Jesus is still doing the extraordinary
Now when Jesus heard this [death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and 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. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21 ESV)
We meet Jesus today doing something extraordinary – so much so that all four accounts we have of Jesus record it. And let’s face it, if you don’t believe in miracles this one is a real stumbling block and needs to be explained away. And if you do accept the miraculous in this world, then it’s one of those you wish you had seen. Jesus fed well over 5,000 folk – the number refers to the men and there were women and children there – with five loaves of bread and two fish. In fact there were 12 baskets left over – and that didn’t go unnoticed because it was recorded – which means that we have before us not just a miracle but a miracle and a message.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus we have Jesus in Galilee and he’s been rejected in Nazareth. When not in Nazareth visiting his family and not on the road, his home base was nearby Capernaum. The distance between Nazareth and Capernaum is a day’s walk – 30ish miles – and Capernaum is on the inland lake called the Sea of Galilee. There are villages around the lake but lots of open spaces high up so you don’t have to go far in sight of the Sea of Galilee to see quite a distance. There are traditional places associated with Jesus and miracles and sermons but we can’t be sure where exactly Jesus is – except that it is desolate, that means that people have either walked a fair distance or sailed to that part of the lake and walked up the hill so to speak. On this occasion the crowds walked.
Why go out to see Jesus? What was he offering that makes people down tools, interrupt the usual schedules and go out and see? Jesus has performed some signs to back up his words – only a few in Nazareth – but he has been teaching and teaching – Matthew records many parables – and the people seem hungry for more. More what? Probably both. More teaching and more signs. Jesus is being noticed for both – even Herod the Tetrarch is aware of him – he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected – something this Herod would be cautious about since he was the one who had John the Baptist executed!
This is something Jesus was always dealing with – communicating clearly who he is in a way that doesn’t send people off on the wrong direction, to the wrong conclusion about him. People want to understand him – that’s how we live – we see a person and we make a judgement about him or her – nice, kind, weird, scary, dangerous – and sure the judgements can change, evolve, be confirmed – but the initial ones are quite important. If you’re told I’m untrustworthy by someone you trust then you are going to check me out in a particular way when we first meet. If you’ve heard that I give £100 to everyone whom I meet the first time and if I don’t give you a £100 when we first meet that will shape your experience of me. £100 … miracle … you get the idea. If I teach one thing that seems Biblical one day you might smile. If I teach something that challenges the Bible you mightn’t smile. Which one you hear first might influence how you hear the second thing.
Whether it was his action or his words, people were always trying to come to grips with who Jesus was and what did his teaching and signs mean. Sometimes the disciples themselves would ask Jesus afterwards – think of some of the parables we’ve heard recently. And Jesus, of course, wants them to know the truth about him but often they
can’t handle the truth – not up front, it almost has to sneak up on them, or be subversive because Jesus was challenging sin and pride which were not going to go down without a fight.
So we find Jesus in a desolate place after the death of John the Baptist and Herod thinks he’s John the Baptist resurrected and the crowds … who knows? But they’re there having come out into the wilderness and Jesus has been compassionate – healing them – how wonderful that would be for the ill and for their families – and teaching them – giving them words that rested and refreshed and comforted them – food for the soul so to speak. Who is this Jesus? Who knows? Who cares?! But he’s there and I feel better. I feel alive.
And maybe a little hungry. And now Jesus feeds them in the wilderness. The disciples are not unsympathetic to the need – they are caring, pragmatic but even they have no idea to whom they are talking. In Matthew’s account Jesus gets straight down to it and organises the feeding – the command to use the little food available, the grouping and sitting of the crowd, the praying, the breaking, the distributing and everyone is fed with 12 baskets left over. What you have here for those with ears to remember and eyes to see is another account of God’s people in the wilderness – not having left slavery in Egypt this time but the slavery of oppression whether that be the Romans or illness or fear or any other oppressor – being fed miraculously by … come on, join the dots!
Some miracles are certainly controversial because the trajectory of the logic behind them is that Jesus is God. That’s blasphemy to some, idiocy to others, confusing to others, a problem still to solve for still others because it isn’t just a matter of saying ‘Oh, ok Jesus is God’ you also need to come to grip is with what that means. What’s the purpose here? Why is Jesus God? Isn’t he a person – a human being? This is where one’s judgements can shape how one regards Jesus. Most of the British population knows of Jesus – and maybe even that his followers think he’s God – but most of the British population isn’t meeting Jesus on Sundays in worship. Why? Because they have made their own judgements about him – however that has been done – but those views do not include the judgement ‘my Lord and my God’ as Thomas came to say – as you say.
It is hard to believe in Jesus and yet he isn’t discouraged and he still has compassion on people and most of all he still feeds his people and leads them to know him for who he is – a human being born for us, who lived for us, who died for us, who was raised to life again so that we might live with him. Yes, he is God for us. And Jesus continues to feed his people living in the wilderness – not with fish and bread – but with bread and wine which he says is himself – and he comes to all those who commune to nourish, heal, forgive, and bless each person. Faith is strengthened. And the people, in turn, go back into their own homes and relationships strengthened to follow Jesus and to say when asked, ‘yes, this Jesus is my Lord and my God’.
Life with him can still all sorts of hassles but Jesus reminds us through words and meal to take heart, he has overcome the world.
- Matthew 14:13 - 21