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.