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Pentecost 9: August 6: Matthew 14.13-21 & Isaiah 55
“God Notices the Hungry”
No Israelite, sitting in the wilderness, or hearing stories of others who sat in the wilderness and received from Jesus’ hand this miraculous feast of bread, enough to fill everyone’s hunger, no Israelite could fail to connect the imagery to the ancient manna stories by which God fed their ancestors out of His generous hand day after day, all the way from Egypt to the Promised Land. That Jesus now did the same thing had to mean that He was connected in a powerful way to the God Who brough Israel out of Eygpt and into this land of promise. The fact that this crowd will follow Jesus back and forth across the lake in the days that follow demonstrate that the miracle of the bread brought Jesus fame to new heights. Greater than Moses was here.
But God did not just want to fill Israel’s baskets with bread. Nor is His bounty only for them.
In our OT lesson Israiah could see far beyond their border to all the nations God loved and urged Israel to be the kind of people who would always reflect their God so that all the nations would want to come to Him.
The primary meaning of the miracle confesses Jesus’ power and Lordship, but there is another side that Matthew tells with varying tenses of the verb for “compassion,” here and in a half dozen other places in his Gospel. In so doing Matthew reveals the inner heart of Jesus, which in turn shows us the very heart of the Father. This is a unique verb in Greek…..literally pulling up juices and the feelings that go with your inner organs being moved at the needs of others..…….always at the needs of others. In one place they were “Like sheep without a shepherd.” Here they were simply a hungry crowd with no one else to feed them. You could translate the verse, “His heart went out to them,” but the greek really means that His whole inner core as a man was being gripped in a knot by His feelings for these who had such a great need. By this picture of our Savior, and by the deeds that follow because of it, you learn what “compassion” means to Him and to our Heavenly Father. It always moves Him to act to care for people.
Then there is the relationship of the bread miracle to Holy Communion. You must not let the details of this crowd’s miraculous feeding slip by without letting it also picture for you the Church of Jesus as the one who feasts with her Lord by grace. We had nothing to bring to the feast except a few little pieces of bread and fish………and our faith was so little that all we could cry out to Him as He began was, “we have nothing but 5 loaves and 2 fish,” as if even He couldn’t create a miraculous feast from our little offering. Always we are supplicants at His Supper, our faith is so small, but it is His Supper and He bids us sit down. Then he takes the gifts we offer, and He blesses them: blesses them no doubt with words that on that day in the desert were of ancient origin, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, Who giviest us bread to eat. We give thanks to You O Lord, for You are good, and Your mercy is everylasting.” – Words from the Psalter which were normally prayed over food. He blesses our gifts and they become enough to feed the whole church that is gathered, and everyone is fed bountifully, as they will be in the great messianic feast that is to come in Jesus’ Everlasting Kingdom. To underscore this, and unlike the frail manna of Moses which rotted when the day was over, great baskets of left overs were gathered, which will be carried by the nourished Church to the villages to which they will go to next, to share with those who are still in need. For we always rise up from the Eucharistic feast nourished to love and care for our neighbor.
Imagine yourself as a member of this crowd, with only enough faith to sit down when He commands, with only enough faith to trust His glorious words, even though you can see that he has but a tiny bit of bread and fish, as He begins to pray. Imagine yourself in this crowd, for you are the new church, the one that is growing by gracious words and planted deeds. You noticed that the -Apostles don’t seem to have a handle on what to do next……….they are like you……waiting in hope. But hope in Jesus is strange, isn’t it. It isn’t just silly hope, to sit down and watch 5 loaves sit there and get eaten up by those closest to Jesus. Hope in Jesus is mystical, linked to something you don’t yet grasp, that when He speaks of the Father, and says He knows Him, when He says the Father loves me so much that He wants salvation for me, that means that those little loaves are not going to be eaten up by those just in front by Jesus, and the rest of us go home hungry. Why? I can’t answer now, but I know it is so because my hope is all tied to Jesus.
Nothing will ever change that. That simple hope, that simple faith. Doctrines might help you speak of it more fully, but they will never let you solve these faith questions as you watch Jesus take the bread into His hands as you watch from 30 feet away, part of a crowd of 5,000.
One last thing. But it is the enormous thing that grows out of full recognition of Jesus’ compassion being written large over this story. That enormous thing is that Jesus cares that this crowd of people is hungry. A crowd too big for Him to know each person, a crowd of persons who have followed Him because of His preaching, that crowd is simply hungry, and Jesus cares about it. About them. Lots of people get excited about lots of issues in our world, making sure that the right president appoints the right judges to ensure that the right answers to those issues get decided across time is one thing that consumes our city. But to my knowledge no one has ever yet brought a case before the courts so that we could see if they understand what Jesus knows…….that it is important that the crowd is hungry. More important than anything else. For 30 years it has moved me so that the first check I write every month is so that some of the hungry will be fed overseas. I can’t do everything. But I can do a significant thing, so I do this one, and I write this check first and it is a big one. And I write another that enables houses to be built in this land for the poor. Always second. And one to a United Nations food program, just because no one else does quite what they do, even though they are not very efficient at what they do. None of you can do very much about the incredible amount of hunger in the world, but you can do some things. And you must, because for Jesus, it ranks up there as so important that it moves Him to compassion. Part of how faith acts when it loves Him and has ears to hear what He is saying to us.
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