Matthew 14:13-21 is the Lectionary text for this Sunday. I have always loved this story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. I guess because I am a sucker for the good story ending. All these people… probably an untold amount of people… looking to some as many as five thousand… are getting hungry. You know hungry, as hungry as Methodists at 12:02pm on Sunday. They are starting to fidget, and squirm, and clear their throats, and tap on their watches. Some are even heading for the door. Hungry and in need of something to fill up their growling emptiness.
The disciples look on this hunger and no McDonalds close by as a great problem… let them go and handle this problem themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity for the grace of God to be experienced by all concerned. Jesus says: “You feed them.” And they respond with the big but… “But all we have….”
And so the disciples’ suggestion that these hordes of people go buy food isn’t just unrealistic – they are, after all, out in a deserted place – it’s ridiculous…and even a little insulting, as the folks making up these desperate crowds probably didn’t have money to buy food in the first place. And so Jesus tells his disciples to get over their callous self-concern and feed them themselves.
Jesus uses the disciples, even when they would rather look after themselves, to tend the needs of these thousands of men, women, and children. Using words and actions foreshadowing the Last Supper, Matthew depicts what happens when you move from a worldview of scarcity – “we have nothing here but five loaves and fishes” – to one of abundance – “thank you, God, for these five loaves and fishes.” Whatever their initial skepticism, or doubt, or self-preoccupation, the disciples are caught up in Jesus words of abundance and gratitude and distribute what they have and participate in the wonder and joy that “all ate and were filled.” God used even these reluctant disciples, that is, to care for the poor and hungry that God loves so much.
And that miracle continues even today. When a college-grad turns away from a high-paying job in order to teach disadvantaged kids, God’s miracles continue. When a parent puts dreams of an academic career to the side to care for a special-needs child, God is working that same kind of miracle. When a church makes the wrenchingly difficult decision to celebrate its century of faithful service and close its doors after significant decline in order that another ministry might flourish, miracles abound. When one student stands up against bullies in defense of another student, the God of compassion is again miraculously revealed. When a fledgling community of faith makes a promise that no one that comes to its doors will be turned away hungry, God is still at work performing miracles through disciples eager, reluctant, and everything in between, miracles that easily rival those reported in today’s reading.
The real wonder of this story is that it continues: God still cares deeply and passionately for those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the hungry – and God continues to use us to care for them.
Grace and Peace