Feeding Five Thousand

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. And when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying, “The place is desolate, and the time is already past; so send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes, and they all ate, and were satisfied. And they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children.

Jesus doesn’t even have time to mourn the beheading of John the Baptist before the multitude sought him out. Last time we saw the paranoia of Herod that resulted from his birthday bash beheading of John the Baptist. I vented my spleen a bit on birthdays, weddings and anniversaries because I have trouble understanding a Biblical way to celebrate them. But what about a funeral? What is the Biblical prescription for a funeral? In John the Baptist’s case, we see his followers buried his body but we also see that Jesus retreated and sought solitude–short-lived as it was.

A few weeks ago a devoted and matriarchal member of my former church went to be with the Lord at the tender age of 95. I had not yet read the obituary as I wrote and contemplated about “Biblical birthdays.” Yet when I read her obituary this morning, I have to agree with the invitation to celebrate her life. It was one, small sample of a christian celebration–one small sentence that says it all. It read: “All are welcomed.” As we will see, that is the attitude that Jesus has, particularly present in his feeding of the five thousand.

All are welcomed. Grammatically speaking, the sentence is correct because the word, “welcomed” is a verb describing how all will be received. Although technically in the past tense, it is used in the future for the way in which people will be received. It is a short and sweet way to extend an invitation to all, assuring them that they will be received in a warm and friendly way. Much like Jesus, who just lost his cousin and front-runner, he welcomed the five thousand men, plus all the women and children, to sit down and eat with him. Let’s look at the context.

“Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.” All of the synoptic (same sight) gospels record the feeding of the five thousand right after John the Baptist’s beheading and Jesus retreating in the boat. The multitude sought him out and Jesus being full of compassion and a welcoming spirit, heals many of them. Notice: “And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.”

We don’t know exactly how long Jesus had to grieve but the way the gospels are written, we can assume it wasn’t very long. Yet because of the way the gospels, Matthew especially, are written, we also can assume he did have some time alone, listen to the words; “He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.” Jesus was in a boat and the multitude was on foot, they could hardly be in the exact same place. Nevertheless, after Jesus had a presumably short time to reflect on his beloved cousin, he was right back in the thick of things, welcoming the multitude and healing their sick.

“And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. And when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying, ‘The place is desolate, and the time is already past; so send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’” This seems like a reasonable request from the disciples. Actually, much more than reasonable, prudent and precise, practical and on-point. The place was desolate, according to the original Greek, pronounced, Air- ay-moce. It’s similar to where John the Baptist came preaching. Although we read in the context that there was grass, the meaning of the word, “desolate” indicates that they were in a deserted place and without food. We should not fault the disciples for instructing Jesus to send the people away, should we?

It is a completely reasonable request, earthly speaking. Maybe the disciples thought Jesus to be overwhelmed by John’s death and the many multitudes so that his judgement was off? Seriously, which one of you would remind Jesus that it is getting dark and people need food? Yet it is exactly how we pray. Jesus, maybe you forgot but we need stuff. Anyway, that isn’t the exact point. The point is we pray for others, with excellent intentions. Problem, like Jesus said to his disciples, “you give them something to eat!” Ouch! Like James writes, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” Actually that is a bit off target but it helps me remember what my face looks like in the mirror (read James).

I use the example of James to demonstrate the difference between disciples and Jesus. The disciples tell Jesus what to do, according to worldy wisdom. And not even wisdom–common sense. “But Jesus” doesn’t work according to worldy wisdom but according to his own perfect council.

Notice; “But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes, and they all ate, and were satisfied. And they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children.”

Five loaves and two fish and what was left over was 12 baskets full. I am sure there is some Spiritual symbolism in that but let’s stick with the immediate context. The disciples tell Jesus what to do; Jesus tells the disciples what to do; sceptically, the disciples find a few loaves and a couple of fish. Then Jesus welcomes the people to sit down and in acknowledgment of the Father, Jesus looks to Heaven and blesses the food. Look closely at the context; the disciples say, there are “only” a couple of fish and a few loaves. Jesus welcomes the challenge. “Bring them to me.”

We are about to set sail, proverbially speaking, to a certain communist country in the Caribbean where it has been reported that food is in short supply. In years past we have brought many tools and clothes, things that at the time were in short supply. This year we will also bring some food but there is a very small limit to what we can bring. Need I say more?

Putting it all in God’s hands! Prayers are welcomed!

Stay tuned, I will be attempting to give updates.

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