Matthew 13:31-52 "What is the Kingdom Like?" for Sunday, July 24, 2011
Matthew 14:22-33 "Don't Be Afraid " for Sunday, August 7

Matthew 14:13-21 "About Eating and Feeding" for Sunday, July 31

Imagine preaching the feeding of the 5000 to a congregation in Ireland during the Potato Famines of the 1840s.  What does this Gospel say to a congregation wasting away, knowing that many will die  before the next sermon is preached?  Perhaps it will be your last sermon as well.  What word of hope would you bring?  Imagine you are a missionary sent to a refugee camp on the Sudan/Kenya border.  Your bible study group is made up of people who have fled the genocidal war in Sudan barely subsisting on UN food rations.  An angry young man says that God no longer does such miracles, so he is going to join the rebels and fight back so his people can eat from their own land again.  What would the text lead you to say? 
Imagine preaching the feeding of the 5000 to a congregation in Ireland during the Potato Famines of the 1840s.  What does this Gospel say to a congregation wasting away, knowing that many will die  before the next sermon is preached?  Perhaps it will be your last sermon as well.  What word of hope would you bring?  Imagine you are a missionary sent to a refugee camp on the Sudan/Kenya border.  Your bible study group is made up of people who have fled the genocidal war in Sudan barely subsisting on UN food rations.  An angry young man says that God no longer does such miracles, so he is going to join the rebels and fight back so his people can eat from their own land again.  What would the text lead you to say? 

Now imagine a most difficult task.  You must speak to a congregation that is well-fed-or maybe even a bit overfed-whose main experience of the food supply is keeping to a diet.   They are good people who will donate canned goods for the food pantry and make donations to the Heifer Project and Oxfam.   But it is hard for them (and myself) to truly comprehend what it is like to be hungry.  Only then could we understand the potential panic of a crowd driven by hunger, or feel the disciples reluctance and frustration at the problem.  It would be interesting to ask if anyone in the congregation had gone without food for 24 or 48 hours, whether voluntarily fasting or they really were hungry.

During a long week of pastoral duties and busy schedules, it is easy to focus in on Christ's words, "You give them something to eat."   Reminding people of the great need in our world and urging them to make contributions to local charities or groups like the Heifer Project is always a good thing.  You could check out the Heifer Project website and add some statistics on the thousands of people that are fed every day.  Church charities more than duplicate the miracle of feeding of 5000 people every day.  Perhaps you could challenge the congregation to raise enough money to feed 5000 people.  That would be a very productive sermon.  I wouldn't fault anyone for stopping here and getting right on it.

But it is also a sermon that could be given to the Rotary a local high school volunteer group.  Is there something more happening here?  Is there something this Gospel has to say other than an exhortation to greater charity and compassion? 

I have always been puzzled why Matthew abbreviated Mark's version of events here.  Why would the author copy nearly 50 percent of Mark nearly word for word, and then cut this particular story down? Mark's version has some interesting details like how much this whole enterprise of feeding is going to cost and Jesus has people sit down in groups before they eat.  Perhaps Matthew is sticking to his theme as Jesus as the new Moses, and this is a symbolic act harkening to Moses and manna from heaven.  Therefore he is uninterested in the details and marches on to things he considers more important. 

I think these details in Mark are important and I'm going to ponder them for a couple of days.  I'll track back with some more thoughts by the end of the week.  Feel free to add your own thoughts.
Comments
Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by bloomingcactus at 10:00PM (EDT) on Jul 24, 2005  |  Permanent Link
I have some further thoughts on the passage. Since one of Christ's temptations in the wilderness was to turn stone into bread, I have always been a little confused about this miraculous feeding of the 5000. The temptations are often interpreted as Jesus resisting the temptation of feeding the material hungers and getting sidetracked from his mission towards the cross. Why would he reverse this 10 chapters later? Did he just have a wave of compassion and so he went ahead and did it?

The closest I can come to an answer is to go back to the Gospels of Mark and Luke. After the disciples produce the 5 loaves and 2 fish, these Gospels have Jesus getting the crowd to sit down together in smaller groups. (It's not till John's Gospel that the little boy offers up his food. Why was he carrying 5 loaves of bread I wonder.) It doesn't seem very smart to me that 5000 people would go chasing after Jesus without taking any food along for the trip. While the Gospels note widespread poverty, they do not speak of such a widespread famine that would leave people starving to death. The disciples first response is that they don't have enough money to buy food, not that there is no food to be had. So here we have a crowd of 5000 people, probably from different villages and haven't ever seen a crowd this big. Some might even be Gentiles, so they could not eat together at all. Perhaps Jesus breaking people into smaller groups and having them sit down together is the real key to the passage. He is turning a crowd into a community. He holds up a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish and shows that his disciples are willing to share. You remember the story of Stone Soup, don't you? Sharing can be contagious. Perhaps people had enough all along if the fear could be overcome.

I once preached a sermon using this interpretation, and a visitor was very troubled about taking out the miracles of Jesus. I've seen some very miraculous things in my life that I can't explain, but I have seldom seen 5000 strangers sit together and share. Is this event any less miraculous if it doesn't require spontaneous, divine miracle grow to produce all this bread?

When it comes to feeding hungry people, having enough food is seldom the problem. The real problem is getting access to food through having money. Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in economics in part for his studies of famines. In the late 80s he studied the Great Bengali famine that occurred after World War II and the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s. In both cases, these starving countries were actually net food exporters! You read that correctly. Bengali grain was going to feed the British army at the end of the war and Ethiopian food was being sold overseas at greater prices than the starving people could afford. Did you know that today, the United States has become a net food importer? Yes, this wealthy nation actually imports more food than it exports to the rest of the world. Hunger and starvation is usually not about a shortage of food, it is about not having the money to buy it.

Jesus saw hungry people and brought them together. He asked the disciples what they had on hand. What do we have on hand? At first we look in our pockets and feel powerless to feed the masses of hungry people. It seems like an overwhelming problem. It is important that we feed the hungry in our own community and work with Heifer Project and others, but it is also imperative that we have an economic vision of the common good so that people don't starve in a world of plenty.
Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by Anonymous at 01:52AM (EDT) on Jul 25, 2005  |  Permanent Link
When we read this passage one of the things that we often forget about is that there were not just 5000 people there. There were 5000 men. Now add wives and children and we are looking at numbers greater than 20,000.
If you have ever been to Africa or Central America or Asia you see large masses of people waiting patiently to be given food and water. This is nothing unusual within these groups and within these cultures.
And finally, the passage is talking about God incarnate. Not a man who want s to do a humanitarian relief effort. And God can, from 5 loaves and 2 fish produce enough food to feed 5000, 10,000, 20,0000...however many that need to be fed. That is why He is God and we are not.
Re: Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by bloomingcactus at 09:48AM (EDT) on Jul 26, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Yes, you are probably right that the women were not counted. I hadn't thought of that. I have been to Kenya and seen the widespread misery. People wait patiently, but sometimes no food comes at all. Thousands starve daily. Is it enough to say that this passage proves Jesus is God incarnate? What does that mean for the suffering who recieve nothing? If God can feed "however many need to be fed" why is there such misery? Perhaps I am too much of a doubting Thomas in regard to this miracle, but what I continually hear in this passage are two things: "you give them something to eat" and "what do you have to offer." Other thoughts?

Blooming Cactus
Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by Anonymous at 05:38PM (EDT) on Jul 26, 2005  |  Permanent Link

Your comments are thought provoking and challenging (for me) and (I think) right on the mark.

In reflecting on the context of this passage after reading your article a few things came to mind.

Traditionally I have interpreted this passage to mean that God will provide enough resources for us to carry out Gods mission.

But the context of the preceding passages on John’s death and weeds (ch. 13) may give me some furtherclues.

Firstly Johns beheading sets the context of Jesus withdrawing (to grieve?) This focuses us along with the preceding rejection of Jesus, on Jesus own forthcoming death. So this feeding is set in a context of turning towards Jerusalem and the cross.

Second. The theme over ch. 13 of "weeds" provides a build up to this week’s scene. Recapping a message of Matthew ch. 13. (In your church community)
Don’t throw out the weeds, like the Pharisees did (in rejecting Jesus and his rag tag followers), you never know what they will turn into, let God sort it out later. Jesus was like a weed (the mustard tree) in miracle one this small seed will grow into a 14 ft tree, in miracle two this 14 ft tree can hold all the birds (people) in the world in its arms (of grace). Instead be a good teacher who holds onto valuable traditions (the word of God) while also being open to how and where God is doing things now.

Third, I note that William Loader in his "first thoughts" on this week’s passage asks the question

"What were 5000 men (and its says, literally, men, males) doing in wilderness battle formation in an isolated place? It sounds like the actions of others of the time who gathered armies in the wilderness in the hope of repeating the liberation of the land under Joshua of old. Is this a new Joshua (Jesus means Joshua)? John's gospel even suggests there was a military response of sorts when the people tried to make him king (6:14-15). Perhaps the tradition about Peter's confession once stood much closer to this story (as it does in John 6): he also had that kind of messiahship in mind (Mark 8:27-31). Was Jesus staging such a symbol of liberation?" https://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/


Now in this weeks story a small boy (one of Matthew's “the little ones”?) is able to provide a resource that will feed an army (as my mother used to say). Perhaps in this meal that foreshadows the cross and Eucharist, a main point of Matthew is that through the gifts of a little one (weed) God is able to demonstrate grace in an impossible (miraculous) way a large crowd (army) of people seeking liberation.

This is not to deny the “Get of your butt and show Gods love” call to action (feed the poor) that is woven throughout Matthew, nor is this intended to spiritualise action into personal salvation. Rather my view is that context of Johns death, the liberation of the people, weeds and the foreshadowing of the Eucharistic meal; suggests that:

For the Eucharist or "grace" to reach everyone we are to be open to even the little ones (and the weeds) contribution to community and mission. This brings the passage back in a full circle to God providing enough resources for (Gods) mission (grace for the whole world), and action (feed the poor) where all (especially the "little ones") are encouraged to share and their contribution is valued in our communities of faith.

Steve Rose
Melbourne
Australia
Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by bloomingcactus at 06:48AM (EDT) on Jul 27, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Steve,
I like what you have said here, especially about the context of the passage and John the Baptist. We so easily see the relationship between Jesus and John through 20 centuries of history with Jesus being the dominant figure. But that may not have been the case in the context of this passage. John may have been the more well-known at this point, and he was the one who baptized Jesus. Jesus must have been terribly bereaved and angry about John's death while teaching this crowd. Don't you wish we had a newspaper coverage of what Jesus said to this crowd? Of course, then there would be the conservative take and the liberal take and so on. Fox News here in the US would be denouncing him as a dangerous radical.

I was also thinking about this passage in the context of Eucharist. I agree that the passage can speak of both justice and grace, of earthly and spiritual things at the same time. Many of Jesus's acts of compassion take on greater meaning than the act itself. Jesus heals a blind man and offers himself as the light of the world so all can see. Jesus challenges those who want to stone an adulterous, and at the same time throws open a door of grace to all sinners and props it wide open so those who want to condemn cannot shut it back up. So when he feeds 5000, he also shows an example of compassion and justice and foreshadows Eucharist. Therefore, when I help feed the hungry person, I am aware of Eucharist and long for the fed to be included with grace at the communion table. And when I am receiving the bread and cup, I am both eating grace and drinking justice.

Thanks for your enlightening comments!

Blooming Cactus
Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by Anonymous at 08:03AM (EDT) on Jul 30, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Oops! I had a bad case of mixing my Gospels. Re-reading the text there is no small boy in Matthew. This changes the message. The context of following on from Ch 13 perhaps relates the the Mustard tree. A small seed becomes a huge (14ft) bush and this bush (Jesus) can hold all the world in its branches. Again a small amount by Jesus Disciples (those in mission) can bring, through Jesus, imposible liberation and grace to the world.
Re: Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 About Eating and Feeding for Sunday, July 31
by bloomingcactus at 05:45PM (EDT) on Jul 30, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Right Steve, I believe the small boy shows up 2 generations later in John's account of the feeding of the 5000. But your main point remains a good one. Matthew's version feels a little stripped down to me.
Blooming Cactus
Re: Matthew 14:13-21 "About Eating and Feeding" for Sunday, July 31
by Anonymous at 04:20PM (EDT) on Jul 28, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Thanks for the insights. I came to your site via textweek.com and am pleased with what I've found. I often think of the preaching contexts for those texts that have to do specifically with wealth, but had not thought of how I would preach this weekend if my folks weren't "fat and happy" in their pews. I've done some reflecting on this pericope from a nurture perspective and those thoughts can be found at:
Many thanks!
Jenn
Re: Matthew 14:13-21 "About Eating and Feeding" for Sunday, July 31
by Anonymous at 04:21PM (EDT) on Jul 28, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Er, the website didn't show... it is: https://www.elca.org/healthychurch/garden/nurture1.html
Re: Re: Matthew 14:13-21 "About Eating and Feeding" for Sunday, July 31
by bloomingcactus at 10:14PM (EDT) on Jul 28, 2005  |  Permanent Link
Jenn,
I like your "amazing garden" homepage. You have had plenty of good gardening texts from Matthew the last few weeks. While I am ordained UCC, I attend an ELCA church for worship. It this an ELCA project? Does your garden include cactii? :-) You can email me offline if you would prefer. Thanks for the note.

Blooming Cactus

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