Jesus’ feeding of the multitude is one of the more familiar stories in the New Testament... in fact, it’s included in all 4 Gospels... each told from a slightly different perspective.
Matthew tells the story on the heels of one of the most tragic and horrific events recorded in the Bible... the story of the death of John the Baptist. It was a time of uncertainty to say the least...
When Jesus learned of the horrible way that his friend and cousin was killed... he retreated to a quiet place, a solitary place, to grieve.
But solitude for Jesus proved illusive. Crowds had followed him... large crowds... and despite his own need for healing, we’re told that Jesus had compassion on the crowds (crowds of curious, desperate and faithful people) and he ministered to their needs... even healing their sick!
In fact, Jesus was content to minister all day long... and as the day was winding down, it became apparent that there was no food for such a large group of people. So the disciples wanted Jesus to send everyone home, so they could fend for themselves... but Jesus said, no... “You give them something to eat.”
And that’s when the excuses began: “But Jesus... we’ve never done it that way before!” - “Jesus you just don’t understand... we don’t have enough... we only have five loaves of bread and two fish... how in the world could we ever hope to feed so many people?”
That’s when Jesus redefined what enough means.
Our lesson from Matthew today is ironic in the sense that out of scarcity - out of little - can come the abundance of God’s grace.
It’s a compelling message for those who honestly have little... those who struggle with having enough in our world of over abundance (and outright indulgence).
It’s clear that Jesus had compassion on the people because of their need. And instead of letting scarcity rule the day... instead of allowing “lack” or “want” determine the mission... he simply said to his disciples, “You do something about it... YOU give them something to eat.”
Churches often get caught in this scarcity trap. Just think of all we could do... “If we just had more money... or more people... or more children... or more young families!” Just think of all we could do if we simply had more of whatever it is we convince ourselves we’re lacking...
You never hear Jesus say that.
Once when Jesus disciples came to him, crying out “increase our faith” - we need more faith... Jesus said, “NO... you don’t need more faith... if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can do the seemingly impossible!”
Whatever is present... whatever we have... is enough, whether it be food or faith! Wherever Jesus is present there’s always enough.
That’s why... in places we’ve never heard of... the Bible is studied; in places where only one or two people have a copy of the Bible, the faith is being taught. The stories of Jesus are being shared without colorful Sunday school materials, or eye-catching Power-Point presentations... and people are brought into the Body of Christ even though there is no building for worship. It’s all because such things do not depend on our assets... Jesus and the Gospel are the only resources needed.
Notice in our Lesson how quickly the disciples responded to what Jesus asks of them. They don’t offer up more excuses... they don’t whine, or throw their arm up in disgust and walk away. They do what Jesus says! The compassion of Christ is so intense that they can do nothing more than show it, and in doing what they are asked to do they discover, and share, compassion beyond their wildest dreams.
I don’t know about you... but I think this miracle happens all the time in the church - but we’re so accustomed to it happening... we’re so used to it... that we sometimes fail to recognize it! There’s never enough, and yet, somehow... someway... the things that God asks us to do... from sharing the Gospel... visiting the sick... from feeding the hungry... to paying the fellowship hall water bill... are all done.
Of course, we’re not Jesus! Some of us think we’re God’s gift... but we’re no Jesus! Jesus took the basic equivalent of a value meal from Burger King... and managed to feed a multitude of people! It was a physical miracle, no doubt. We don’t have that ability... or at least I’ve never seen anything like that before!
But we all have the ability to share what we do have... and when you and I share our time, our talents, and our treasure... when you put in your meager loaves and fish... and when I put in my meager offerings... together... it’s multiplied and it grows into more than enough to do everything God has called us to do!
Maybe the point... the Truth... of God’s Word for us this day... is the realization that our provision, or lack thereof, is no match for Christ’s compassion. Size of our congregation, or building, or budget, doesn’t matter. Because, through the power of Christ, you and I are capable of giving what God calls us to give. We can show the compassion of Christ without expending large amount of resources.
But there’s something else going on here, too. Because, it’s hard to overlook the obvious illusion to the Lord’s Supper in this Lesson today.
Jesus took bread, he blessed it and broke it... proving that Jesus was a Presbyterian, because the whole thing was done “decently and in order.” He had the people sit down... reverently praying over the food, and then breaking and distributing it... before collecting 12 baskets full of left overs!
Everyone present that day, found themselves blessed by the abundant grace of Christ!
But they also had something else in common: they were all experiencing the uncertainty of life. Many were sick... they lived in a world of disease, rebellion, violence. Even Jesus and his disciples were always in need of a place to stay, and were weary from the turmoil of life... and the reality of that turmoil in their own lives...
But with Jesus... there’s always enough: enough to eat and drink, enough to heal and care for, enough to teach others about him... His grace is always sufficient.
God’s Word calls everyone of us to abandon our excuse of not having enough... and to do the work he gives us to do. The Good News is that whenever call us to do something, in his name, he provides all we need.