Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
Rev Alison Way video reflection https://youtu.be/LOIJdhjLWCY
Bishop Peter video reflection: https://youtu.be/cKcu4fvvGJ4
An opening prayer – Dear God, you look deep inside us, seeing not only our outer but our inner needs. Have compassion on us, we pray. Feed us today from your holy word, and we will be filled. Amen.
We are going to think about our gospel story today – that familiar account of the feeding of the 5 thousand. We are going to think about 3 parts of the story
Jesus withdrawing to a wilderness place where the story starts
Jesus example of compassion when the crowds catch up with him
And finally about breaking bread
So let’s begin at the beginning with Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place by himself, because of something he has just heard. What he has just heard is from Herod’s palace – Grim news indeed concerning the death of John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ cousin – 3-4 months his senior and the forerunner of Jesus time on earth. It is reasonable to think that they would have known each other well. Family gatherings were a big part of the culture and heritage of both Jesus and John. They also shared an amazing moment in recent times – when Jesus was baptised by John – Matthew 3:16-17
just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
We know the impact that had on Jesus and his wilderness times, but we don’t know what impact it had on John. He had not wanted to baptise Jesus but for Jesus to baptise him! Surely the impact of this whole episode gave John strength for his mission and purpose too
But back at the events that upset Jesus this day, the grisly circumstances of John’s death will have added to the sadness in Jesus heart this news will have caused. We may remember the story – how Herodias danced for Herod at his birthday party. It pleased Herod so much that he offered to grant her whatever she might ask and she, prompted by her mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. This was political behaviour of the very worst kind. John had been outspoken about Herodias’ mother, which had already resulted in John being imprisoned… (Herodias’ mother was married to Herod’s brother and was now acting as Herod’s wife) and she had taken the first opportunity to take her revenge, which was both swift and brutal! News of this sort is enough to make anyone want to withdraw and get some peace and time to pray, but as the story unfolds we see for Jesus this is just not to be
And we turn to our second area of focus now, Jesus’s compassion as the crowds catch up with him. Jesus is pursued by the crowds determined to get more of him. He is on the crest of the wave of his popularity in this story. He has peaked the curiosity of those around him with his parables and teachings, the healings and the miracles.
Jesus example of compassion here is hard to live up to. He puts aside what he wants to do as the crowd approach. He heals the sick and then sets about working out how to meet the most basic of human needs – how to feed a hungry crowd in this wilderness!
The disciples are very dubious about the sense of this plan, not having enough for themselves with five loaves and two fish and recognising that nothing is at hand in a deserted place. The lateness of the hour is also compounding the difficulty.
Reading this story today – we see logic on their side. I wonder too if there was any sense of them wanting to ‘protect’ Jesus from the crowd and take the pressure off him in the way they looked at it, but Jesus is having none of it! And he takes control… using the imperative – Bring them to me (about the loaves and the fishes). He ordered the crowd to sit down.
What happens next has many resonances of other signs and wonders Jesus performed. Overwhelming generosity in how much is provided. Feeding and more importantly filling the vast crowd and 12 basket fulls left over… This is typical of this kind of thing. When Jesus turned water into wine – it overflowed… to the equivalent of 6 large wheelie bins full of very good wine. God’s love doesn’t stint on generosity – none the more so than in sending his only son Jesus.
Behind the scenes there is a huge contrast between Herod’s birthday party – with underhand political dealings and death and the impromptu meal hosted by Jesus in the wilderness. Which one would we choose to be at? The lavish stylish one – but with an undercurrent of greed, deviousness, deception, political antics and violence – Or the simple sharing of bread and fish in the wilderness with compassion and generosity at the heart of it?
This moves us to our third focus this morning on breaking bread. From our perspective – we also see the language of communion – Jesus looking up to heaven as he blessed and broke the loaves – Showing how he came for the many, for the crowd gathered and beyond for all of us.
We will remember there are many references to bread in Jesus’s story. For example
In the Lord’s prayer – Give us this day our daily bread (lord’s prayer – Matthew 6)
Jesus said – I am the bread of life (john 6)
Jesus also said – We shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4)
In the breaking bread at the last supper – Jesus said – this is my body broken for you
And that moment of recognition after the resurrection in the 2 disciples as he broke the bread after a long walk together to Emmaus
The use of bread like this matters as bread was the stuff of everyday life in Jesus’ day. It is still the stuff of everyday life in our day. Every time we break bread it should bring Jesus to mind. This is the basis of thankfulness as we sit down to eat. Thankfulness for the hope and life we have in Jesus.
Setting this story in the wilderness also has profound resonances and echoes of the past time of the Israelites in the wilderness, where God provided what they were to eat. The wilderness motif adds to the poignancy of this event and the parallels would not have been lost on the crowd. Jesus is treading in some pretty big footsteps in providing nourishment not just for their bodies, but their minds and spirits.
There are ways we could describe the events of 2020 as wilderness times for us and our country and our world, but in these times God has been, is and will be with us – His peace and his hope have been our anchor in stormy and anxious times and in the times ahead however this turns out. The God of overwhelmingly generous love that was shared out in the wilderness 2000 years ago through bread and fish is there for us in this life and waiting to welcome us into his heart of love more fully for ever. We breath in this hope, we live in this hope, and we love in this hope.
So, as we have reviewed this familiar story – Let’s ponder it afresh from the perspectives we have explored on this day and all is shows us of God’s generous love to us
End with a prayer
Generous God, we give you thanks for all that you give to us, particularly for the refreshment and welcome. We thank you that you meet us when we are tired and weary, that you never send us away empty, and that in your love there is always enough. We praise you that your provision never runs out, and that you are always ready to meet us in love. Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com ©