The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
August 4, 2002
Isaiah 55:1-3 + Romans 8:35-39 + Matthew 14:13-21
The first of two miracle stories is our focus in liturgy today; and after them comes a miracle of another sort. There is so much going on here! There has been a violent death in the family of Jesus. Herod has murdered John, the cousin of Jesus. In grief Jesus seeks solitude, but it isn’t to be his. The crowds come on foot the long way around the lake, and his grieving time is cut short by a show of mercy and compassion. There is a triangle here of interaction: Jesus, the Disciples, and the Crowd. There is Jesus, there are those in need, and there are those in service.
Matthew has something to say about all three of them.
In Jesus we see compassion and mercy revealed through an act, a prayer, and a command that for any Christian of the Table is thoroughly Eucharistic. The verbs used here are not a coincidence: take, bless, break, and give.
In the crowd we see the world, hungry for Jesus, longing for food, searching for Messiah. They make every effort and try every way to find him, even when he seems to be in hiding. They are not disappointed.
In the disciples, we see ourselves. While there may be some of the “crowd” in us, let us not avoid the challenge of discipleship by being more comfortable among the crowd. Our search is over – we know who we are, we are here after all, in this church today. It is too easy to sit back and just be fed. It is time to go to work – to hear what he says to us. “Give them something to eat.”
We see in these disciples something of ourselves, and we’ll see it next week as well. “Five loaves and two fish is all we have.” they say. “It is not enough.” they think. All they can think about is what they do not have, and so they fail to see what they do have in the one who is with them. What an insight into human nature! Whining about what they do not have, these very human disciples, very much like us, do not see what can be done with five loaves and two fish and with Jesus Christ. If left to themselves, they will send everyone away in misery and disappointment and fend themselves; and they would never see what God can do.
Jesus will not let it be so. In the Greek version of Matthew, the command that Jesus gives them is the strongest and most harsh form of the verb. It is as though he literally screams at them: GIVE THEM SOMETHING! Stop whining about what you don’t have! That attitude and a focus on what is lacking suggests that somehow God does not provide – and somehow what God does provide is going to run out, or be inadequate. Disciples of Jesus Christ cannot think that way or act that way.
God uses what we bring, but we cannot make manifest a God of compassion and walk in the footsteps of a merciful Jesus if we are holding out, holding back, fearful that we shall run out or not have what it takes. This Gospel goes to the heart of the matter when it comes to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Those people trusted him – they went out of their way and sought him at great cost and great risk. The least they can expect is that disciples will give them what they have come to find. There is not a lot left over – there is no hint of abundance here if you understand the measure proposed. The little bit left over is not much when compared to the amount consumed. This Gospel does not talk about abundance and grand, huge, displays of some extra ordinary proportion. It talks about simple things like fish and bread the basic stuff of life. This Gospel talks about mercy and compassion, about the role of disciples, and about their attitude and way of looking at what they have and why they have it. In the end, it is about little people and little things with which God will accomplish great things.
The miracle in this story may not really be what at first we thought it to be. The miracle here may not be about fish and bread, but about attitude and compassion, generosity and trust. I suspect that after the food was cleared away, the ones most touched, changed, and filled with wonder were the very ones who thought that they had nothing. The crowd just simply went away.