“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2nd Corinthians 13:13
If you were following along with me reading the gospel for today, you know I left out the words that are in brackets in your worship folder. The reading in the Bible simply says: “Now when he heard this…” I think it important to know what Jesus heard. What he heard begins with the 5th verse: “Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias (Herod’s wife) danced before the company, (this included Herod’s high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee), and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.”
Get the picture: there was a birthday party for Herod called Antipas (he was the son of Herod the Great who greeted the magi and who had the under two-year-old boys killed). This was his big birthday party with all the high officials of the area, food and drink, and his wife’s daughter seductively dancing for him. The dance so delighted Herod that he made an oath in front of all the company that the stepdaughter could have anything she wanted. Consulting with her mother, she requested the head of John the Baptist who Herod had imprisoned. Not being able to back out, Herod granted her the request.
Now we move to the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was told of his cousin John’s fate. Now it starts to become a reality—the reality that he, too, would meet his death. John, who baptized Jesus in the Jordon was now dead. He was distraught, so he withdrew to be by himself. It should be noted here that this Jesus, the very Son of God, when faced with the hostile power of the kingdom of this world does not respond with violence, but simply withdraws. He took a boat and went to the other side of the lake, the eastern side, the side where the Gentiles lived. But the crowds followed on foot around the northern end of the lake to where he was.
So much for grieving. He goes ashore, has compassion on them and he cured their sick. But now comes the miracle; he had been curing the sick as if that in itself was miraculous. Evening was upon them and the disciples came to him. Look, you’ve got to send them away. It’s supper time and they need to go somewhere to find something to eat. They can find a village maybe not too far away to buy food. Jesus responded: look at all these people; these little small villages wouldn’t have enough to sell to feed all of them. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” But, all we have are 5 loaves of bread and two fish! What are they among so many?
Contrast this with Herod’s birthday party. The upper class; plenty of food and drink; more than they could probably eat; dancing in celebration; and then the violent murder of John. Here there were poor people; little food, not enough to go around; there was healing of the sick; not death; they experienced the love of God; there was peace and joy. And then something happened.
Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. He took, blessed, and gave.
And how ironic! The disciples who had nothing to give suddenly were given what was provided and they gave the food to the crowds. Afterwards they cleaned up the leftovers. There were twelve baskets full. And we are told that there was 5000 men plus women and children. That was quite a crowd.
We are reminded of the good grain that was planted and how the seed yielded a hundredfold, sixty, and others thirty. And the mustard seed and how it grew from a tiny seed to a bush large enough that birds could rest on its branches, or the leavened bread, how the yeast made it grow large enough to feed over a hundred people. What extravagant abundance God produces! The disciples were focused on what they didn’t have. They must have forgotten who they were with.
So what does this feeding of such a multitude perhaps near Bethsaida on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee mean for us some two thousand years later? We know something miraculous happened. All four gospels record this supper. And we also know that out of a birthday party with the uppity-ups and feasting and drinking and provocative dancing came death—the death of the forerunner of Jesus—John.
We know that out of little there came abundance. We know that the disciples concentrated on what they didn’t have. And maybe that’s the lesson for us. We as a church sometimes concentrate on what few resources we have. We don’t have a choir like the 1st Church of We Have Everything on the other side of town.
We are to do what Jesus did: he took the bread, blessed it, and gave it. We take what God gives us; we bless, or lift it up to God; we give it to those God has asked us to serve. God provides to us what is required to meet the needs of those around us. God does amazingly large things with what we consider pitifully small gifts. God provides the miracle of multiplication.
What drives this home is that Jesus accomplished this miracle while grieving over the death of his friend and cousin. Jesus did not sit down and taught them some brilliant and moving theological exposé. There was no call to baptize. Nothing like that. He cured them. He met their needs. And then he fed them. He was meeting their physical needs.
There’s a lot of stuff going on around us nowadays—a pandemic that is still raging, a lot of bad and evil stuff, separation from each other and from God. This is no time for us as St. John’s or the Church (capital C) to despair and say “Woe is us”.
This is the time when so many churches concentrate on what they do not have rather than what God will provide. That was what the disciples were doing. Send them away and let them find their own food; we don’t have enough to share. We’re just a little church the disciples were saying; we don’t have anything for them. And Jesus said to feed them. We are not called to sit down and look at what resources we have and then decide what ministry we can do. We are called to look at the world’s needs, our community’s needs, and with God’s help find a way to meet those needs. Take what we have, bless it, and give it to God. When we see the needs and start thinking about ways to meet those needs, unbelievable things will happen!
Trust God in this.