Matthew 14:3-21 ~ “And All Ate and Were Filled”

IT HAD BEEN A BAD WEEK FOR JESUS.  He had visited Nazareth, his hometown, but they had given him the cold shoulder.  They couldn’t believe that someone from their own village, someone so well known to them, might be called by God to be a great teacher and healer.  They were so cold to Jesus that he could not do any miracles there.  He left, saying that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.

Then the week got worse.  John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who had baptized Jesus, was beheaded by Herod Antipas.  And more bad news: Herod was wondering if Jesus were John the Baptist back from the dead.  Would Herod come for Jesus too?  “Now when Jesus heard (all) this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.”  He needed time to regroup, time to grieve, time away from the pressing crowds that always wanted a piece of him.  No such luck.  The people heard about the beheading and about Jesus getting away.  They found him and brought more of their sick for him to heal, though Jesus was exhausted, grieving, and in danger.

No one would have blamed him if he had told the disciples, “Not today.  I just need one day.  Send them away.”  But when Jesus saw the crowd coming, he had compassion for them.  He gathered up what little strength he had left and waded back into the crowd, loving them, healing them, and teaching them.

It must have been painful for the disciples to watch, knowing the state their teacher was in.  When it got late, they came to Jesus and said, “Send them away.  Let them get something to eat.”

“They need not leave; you give them something to eat.”

“All we have is five loaves and two fish.”

Then Jesus gave two astonishing imperatives:  “Bring them to me.  Have everyone sit down for dinner.”

 

Then Jesus did something totally absurd.  He took that little bit of food as if it were enough.  He looked up to heaven and blessed the bread.  He broke the bread and gave it out as if it were enough to feed the crowd.  It was an absurd gesture.

Then the gospel simply reports, “And all ate and were filled.”  In one verse we have gone from the absurd to the amazing.  No drama, no fireworks, just “all ate and were filled.”  I doubt that the crowd fully realized what was happening; they were just happy to eat.  But the disciples knew.  It was like the time they had gone with Jesus to Cana, where the wedding party was about to run out of wine.  There was no dramatic incantation that day either, only filling the jars with water and serving them to the guests, who enjoyed the best wine of the evening.  They didn’t realize the miracle amongst them either.  But the disciples did.  How quietly and mysteriously it happened:  “And all ate and were filled.”

There are many miracles and signs and mighty works reported by the four gospels.  But this is the only miracle that is reported by all four gospels.  They all remembered this one.  It was an unforgettable moment of Jesus’ radical trust in God and Jesus’ challenging trust in other people.  He looked up to God and blessed the bread and trusted God to provide plenty.  Then he looked to the disciples and gave them the bread and trusted them to give it to everyone else.

That’s how it’s done: in extraordinary miracles, in everyday miracles.  We give Jesus what little we have.  Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives it back to us to give to others.  And miraculously we end up with more than we had before.

It was a miracle based on trust.  Jesus trusted God to multiply what little was there; Jesus trusted his followers to pass it on.  Trust is what makes miracles possible among us now: our trust in Jesus, our trust in others.  When we trust the Lord and other people, miracles happen, everyday miracles, and sometimes extraordinary miracles.

It had been a bad week for Jesus.  He was exhausted.  He was in grief.  He was in danger.  He just didn’t have much left.  But he gave what little he had left to God, who turned it into the most memorable mighty work of his ministry.

 

IT HAD BEEN A BAD LIFE FOR FIVE YEAR OLD ADDIE.  She had the awful luck of being born into the poorest nation in the hemisphere, Haiti.  Then her parents were killed in a traffic accident.  Addie had no family left.

Then a couple named Fred and Cheryl came to Haiti to adopt Addie.  They took Addie to the airport.  Together they walked across the tarmac to board a plane for home.  As they walked, that tiny orphan reached up and slipped her hands into the hands of her new parents.  What innocent, fearless trust.  Fred and Cheryl would from then on remember that amazing moment of trust as Addie’s “birth moment” into their family.

They brought Addie home to Arizona, where she had two big brothers waiting for her.  They had their first supper together.  Addie had never seen a table with so much food.  She watched the two teenage boys fill and refill their places.  The food on the table was disappearing quickly.  Addie became quiet.  She looked disturbed.

Cheryl guessed what was wrong and took Addie to the kitchen, where she showed her that there was plenty of food left.  In Haiti, an empty table might have meant the last meal for a day or two or more.  But Cheryl showed her the extra bread in the bread box.  She opened the refrigerator and showed more milk and juice and vegetables there.  She took the little girl’s hands and placed in them bread and eggs and potatoes and onions and squash, so that Addie could feel for herself that there was plenty left over and know that she would never be hungry again.  (a story from Eugene Peterson, who knew Fred and Cheryl)

It was all a matter of trust.  Fred and Cheryl had trusted in the Lord that adopting Addie was the right thing to do.  Addie had put her trust in them by putting her little hands in theirs before they got on the airplane.  Now Cheryl was putting food into her little hands so that she could trust that she would never be hungry again.  And all of it was bound up in trust that God was providing for all of them everything they needed.

Just as Jesus trusted in the Lord and other people so that thousands were fed, so Addie and Fred and Cheryl were learning to trust in the Lord and in other people too.

 

IT’S BEEN A BAD TIME IN WILSON THESE DAYS.  And not just this week, but for a long time.  Thirty to forty percent of the children in our town are not sure where their next meal is coming from.

We wonder why.  My first thought is to picture welfare families repeating a tragic cycle of few opportunities and poor decisions.  But I’m learning that the hungry are not just welfare families.  Most of the hungry are working families, in which at least one adult does have a job.

The film that was recently shown, “A Place at the Table,” told not only about a welfare mother in Philadelphia, but also about a cowboy in the Rockies, and a police officer in Colorado, who could not earn enough to feed their families.  Viewers of the film gasped.  We saw children in school so hungry that they could think of nothing but food, much less learning their multiplication tables.

To try to meet this need, the ministries of churches and charities have exploded.  A generation ago there were only a few hundred food pantries and food banks in the nation.  Now there are tens of thousands of such ministries and projects.  But still there are hungry people.  So the film encourages us as citizens to be active stewards of our political powers as well as our personal resources.  Hungry families need help from not just the private sector but the public sector too.

But not even government is the ultimate solution.  We go back to what Jesus did on that day he was surrounded by thousands of hungry people.  He looked up to heaven for help from God, and he looked to his disciples to give him a hand.  He trusted in the Lord and other people.

That’s what we can do.  Trust in the Lord and other people.

Like the disciples, we can give to the Lord what we have, our resources, our citizenship, even if what we have seems totally inadequate compared to the need.  We give it to the Lord, and then we watch the Lord take and bless and break and give.  We watch the Lord give it back to us and so that we can give it to the crowds.

Throughout Wilson, there are people who are doing that, trusting in the Lord and other people, giving what they have to the Lord and letting him bless it, and then the Lord handing it back to give to the crowds.  There are Hope Station and the Soup Kitchen and Home Delivered Meals and Chew and Home Run for Hunger and the summer food drive and a whole network of ministries.  And thank God we now see fewer school children going hungry on the weekends.    Some of those children are not shy about finding out who did this and thanking them.

How does this happen?  Because of trust.  Trust in Jesus, the Messiah who satisfies the hunger of our bodies and souls.  Trust that if we give our little bit, he will take it and bless it and break it and then give it back to us, to give to others.  And it will turn out to be more than we ever dreamed.  And then, when all is done, we are surprised to find that our own baskets are overflowing, with food, with blessing, with joy.

- Douglas E. Murray