The miraculous feeding of the four or five thousand is a story we know well and some variation turns up in each of the gospels. The loving power of Jesus to respond to human need rings out from each of the tellings. But Matthew’s gospel is the strongest in its focus on the crowd and the role of the disciples. (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 13  Matthew 14:13-21.)
If you are preaching the Transfiguration you may like to check out:
And if you are using the Genesis reading you may like to focus on
Jacob Wrestling with God.
However we understand the miracle of Jesus feeding the many amply with a small amount we thrill to the image of hunger being met by the power of God’s love through Jesus. How many times have we wished that he still walked this earth in human flesh and would so graciously feed our hungry world and heal the sick. But maybe we focus less of the disquieting instruction of Jesus to his disciples “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Suddenly we are part of the story and given a role other than simply applauding from the sidelines. It is for many of us a demand that at times excites us and at other times daunts us. How are we to respond to many faceted needs of the many hungry ones in our world – both near and far.
As usual I choose three points of focus from among the many possible teachings. Firstly I think we are being reminded to hunger for what is most important in life – in the language of the prophet Isaiah we are being invited to delight in rich foods and to listen so that we may live. If that means we occasionally go physically hungry because we choose to stay out late listening to the Word of Life then that is just fine. In other words the crowd in this story have made the right choice! Physical hunger is not easy but it is not the worse sort of hunger and so often in our western world we feed one appetite and not the other. For us on the faith journey we need to be attentive to our own hungers and fan the spark of the hunger for the divine in us and in others.
Secondly Jesus tells his disciples, and therefore us, to feed the crowd. We can read the story as being that he then steps in and effectively says don’t worry then I will do it, or we can read it that he demonstrates how to meet others needs. It is an overwhelming command in many ways and there are times when we feel faint at the enormity of human and planetary need. For as much as we are to hunger for what is most important physical hunger is very real for many in this world and we have a duty as world citizens and as members of the kingdom of God to share bread as well as the word of life with others.
While it may at times seem a burden to be aware of such need it is also a relief when we are able to respond to others need. Over the years as I have sat beside patients and parishioners, family and friends in various forms of distress, what a relief it has been when they have wanted a word of blessings, or a sip of water, a meal, or simple touch. And sometimes there is no thing we can do or give except ourselves and being present to another one. Our own Lord when in the garden of Gethsemane asked only that his disciples stay awake with him, he did not expect that they solve his dilemma or take his burden from him, only that they keep him company.
The model that Jesus gave us at the feeding of the five thousand is simple: he gathered the people, he had the disciples gather up what food there was, he blessed the food, broke the bread, and had the disciples distribute the food to all who were in need, and then gathered up all that was surplus to requirement. Not unlike how he would later bless the Passover meal and then break and share with those gathered. And after that would give himself over to be broken and given for the people.
Thirdly, thank God, we are reminded that God is the true provider and source of what we give so that we need not grow weary of doing good. When we think and feel like it is our own possessions and personal energy that we give away we can become depleted and weary in our well-doing. This is not to say that loving ministry does not tire us and that we do not need rest and recreation from time to time. We are human and we have very finite abilities. But ultimately we are only sharing what has been freely given us.
And to the extent that we can find that attitude of passing on what has been given us and letting God’s love and peace flow through us like a channel we will find that we are more able to feed those who look to us. For this we need a spiritual life through which the loving energy of God constantly flows so that we are constantly refilled.
And yes we are sometimes asked to give out of what feels like our little and it is costly. And of course in real life giving is not a one way process. At times we are among those who are in need of being fed by the generosity and inventiveness of others and at times we the ones called upon to feed others. We know from other stories that some of the disciples were called out of the crowd that came to hear this curious and remarkable teacher. And in many of the healing stories the healed were sent home to their own communities to bear witness. All parts of the life story can be life giving. And whatever our part at any one time it is an important part. Let us fully participate in this life abundant that we have been given.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come and increase our hunger for all that is of you.