02 August 2020

Isaiah 55:1-5
55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me,
and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

55:3 Incline your ear,
and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, reliable love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
145:9 The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
145:15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.

145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.

145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
145:20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

145:16 You open wide your hand, O Lord,
satisfying the desire of every living thing

Matthew 14:13-21
14:13 Now when Jesus heard this, (the news of John the Baptist’s death) he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted ἔρημος (erēmos) lone, desert, waste, uninhabited, Mt. 14:1315Mk. 6:313235; lone, abandoned to ruin, Mt. 23:38Lk. 13:35; met. lone, unmarried, Gal. 4:27; as a subst. a desert, uninhabited region, waste, Mt. 3:124:26Acts 7:36   place by himself.
But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion σπλαγχνίζομαι (splanchnizomai) to be moved with pity or compassion, Mt. 9:3614:1420:34Lk. 7:13; to be compassionate, Mt. 18:27
for them and cured their sick.

14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted ἔρημος (erēmos) place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

14:16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

14:17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

14:18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

14:19 Then 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.

14:20 And all ate and were filled; χορτάζω (chortazō) to feed or fill, to fatten; used of animals of prey, to satiate, gorge, Rev. 19:21; of persons, to satisfy with food, Mt. 14:2015:3337;  to satisfy the desire of any one, Mt. 5:6and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full πλήρης (plērēs)

full, filled, Mt. 14:2015:37; full of, abounding in, wholly occupied with, completely under the influence of, or affected by, Lk. 4:1Jn. 1:14Acts 9:36; full, complete, perfect, Mk. 4:28.
14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

After teaching the crowds and instructing his disciples about the kingdom of heaven in chapter 13, Jesus makes the kingdom of heaven real through his acts of healing and compassion in this text. In the kingdom of heaven, there is compassion, people share resources, and there is more than enough for everyone.

What immediately precedes today’s gospel reading is the demise/death of Jesus ‘relative & forerunner John the Baptiser (14:1-12). This catastrophic demoralizing news causes Jesus to “withdraw”/retreat. He pauses, takes a moment. As he is want to do Jesus retreats to a deserted place by himself. Jesus retreats in the face of this disturbing gut-wrenching setback. Jesus re-grounds himself by stripping down to basics, eliminating distractions. Yet the distractions intentionally pursue, seeking him out. Jesus promptly abandons his retreat mode moved by human need.  Jesus’ compassion compels him to act. Jesus who himself might well understandably be “distressed & dejected” (9:36) places the needs of others before his own. This is the context for the reading before us. When it seems we are most depleted, bewildered by the difficulties life has thrown at us, God invites us to be agents/instruments of Divine graciousness.

Location, location, location; today’s reading happens in the wilderness! The wilderness is a lonely desolate place, but as the scriptures attest is not absent of God’s reliable presence. While Mark and Luke disconnect these stories, Matthew seems intentionally to connect them. According to Matthew, Jesus withdraws by himself into “a deserted place” (erēmos) upon receiving the report of John’s death. The mention of “wilderness” (erēmos) invites the listener to consider other similar potent biblical metaphors.

Most of us hear this text as people of privilege. Food security is not something we are used to worrying about. But first-century Roman Empire was marked by significant food inequalities. Many people knew food insecurity and struggled on a daily and seasonal basis for adequate food and nutrition. Only a small group of elites enjoyed abundant variety and good quality food. Most of the population lived around, at, or below subsistence level with inadequate calorific and nutritional intake. The petition in the Lord’s prayer that God will supply daily bread reflects this situation (6:11). This text is especially for those who are hungry (‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled’ 5:6). Not coincidentally it is Matthew’s Jesus who also recommends fasting (experiencing personally solidarity with the hungry) & almsgiving (redistribution of the resources under one’s stewardship to create a more compassionate just reality) Matthew 6.

One of the reasons that the new age is often represented in terms of abundant food is the too frequent absence of such food in the present. There is still a need to feed the hungry in our world today. A recent report found that in 2017-18, 555,700 people (12.4% of BC households) experienced some level of food insecurity in the previous year. About one-quarter of this group (143,400 people, 3.2% of households) were considered severely food insecure -07 April 2020. According to The World Food Program, approximately “795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That is about one in nine people on earth.” Hunger is related to illnesses and developmental disabilities. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a hungry child to focus in school. When Jesus insists, “you give them something to eat” (14:16) he is also challenging us, ” What are we as Christians doing to feed the hungry? Our contributions can be the “little” resources (like that of the disciples) that when blessed and added with others can bring forth a miraculous increase.

As today’s first two hebrew & many other scriptures testify it is God’s will that the hungry be fed. God provides food in the wilderness (Exodus 16). Ezekiel condemns Israel’s leaders or “shepherds” for failing to feed the sheep/people (Ezekiel 34:1-10). The prophet Isaiah declares God’s will that people “share your bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7, 10), to mention but a few.

The simple detail that Jesus did not send the people away is remarkable. This miracle demonstrates that Jesus attends to the physical needs of the people. He does not focus solely on their spiritual health through his teaching. He is also concerned that they are sick. He empathizes with those who are hungry. Do we like the disciples, naively send people away when we think our resources are too limited to have an impact?

The multiplication of the loaves of bread and the fish harken to the previous parables that Jesus has proclaimed. Similar to the extravagant unstinting sower of seed & the abundant draft of fishes (13:3ff & 13:47ff). Building upon the previous weeks’ parables and stories the multiplication of the loaves & fish is about God’s generosity.Jesus manifests God’s crazy love in the lavish abundance of this satisfying sacred meal. 

Stories of Jesus feeding huge crowds with only a little were an important part of the earliest traditions of Jesus’ followers. Matthew’s Gospel includes two near-duplicate stories (see also Matthew 15:32-39) which are close parallels of two in Mark (6:32-44 and 8:1-10). Luke (9:10-17) and John (6:1-13) also include the “feeding of the five thousand” or a parallel. This scene of feeding five-thousand-plus will be followed in 15:32-39 with the feeding of four thousand people. Matthew and Mark both record that Jesus once fed 5000 (men, not counting women and children) and later fed another 4000 or so people. The repetition of these feeding stories serves a narrative function (especially in Mark) that highlights the disciples’ lack of comprehension. That is, when we come to the second situation where a crowd needs bread, we who are reading the story know that Jesus can feed them, but the disciples apparently do not. The narrative effect, then, is that the reader has the opportunity to demonstrate a better understanding of Jesus than the disciples. The repetition is also a device consistent with the theme of the feeding story itself. Both are about Divine superabundance!

Some scholars suggest that this miracle is perhaps the precursor of the communion meal. Jesus hosts the meal. He blesses the food and gives it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. The language of “taking,” “loaves,” “blessed,” “broke” “gave to disciples”, “ate,” and “all” in 14:19 appears in the last supper scene in 26:26-27. This is not a last supper but the two are linked by the use of food in the dispersal of divine blessing. Christians hear in these actions the elements of the Christian Eucharistic meal. Jesus’ blessing and breaking bread are the same as those in the gospel accounts of his last meal with his disciples (see Matthew 26:26; see also I Corinthians 11:23-24; Luke 24:30; Acts 27:35). Sharing a meal is a primary means of creating and maintaining community. When Christians gather to break bread together, we remember and repeat Jesus’ words and actions. In this sacred meal Christ satisfies our deepest hungers, heals our brokenness, binds us together as if one body, and strengthens us for service in the world. The symbols of the sacramental gathering and their multivalent meanings resonate in this narrative of Jesus feeding the crowds.

It is a distraction to focus on the miraculous. Matthew seems to be purposely highlighting other aspects than simply the miraculous.

1) Jesus’ “compassion” provides the context for the event.

2) Jesus indicates that the disciples should give them something to eat,

and they are in fact the ones who actually distribute the food to the crowds.

3) As noted in the sequence of Jesus taking, blessing, and breaking the bread, there is a clear connection made with the last supper account in Matthew 26:26ff, but there, Jesus goes on to say, “This is my body… This is my blood…” (Matthew is not so far removed from John 6!)4) God’s excessive extravagance; 5000, plus women, plus children, plus 12 baskets full of fragments leftovers! .

The story does not tell us how the hungry crowd is fed in the wilderness; only that no one leaves hungry. No one feared there wouldn’t be enough, and so they didn’t think of themselves and their own needs (unlike the recent run on & hoarding of “essentials” like toilet paper early in the pandemic). Conceivably the most profound thing Jesus does in the story is to insist that the disciples imagine possibilities for distributing food for a hungry crowd so that there is enough for everyone. Jesus explicitly turns to his disciples & invites them to resolve the problem. Still, you and I are called to give bread to the hungry, to be a living Eucharist for all people. Open us to the transformative power of Christ in our lives when we break bread together!

Returning to the Matthew text at hand, it is now clearer why this isn’t a typical miracle story. It’s really not about the earthly bread and how many people were fed. That isn’t the fullness of the Gospel anyway. Matthew wants to highlight the compassion of Jesus & God’s lavish generosity. But that does not exclude Jesus’ disciples being faithful in seeking to provide daily bread to all in need. Most importantly, we want to be hungry for something more. Ultimately, God give us what we really need to live. Jesus, the Bread of Life!

Whilst heeding today’s hebrew scriptures it worth noting the invitation & scope. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,  and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, that you may live. I make an enduring promise with you, my steadfast, reliable love for David.”(Isaiah 55). “Come” invites us into the story. And just in case there is any doubt “come’ is repeated 4 times! More superfluous extravagance!And lest there be doubt about who qualifies, it is everyone who is thirsty, anyone regardless of status or resources. This radical inclusiveness also embraces such as us. This story of Divine abundance poignantly, particularly, in the place of desolation, has far reaching impact, “See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader of the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”

God does not only promise to sate our basic needs, but also satisfying the desire of every living thing. As if we haven’t gotten it yet, still more bounteous lavishness upon extravagance. Everyone come, eat, experience deepest satisfaction!

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

For not only bread
but all things necessary
for sustenance in this life
  are given on loan to us
    with others
    and because of others
    and for others
    to others through us.

-Meister Eckhart c.1260-c.1327



the Reverend Brian Heinrich