St. Jacob's (Spader), Trinity; August 6, 2017
Before Jesus there were miraculous feedings. The one on the grandest scale and perhaps the most memorable was multi year provision of Manna provided by God to the Hebrews who had fled Egypt while they sojourned in the Wilderness of Sinai. This assured that a people freed by God would not perish in the middle of nowhere from hunger. In II Kings 100 people offer the first fruits of their offer to Elisha, a prophet they regarded as a more fit to carry out the priestly function. Recognizing his role from God as a prophet Elisha declined the offer. With 20 loaves and a sack of grain he feeds those people, with plenty of leftovers.
There are differences between the Old Testament acts of provision and Jesus action. God provides the manna in response to the entire community complaining to Moses and Aaron after a few days marching, "Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death, while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you've brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death. Elisha is giving the people who have come to him something after he has disappointed them by not accepting the offerings for sacrifice." As stated earlier Elisha declined the honor offered him. Jesus encounters people seeking him for his goodness and he responds.
Similar to Elisha, Jesus reputation proceeds him. The crowds know a great healer and teacher is bypassing them and going by boat across the Sea of Galilee. They want a chance to have Jesus help them in ways like he has helped others in different places.
They are not far removed from us. They may be ahead of us. In our celebrity culture we pursue with microphones and cameras. No doubt reporters, paparazzi, bloggers, and phone cameras for face book posts would dog Jesus today, some for advice and help, some to challenge, but many just because he is of public interest.
When Jesus reaches the far side of the lake and sees the crowd he has compassion for them. He spends the afternoon healing the sick among this expectant mass of people.
A person could very well ask, "What is so special about this miracle then? Jesus does this sort of thing time and time again." It is a good question and observation. Given the lesson it is hard to say more than this is another example of Jesus concern and power.
There is an added element. Before this miracle, disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus. They told him that Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee had John, the prophet who pointed the way to Jesus and who had baptized him, beheaded. Jesus is grieving over that loss. He took a boat to avoid the villages and have time to be alone in a deserted place. While there are differences in how people grieve, most of us recognize that many people need to pull away from normal activity to be alone or process and share with a few close people. That is what Jesus is trying to do.
Jesus is different. He steps outside of his need for solitude because he sees a crowd who have sought his help for their hurts. For the afternoon Jesus tends the wounds of the multitude. As evening approaches Jesus also recognizes the distances they have travelled and he provides sustenance for over five thousand people for their return trips, using 15 fewer loaves than Elisha had and 2 fish at best equal to the sack of grain Elisha had available. The Gospel lesson calls for a set of Pentecost banners declaring 'Christ is compassion' and 'Jesus is love'.
Jesus behavior is incredible. If I am in a good mood and spot a problem, I usually have little difficulty asking if I can be of assistance. Even if I am tired I'm likely to respond "I'm beat, but how can I be of service?" Occasionally it's "(Sigh) Okay, how can I help?" At other times it can be "What do you want?", a terse "What do you want?", or look the other way or signal 'don't ask' with a shake of my head. That is me compared to Jesus.
Fortunately Jesus uses the good intention in us. From the beginning the disciples show care. They notice time is slipping away, there are no markets nearby, and they suggest the crowd be sent home while there is still light to travel and have a chance to purchase food in the villages before closing time. Jesus says don't send them away you give them something to ear. The disciples do not balk. They point out they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus takes what they can bring to the table. After clearly indicating this is an act of God, by looking to heaven and blessing the bread, he has the disciples participate as distributers.
This special day designated for grief becomes a special day displaying Jesus' power, with healings and a miraculous dinner. It more a special day showing the love God has for through Jesus. It begins with tragic news that makes Jesus want to do anything but be with people outside his disciples. It shifts to his awareness of wounded people needing divine aid. It concludes with Jesus recognizing the emotionally charged day and the long journey home to come. He sends them home fed.
The events recorded in the first half of Mathew 14 are a compact yet tremendous example of the Good News of Jesus Christ. His love is so high it responds to our aspirations to be near the holy. It is so low it attends to our bellies. It is so wide it embraces us as companions and utilizes what we offer. Most importantly it shows that no matter what is occurring Jesus love is available that you, I, and all others can be filled with the fullness that comes from God. Amen.