(for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, August 3, 2014)
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. (Matthew 14:13-21, NRSV).
The death of Jesus’ co-worker and cousin, John, hit hard. Jesus’ response was, all too humanly, to withdraw: he seeks a ‘deserted place by himself.’
Unsuccessfully, it would seem. By the time he disembarked the following crowds had gathered: ‘five thousand men, besides women and children.’ Perhaps there are more than fifteen thousand.
Sometimes even Messiahs don’t get the space they want!
But filled with compassion, Jesus sets to work. Many seek healing and he willingly offers his Spirit-filled touch. The whole day was gone by the time he finished.
The advice of Jesus’ disciples seems wise, simple, logical: ‘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.’ These people need to travel to places of shelter. They need to purchase food before the markets close.
I can just imagine the disciple’s bewilderment at his reply: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’
Their tally of five loaves and two fish has become something of a reminder us what God can do with a little. Rightly so. But it did not start out this way. The small collection of food is bought to Jesus as evidence that the crowds should go: ‘We have nothing but…’ Their tiny picnic is prof that another solution is needed.
Yet these morsels are blessed, broken, and distributed. Perhaps the people didn’t even know where all the food came from. Maybe the multitude thought Jesus simply said grace and asked the twelve to act as waiters feeding from a secret store.
What the crowd don’t know, however, the disciples do. Not only because they counted beforehand, or even because the miracle took place in their own hands. They know because they spent the next few hours collecting leftovers!
And they were so amazed that they counted again – ‘twelve baskets full’. They have done the maths – the people, the few fish and loaves, and now a collection of discarded food.
One brimming basket for each disciple to sit and marvel at while the joyful and satisfied crowd spread out on the ‘grass’ and watch the Galilean sun colour the horizon.