news through his miracles, or seeing Him bind up the broken hearted, or through his deeds, proclaiming freedom for the captives, or comforting all who were mourning. Yes I admit I am there and I will wait with confidence until He gets to me, and He will get to me, He will heal me and forgive me of my sins. That is the real story of the feeding of the 5001! And more than likely I think I could learn to eat bread and fish!