“Five Loaves and Two Fish”
6 August 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted 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 for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The day began as if
it was a Game of Throneskind of day.
Over the past six weeks, or so,
I’ve been watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones.
This seven-season fictional story is not for children,
For woven into an interesting plot and story line
Is an orgy of sex and endless violence.
Every episode results in treachery, assassinations, and beheadings.
This is television for
Mature audience ONLY!
Set in a medieval environment,
This fantasy is about seven kingdoms, blood lines, and families
Vying to claim the throne
or fighting for independence from the throne.
The narrative reminds us of power and its temptation,
Ambition and its danger,
Wealth and its abuse.
Do not read the books or watch the series if you are one bit squeamish!
The day began for Jesus as if it was a Game of Throneskind of day.
Jesus had been rejected by his own family.
He had returned to his hometown of Nazareth
Where he had taught in the synagogue.
But those in attendance,
Family, friends, and neighbors
Challenged the upstart.
They probably remember his childhood,
Growing up in the village,
Drawing water from the common well,
Working as a common laborer with Joseph.
Where would a hired hand or a day laborer gain wisdom
To teach in the synagogue?
Was wisdom to be found in the common well’s leaky bucket?
What could a carpenter’s nail teach him?
What could a stone mason teach him that could be proclaimed in a synagogue?
It’s one thing to come from one of the esteemed rabbinic schools in Jerusalem,
But it’s something altogether different
To espouse knowledge you do not have
And wisdom you have yet to achieve.
So they took offense, rejected him,
And according to Luke 4,
The crowd took Jesus to the brow of a cliff outside of town
With homicidal intentions.
Jesus miraculously walks through their midst,
And simply leaves,
Never to return home again.
It was a Game of Throneskind of day for Jesus.
At that same time,
The Gospel of Matthew reports (14:1)
King Herod is entertaining his own birthday party.
It was a feast for the nobles, the lords, and ladies;
The elite of the elite,
The top one percenters.
Herod’s self-thrown party was
An orgy of food,
An excess of alcohol,
Puffed up pride,
Topped off with a dab of testosterone
A dollop of estrogen,
And a whole lot of unmentionable behavior.
Oh, and the room was certainly filled
With guards, soldiers, and an excess of weapons.
What could possibly go wrong?
To satisfy his drunken, sexual fantasy
And . seduce his brother’s daughter,
Herod agreed to kill John the Baptist
And deliver his head to her on a platter.
Jesus and John the Baptist had been close.
John prepared the way for Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, to come.
John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,
Giving Jesus the start of his earthly mission.
John had encouraged his disciples to ally themselves
And become disciples of Jesus.
Their lives were tightly woven together in the fabric
Of God’s unfolding will and salvation history.
In a Game of Throneskind of setting,
John was beheaded,
And the tragic news had reached Jesus.
There is a reason for me to lay this foundation
Of a Game of Throneslike background for today’s Gospel passage.
One can only imagine the grief and mourning
That descended upon Jesus;
When Jesus withdrew from there in a boat
To a deserted place by himself. (14:13)
But the crowd would not allow Jesus to find solitude or to mourn.
One can only assume this crowd
Was the crowd
Who Jesus had been teaching parables from a boat
As they crowded the seashore.
The crowd’s needs were too great.
They wanted to know more.
Their sick needed to be cured.
What a contrast with the crowd
Jesus had just left back home in Nazareth.
They followed Jesus along the shore
Until Jesus looked upon the crowd and had compassion. (14:14)
This is a common characteristic of Jesus;
When he looks upon a crowd,
It draws out and wells up his compassion.
Pause for a moment to compare and contrast
The guests at Herod’s orgy
With the crowd of five-thousand men, besides them women and children:
The few, the elite, the rich, the powerful, the full
… in Herod’s palatial estate …
The many, the poor, the needy, the hungry
… in a field, in the wild, overlooking the lake.
The kingdom of this earth,
The kingdom of Herod
Could not be more opposed
To the kingdom where God’s compassion flows.
It is nearly impossible for us Western Americans today
To understand the depth and complexity of food, nutrition, and eating
In the life and times of Jesus.
We are accustomed to eating until we are full
At every meal, usually three times a day.
The National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Estimates that 68.8 percent of adults are overweight or obese,
35.7 percent of adults are considered to be obese,
And 6.3 percent of American adults are extremely obese.
Almost everyone eats until we are full.
Given my history, no; I’m not fat shaming anyone.
I’m simply observing …
As a people we eat until we are full;
And at the first sign of being less than full
We go in search of snacks.
To find a meaningful comparison with our world today,
One only needs to look to Telica, Nicaragua,
The second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,
Where we’d serve a roll and sugar water to children at the conclusion of daily Vacation Bible School,
Knowing full well that
For many of them
A roll and sugar water would be their only meal that day.
One only needs to look to Tecpan, Guatemala,
Where it is not unusual for single mothers
To boil leaves and serve it to their children
As their lunch;
Their only food for the day.
Yes, there is hunger and homelessness around us,
But nothing nearby is on the scale or in the same universe
As the malnutrition and hunger of families and children
Just south of our boarder.
Nothing in our modern experience can compare
To the everyday hunger in the population
In the life and times of Jesus.
Herod, and those attending his birthday party,
Were the few who ate until they were full.
The rest of the population,
Like the ten or fifteen thousand in the crowd with Jesus
Never ate until they were full.
They lived in a constant, chronic state of hunger.
“And all ate and were filled.” (14:20a)
When a populist community leader feeds ten or fifteen thousand
Hungry, lower and middle-class people
It draws the attention of the power at hand.
It makes a political statement.
It demonstrates a rising threat that cannot be ignored.
The eye of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome would be watching.
What Herod failed to see or understand
Was the deeper theological statement that Jesus is making
When he miraculously feeds this huge crowd of people.
Multiplying five loaves and two fish
Into a feast of abundant quantity sends a statement
To the crowd, and to us today,
That God sees our needs,
Has compassion for us when we are in need,
And responds with creative, overwhelming abundance.
This is God’s nature.
The God of creation
Holds nothing back.
God’s covenant blessing
To Abraham and all of us descendants continue to multiply.
Jesus feeding the crowds gathered in hunger
Was a means of communicating the fact
That God’s people can trust in God’s presence
Even in times of scarcity.
God’s grace and compassion is abundant.
I can imagine the twelve disciples working clean-up
Thinking to themselves,
“What a coincidence.
There are 12 baskets.
There are 12 of us.
Each basket is filled to overflowing with leftovers!
What a God!”
Indeed, what a God!
The feeding of the five thousand
Convinces me of my foundational belief,
That God gives us all that we need, and more.
Therefore, when there is anyone in want or need,
The problem isn’t with God.
The problem is with us.
We are a trusting, faithful people;
But only so far.
We save for a rainy day.
We set aside capital or contingency reserves.
We establish trusts, foundations, and development departments.
God has supplied us with all the resources necessary,
Yet, we continue to want to hoard our earthly treasures.
The first sign of unfaithfulness
Is when one person goes to bed hungry.
Let us be resolved to be good stewards of God’s wonderful blessings!
Let us be generous;
Trusting that God will provide for today and in the future.
Let us be compassionate like Jesus;
Trusting that it is God’s intent that all might have their needs met.
Let us work miracles like Jesus.
God gives us the power
To multiply better than compound interest,
To extend the prosperity of our table
To every family and every table in creation.
The feast is a part of our roots, our culture, our DNA.
It comes to us from before time and is illustrated abundantly
In our Hebrew scriptures;
In our Old Testament Bible.
Today, it manifests itself in dish-to-pass dinners,
Pre / post worship coffee and cookies hospitality.
The feast is when people can come together and bless each other.
The feast is when people gather and are blessed by a loving God.
The feast is one that is an open invitation;
Everyone is invited,
All are welcome,
No one is to be excluded.
Eat until you want to more.
The feast of this altar table harkens back to that Upper Room feast,
A memorial, no doubt, of the love that
Led Jesus Christ to the cross,
To die for
The forgiveness of our sins
And to rise for
The salvation of the world.
At the same time,
The feast of this Eucharistic table becomes more fertile ground
When it causes us to reflect back even further,
To that rural hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee
When Jesus was filled with compassion,
And fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish.
What a God.
This is the God I follow.
This is the God who I will love.
This is a God whose love never quits, never ends, never runs out.
Come and feast at the table of our God.