Written by Pastor Mark Bringman
Matthew 14:13 – 36 NRSV
13 Now when Jesus heard [that John was executed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Hunger is something that most of us have experienced as the barest pangs. As a society where 69.0% of all adults are overweight (and I fall in that category) and 35.1% are obese, many of us cannot remember a time when we were in want for food. But there are over 800 million hungry people in the world today, who must go to bed with their stomach hungry and over 20,000 people who daily perish from preventable hunger related causes.
Hunger is a problem. It was a problem two thousand years ago and it is a problem now. It is a problem that has improved in the last fifty years, as improvements to agriculture and technology have actually meant that the rate of hunger has decreased since that time. Indeed, there are less hungry people now than there were twenty years ago. But there is more to be done.
But it is still a major issue in the world today. Want of food to fill the stomach, of a safe place to lay one’s head at night lead to unrest and discontent. If any of us have had a time when emptiness gnawed within us, then we might connect with some of the 5,000 (or 15,000) that we hear of in the gospels today.
In Jesus time, people lived much more hand to mouth than is typical in 21st century America. This means that the crowds that were following Jesus in the lesson today were willing to give up food for the opportunity to see him heal, hear him teach and preach. The opportunity for healing, the desire to be near him was more important that satisfying critical everyday needs.
When Jesus sees the crowds following him, his reaction is compassion. He doesn’t lecture them, or speak to them about blessed are those who hunger or thirst for righteousness, he first feeds them. The one who shows his power over the elements, who speaks and changes the weather, makes their first concern giving people what they need for the day. And his last concern in this section is healing the sick.
From this section of Matthew, Jesus reveals to us signs of God’s kingdom: a place where all are fed, where all are cared for, where communities are well and whole. The daily bread that we speak of in the Lord’s prayer are all of the requirements we have for life – our daily needs. The call of the church, to feed the hungry, care for the sick and to reach out to those who have difficulty caring for themselves is a call that we have from our Lord and Savior. Our communion meal is a preview of the great heavenly feast that has no end, where all eat together with Jesus, with all those who go before and follow after.
The feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracles to show up in all four gospels. Indeed in Matthew and Mark Jesus feeds 4,000 in addition. Jesus was and is engaged with taking care of people’s physical needs. We cannot preach the gospel until we have satisfied the needs and desires of those who are in hunger and want. Jesus came to proclaim the restoration of God’s will upon the sinfulness and brokenness of creation.
Quotes on Blessing
“A hungry man can’t see right or wrong. He just sees food.”
– Pearl S. Buck
“When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political, or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
– Desmond Tutu
“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead, American anthropologist
“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for the minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., American Civil Rights Leader
“For now I ask no more
Than the justice of eating.”
– Pablo Neruda, Chilean Poet, Noble Prize Winner
“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.”
– Buzz Aldrin, Astronaut
“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
– Anne Frank, Holocaust Victim
“Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.”
– Saint Augustine
Questions for the week
- The crowds were willing to forgo food to be near Jesus. What are you willing to or have given up for Jesus?
- The stilling the storm is perhaps Jesus most remarkable miracle, reflecting that Jesus is divine and has control over nature and the creation. What is a part of the creation that astounds you?
- How can you help provide for the daily needs of others?
- What parts of the Bible feed you most? What elements of Christian faith and life feed you most? What feeds you most in worship?