The ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ occurs in the setting of Jesus having heard the news that John the Baptist has died. We read of Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place to be alone, but the crowds follow him. There is something about a tragedy that makes us pause and want to be alone to process our thoughts. I am sure he wanted to pray and share his grief with God, but the crowds would not leave him alone. I want to talk about three things that Jesus does next. These three things frame how we are to live in God’s Kingdom.
[SLIDE – “1. Jesus sees them.”]. It sounds obvious, but it must be named. Even though Jesus is grieving, he sees the crowds. Though he is caught up in his own emotions and is looking for downtime to process things, he can’t help but notice the people.
We have to be careful because this story is NOT telling us to neglect our self-care at all times for the benefit of others. This story doesn’t mean, “No matter what you are going through, put others before you!” After all, if you don’t take proper care of yourself, you won’t be able to help others. Self-care is important.
I think what the writer of Matthew is telling us is that Jesus sees the crowds, particularly in their suffering, and Jesus calls us to do the same. It’s quite a blessing to be given the ability to know and identify another creature who is suffering. God provides us with this ability for a reason. It leads us to the second thing that Jesus does.
[SLIDE –“2. Jesus has compassion.”]. The writer of Matthew tells us in Chapter 14 verse 14, [SLIDE – “Matthew 14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”]. Jesus is moved with compassion because he cares for all the people who are there. He sees people who are in need. Caring on this level requires an ability to not judge others as deserving of their situation.
We have plenty of people in our country today that we can have compassion for. In 2015, 36.2% of Cleveland residents were living in poverty (Cleveland Food Bank Website). Did you ever talk to someone about poverty in our country, and their response was judgment, blame, and no compassion? I like what Anne McCaffrey has to say. [SLIDE – “’Make no judgments where you have no compassion.’ Anne McCaffrey in Goodreads.com”]. I like that. Jesus calls us to have compassion.
Compassion leads us to the third thing that Jesus does. [SLIDE – “Jesus Acts!”], and he heals the sick. It sounds like he finds himself healing the sick for the better part of the day, and the disciples are right beside him.
Before this story in Matthew, Jesus spoke in parables and gave examples of what God’s Kingdom is like. [SLIDE – Picture of a Mustard tree]. Last week we read that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a tree where the birds can nest. If you remember, this is an exaggeration. A mustard seed grows into a small plant or a bush and not into a tree.
Though it seems impossible, now Jesus is ‘doing it.’ He is ushering in God’s Kingdom - where people are seen, compassion is felt, and the sick are healed. But God doesn’t do it alone, our help is needed, and the first helpers are the disciples. [SLIDE – Picture of Jesus with the disciples].
So many times, I am glad I am not one of these first disciples because I’m afraid that for thousands of years, people would be reading of my mistakes. “And then, the disciple Mark said..” and Jesus replied, “You did not just ask me that question?”
Today however, the disciples are starting to understand what Jesus is doing. They see the hungry people and have compassion for them. [SLIDE – “1. The disciples see the hungry people. 2. The disciples have compassion.”]. It is at number three, where the disciples get it wrong and say to Jesus, “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus corrects them. “No,” Jesus says, “You feed them!” Because the Kingdom of God calls us to act. [SLIDE – “’You feed them.’ 3. The Kingdom of God calls us to act.”]. The disciples had not learned this yet. They respond to Jesus with, “Ah, we have five loaves and two fish – enough to make two, maybe three Happy Meals.”
But God’s Kingdom is one of abundance – where a tiny mustard seed grows beyond what the world and genetics limit it to. God’s Kingdom is where a mustard bush becomes a tree, where the birds make their nest and hospitality abounds.
Jesus takes the fish and the bread looks up to heaven and blesses them. Little becomes much in God’s hands. Soon the bread and the fish will be distributed amongst the people, and little becomes much in God’s Kingdom. But for this miracle to happen, the disciples must act. Jesus tells them to distribute the food because God’s Kingdom calls us to act too. [SLIDE – “God’s Kingdom calls us to act too”].
What happens next in our story is a feast where all received plenty to eat. Food is abundant. The meal was fulfilling and satisfying, but the disciples are not done working. Jesus instructs them to gather up what is left, and they gather twelve bushels of food. This is of course, more than what they started with.
We don’t know the details of exactly how this miracle happened. What we do know is that God’s Kingdom is one of abundance and generosity. Jesus and the disciples displayed kindness and charity when they shared what little food they had. It took generosity for everyone to hand over their leftovers.
The story of the ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ starts with the scarcity of food the disciples had with them. We have a scarcity of food in parts of our world and country today. From the website of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank - In our nation, 18% of children live in poverty, [SLIDE – Picture of child in poverty in the USA] and in Cuyahoga County (in 2016) that number was 26%. In 2016, 32% of Ohio households who received supplemental nutrition assistance programs (former food stamps) were working households with a monthly income averaging $1,306. When we see those who are hungry, Jesus says to us, “You feed them!”
Before the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus had compassion on the crowd and was healing the sick. [SLIDE – Picture of Jesus healing the crowds]. We read elsewhere in the gospels of the disciples doing the same in Jesus' name. Most of the healing of the sick today happens in our health care system. However, in 2018, around 27 million Americans did not have health insurance. For years I have worked in hospitals and seen the uninsured access the healthcare system. Children fall off their bikes, break things, get cuts that require stitches – just like you and I did when we were young. Uninsured people get the same diagnoses those of us with insurance do: diabetes, hypertension, cancer. The difference is that without health insurance, often they access the health care system late in the game – when they are suffering permanent and preventable disabilities (like heart attacks and strokes) from their untreated medical conditions. I cannot count the times I have seen families and friends provide bedside vigils with tears and prayers that their loved one will be healed. Sometimes they worry about the cost, knowing that they will never be able to pay the medical bills. Maybe the loved one lying in the hospital bed was the breadwinner for the family, who now has lost their ability to work. The family not only has their healthcare costs to contend with, but also lost income.
Jesus calls us to care for each other first by seeing each other. [SLIDE- Picture of one person seeing another “See each other”]. Take notice of the unseen stranger. See the hungry, the poor, those who are sick. I have said before that to see another person is a holy act. We ask God to see us when we say the priestly benediction, “May your face shine upon us..” God sees and looks on all of humanity through our eyes. Jesus calls us to see each other.
Then we are to look upon each other with compassion. [SLIDE – Picture of compassion “Have compassion”]. We do this by seeing people as Jesus sees them, without judgment. Know that all people are children of God – created in the image of God. If you find a judgmental thought entering your mind, remember Anne McCaffrey’s, “Make no judgments where you have no compassion.” If judgment enters your mind before or in place of compassion, then ask yourself why that is? Are we using judgment as our excuse not to feel compassion? Remember, God will sort out the wheat from the weeds, not us. We are not to be in the judging business.
Finally, God calls us to act. [SLIDE – Picture of Divinity volunteers “Act”]. It is easy to find excuses not to act. We can blame institutions, politicians, or political parties – but that should not prevent us from doing our part. We may think that the solution is beyond our control, but that denies our God of abundance. We deny the Kingdom that Jesus shows us in the Feeding of the 5,000 when we say there is no hope for change.
I love the movie depictions of the Feeding of the 5,000. [SLIDE – Jesus enjoying himself with group of people]. At some point in the film, the disciples get nervous when they realize the day is passing and the people need to eat. Jesus is calm and enjoying himself in the company of others. Somehow, Jesus has moved from wanting to be alone in a deserted place to finding joy in the presence of others who are in need. He is healing, teaching, and enjoying an abundant feast in God’s Kingdom. I pray that we all find that same joyful Kingdom place amongst the crowds – right here, right now. AMEN