Clayton Wesley, 6 August 2023.  Pentecost 10: You give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16)
Mt 14:13-31, Psalm 145:8-16

We were thinking a few weeks ago about Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine, and it being the best wine.  And we considered how the Bible is full of images of God’s provision, of invitations to join in God’s fellowship meal: “of every tree you may eat freely…” (Gen 2:16), “bring them… to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8), “He gives food to every creature” (Ps 136:25),  “You prepare a table before me… my cup overflows” (Ps 23:5), “He brought me to His banqueting hall” (Song 2:4) and so on…

God’s provision and God’s invitation to share in a meal of fellowship.

Today’s miracle story can be found in all four Gospels, and aside from the miracle of the Resurrection, is the only miracle story that is found in all four.  It holds a special place for us, and if we gather up the slight differences and added information in each Gospel writer’s account, we could consider it every week and never exhaust its lessons.

In Mark’s telling, it comes after Jesus and the disciples have been busy preaching the Good News of the kingdom, and they set off to a quiet shore to have a chance to eat, but the crowds run on ahead and get to that spot first.  Mark describes the crowd as sheep without a shepherd.  And we read that Jesus felt compassion for the pilgrims that had followed him, and he continued to teach them, and the scene is set for the miracle.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and the disciples have withdrawn to a private spot, but the crowds find out where Jesus is and follow.  And we read how Jesus welcomed the crowd, and talked more about God’s kingdom, and healed them, and again, the scene is set for the miracle.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is again crossing the lake, but the crowd follows, and the scene is set for the miracle.

And in our reading today from Matthew, Jesus has just heard about the death of John the Baptist and seeks out a quiet place to be alone, but the crowds follow and again, He feels compassion for them, and heals them, and the scene is set for the miracle.

In every account Jesus is seeking a quiet place to rest or to think or to replenish, but the crowds want more.  And Jesus sets aside His own needs – rest, food, solitude – in preference of ministering to the crowds.  Jesus – the Great Shepherd of the Sheep – cannot help but turn his attention to people that need him. 

I love that verse in Psalm 68:19: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens.” “Carries us day by day” in one translation.

We can always take our burdens and our needs to a God who is always attentive (1 Pet 5:7 “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for – is attentive to – you.”)

But it’s a lonely spot that Jesus and the disciples chose for their retreat, and time passes, there is so much ministering to be done, and soon the disciples worry that the crowds will become hungry and will require feeding.  (Remember, how in Mark’s account, Jesus hasn’t had any time to eat (Mk 6:31) for all the busyness of ministering.  This miracle story points to a God who doesn’t look to His own needs, but rather looks outwards to us.)

“This place is a wilderness, and it’s already late.  Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy some dinner,” suggest the disciples (Mt 14:15)

All the crowds, like sheep without a shepherd, gathered to see and hear and know this Jesus.  People in need… and His disciples say: “send the crowds away.”  And Jesus says, “You give them something to eat”.

What us?!
“You give them something to eat.”

“But we’ve only got this small amount of food” (in Matthew’s account)

“Should we go and spend all that money just to feed them?” (in Mark’s account)

“We’ve only got this much, unless we go and buy more food for all these people.” (in Luke’s account)

“Where will we buy bread, and besides, we wouldn’t have enough money to buy enough bread anyway” (in John’s account).  I’m paraphrasing…

But the disciples, despite everything they’ve witnessed to this point, first suggest that the crowd be sent away, and then when Jesus asks them to get involved, come up with excuses – we don’t have enough, we don’t have the means to get more, are you sure we should spend all that money?

But God doesn’t want our excuses.  God wants our service and our involvement.  With our willing hearts and whatever we can bring, God can multiply that!  If all we bring is our excuses, what good is multiplying them: excuses squared don’t advance the kingdom!

Of course, we’re so familiar with the story, of how Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and multiplies them and feeds the thousands of followers.   If we were looking at John’s Gospel, we would read how it was a young boy supplied the 5 loaves and 2 fish – and everyone is fed because of a child giving up all he had.   

I think about the widow’s two mites (Mk 12:41-44) and how precious her gift was in Jesus’ sight.

And I think too about Samuel visiting Jesse to anoint a future King, and all the sons lined up and none of them are the right man.  “Are these all the sons you have?”  “No, there is still the youngest…” (1 Sam 16:11)

We may not have much, and we may be young and overlooked.  But today’s Gospel shows us that God uses a small boy’s gift, and God will do the same with what we bring.  Multiplying it.  And transforming it:

The disciples had just been saying how it was a wilderness and a barren spot, but here Jesus has the crowd sit on grass.  In Marks’s Gospel (6:39), Jesus has the crowd sit on green grass for the miracle, and our minds think back to the green pastures of Psalm 23, and Jesus as the Great Shepherd who lets us lie down in green pastures, and because of Him, we shall not want.

My mind wanders to that text in Isaiah: “Look, I am about to do something new… a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (Is 43:19).

Our God of miracles.

The people are fed, despite the disciples’ initial excuses, because a young boy surrenders what he has and let’s Jesus use it all.

Nothing is impossible for God, but we need to get involved.  Those disciples though:

But we don’t have enough…
You give them something to eat!

It’s already late
You give them something to eat!

But how would we even start?
You give them something to eat!

We’re not being true followers or disciples if we sit back and expect God to do everything.  If we spot a need, like the disciples did, we need to get involved in the work.  We don’t get to see a need, tell God about it, and then wait for God to fix.  One scholar says, “we are required to get involved in the program.  God will make it enough, but first God is going to use what we have to give, however little that might be.” (Penny Nash)

But it’ll cost us!
You give them something to eat. 

But we mentioned them in our Prayers for the People.  We’ve left them at Your feet!
You give them something to eat. 

We offer what we can, and God will make it enough.  In fact, more than enough.  Everyone ate and was filled.  Then they picked up twelve baskets of leftover pieces.  (Mt 14:20).  Those twelve baskets are very deliberate – the number signifying entirety and completeness: saying in effect that all may be fed, that there is enough grace and love for all.  If we get involved.  There would have been no miracle feeding of the crowd without first the young boy’s gift of food.  But God took his gift and multiplied it.  God will take our service and our gifts and multiply them.

Recently we considered how the harvest fields are vast (Mt 9:37).  Let me tell you this morning: the power and love of God is wider!  (Eph 1:19, 3:18), God is calling now for workers to be and do and bring their gifts and their service, and watch how the world’s needs can be met through God’s multiplication of our own giving.

Let’s pray:

“Lord, may I be wakeful at sunrise to begin a new day for You;
cheerful at sunset for having done my work for You;
thankful at moonrise and under starshine for the beauty of the universe.
And may I add what little may be in me to Your great world.”
(Abbot of Greve 12thC.)