Text: Matt. 14:13-21
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Often when we read the Scriptures—or any kind of account really—it’s easy for us to dissociate ourselves from it. We compartmentalize it, treat the human beings that are described as if they were just characters from a story or roles in a movie. When this happens, there’s something lost—a vibrancy, a sense that these are true and accurate accounts of what happened, and that they are directly connected to our own very real lives.
But then there are these places in the gospels when the people in them jump off the pages. There are these conversations between Jesus and His disciples that are so telling, so vivid, and so lively that we can’t help but feel like we’re there, listening in. We have such a conversation today at the feeding of the five thousand. We have before us a very real-life circumstance: Jesus is trying to get away for a moment of solitude. He’s just received news that His cousin, John the Baptist, has been executed by Herod. Understandably, Jesus needs time, a bit of peace, to mourn and heal. He is fully God, but remember that He is also fully man, with the entire range of emotion that any of us would have—I would even dare to say that in His sinless perfection, He has even more range. So He needs time and space to process and mourn.
But it doesn’t happen. The crowds hear about the desolate place He’s retreated to and they flock to Him. And Jesus, being Jesus, has compassion on them, and goes about His mission—defeating the power of sin and hell; healing their sick and teaching them the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
And now for the conversation with His disciples. The Twelve know how people get when they’re hungry. They get short-tempered, angry, and selfish. They get greedy. They get mean. So to avoid a potential powder keg situation, the disciples make a very practical suggestion to Jesus: “This is a desolate place, way out in the middle of nowhere, Teacher. The day is over. Send the crowds away to go into the villages to get dinner.” The disciples were crunching the numbers and they knew that five thousand men, plus the women and children, likely doubling that number at least, would be impossible to feed in the middle of nowhere. Even if they, professional fishermen that they were, were to get to work and start hauling fish out of the sea they were standing near, dinner would still need to be cleaned, cooked, and distributed to thousands of people. So they implore Jesus to think practically. He needed to finish up His lesson and let the cold, hard numbers determine the best course of action.
Jesus’ reply must have shocked them. It certainly should shock us. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” He’s not done teaching yet. You disciples, you followers and students, you give this crowd something to eat. We can almost see the disciples’ eyes widen and brows raise at Jesus’ answer.
So they double down on the practical objections. “We can’t. There’s not enough for such a crowd. We only have five loaves here and two fish. It’s not nearly enough.” They throw real numbers at Jesus, hoping they can convince Him that they have a better, more realistic grasp of the situation.
We who know the end of this account might smile. We know what’s coming next. Oh, those silly disciples, at it again; not trusting Jesus, not knowing that He can do anything. But don’t we have the same little objections that they do? It may not be about fish and loaves of bread, but all too often our hand-wringing is about numbers and so-called practical concerns. Don’t we hand our little suggestions to Jesus, and don’t they fall along the same lines as the twelve disciples’ concerns? It’s not enough. There’s not enough, Lord. Not enough money, not enough people, not enough youth, not enough programs, not enough volunteers. There’s not enough time. There’s not enough influence in the government anymore, Lord. There’s not enough morality in our society. There’s not enough safety, security, certainty for the future. There’s not enough respect for the church in our culture. There’s not enough of whatever it is that you personally are worried about. Oh yes, this conversation with Jesus leaps off the page and right into our own eyes, hearts, minds, and lips. It’s vivid because we’ve had this conversation, in our own ways, with our God.
But look at Jesus’ reply. He doesn’t crack the whip. He doesn’t reprimand them—not here, not now. He certainly doesn’t agree with them that it’s not enough. No—what does He say? “Bring the bread and fish here to me.” Rather than griping and worrying about not having enough, entrust what you do have—even if it seems as small as five loaves of bread and two fish—entrust what you do have to Him. Put what you do have into His hands that stretched wide enough to embrace the whole world in His crucifixion. Bring it to Him and you will see.
And what does Jesus do with it? “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” It is always enough with Jesus. Always. The One who gave His life so that we would live will not let something so trifling as lack separate us from Him. We may fret and worry, plan and panic, but it is always enough with Jesus. They all ate and were satisfied, all five thousand men, along with the women and children. Jesus is able to take what little is there, what we would say is not enough, and He blesses it. Out of His richness and wholeness, He makes it enough.
There are two little details we should look at before ending our meditation on this miracle. The first is the way in which the bread and fish were distributed to the crowds. If you will remember, Jesus told the disciples, “You give them something to eat,” but the disciples balked, knowing that they couldn’t. And yet, how was the food given to the crowds? “Then [Jesus] broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” Through Jesus’ miracle, through His work, the disciples do what He has commanded them. Of course, it was Jesus’ doing that brought it all about, but we must recognize through Jesus, we do what we could not before. He makes us able to do those things He’s told us: keeping the Commandments, trusting Him, serving our neighbor. What’s true with the disciples living out Jesus’ words at the feeding of the five thousand is true in our own lives: we cannot do what our Lord commands without His blessing and work on our behalf.
But the greatest and most beautiful detail is at the end. “And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” Now a small quiz: How many disciples were there? How many of them were worried, how many thought it wasn’t enough? Matthew simply records that the disciples—all twelve of them, as a unit—came to Him with their worries and objections. Now, how many baskets were collected? Twelve baskets full of food for twelve disciples worried about it not being enough. Jesus proved to each one of them that He will provide, that with Him it is always enough, even when our faith gets wobbly. He won’t let doubt win the day with them. He will demonstrate that He will always give what is enough for all His followers, as a group and as individuals. With Jesus, it is always enough.
So we bring what we have to Jesus. We come to Him now in prayer, asking Him to bless what He has given us. We come to Him at the Communion rail, trusting that what He gives there will be more than it appears; that it will be more than bread and wine, it will be His true body and blood, more than enough to strengthen and keep us in body and soul to life everlasting. We place everything in His hands, knowing that He will always be what we need, more than we can imagine. In the name of Jesus, who provides richly. Amen.