This morning we come face to face with one of the greatest miracle stories contained in the bible. This miracle story is the only miracle story that is contained in all four of the gospels. When I am faced with that sort of a fact, I have to sit up and take notice and ask myself what is it about this story that is so important that it would be the only one, of all of the miracle stories in the bible that would be in all four gospels. Well, let’s see if we can discover the answer together.
Before we drill down into the Scripture, we have to set the stage a little. The passage begins with, “Now when Jesus heard this…” What Jesus had just heard was the news about the brutal murder of his cousin John the Baptist at the hands of Herod.
This past week I received some bad news about a friend that is in hospital. He had gone in for a by-pass, which turned into a quadruple by-pass, which led to complications, that led to sudden cardiac arrest and has now left his unresponsive and his family with a decision to continue care or not. This is not the first time I have heard news like this nor will it likely be the last time, but it hit me rather hard since he was up and chatting on Facebook just last week. When I got the news, all I wanted to do was to be alone and process the information. I was at the Veterans Administration hospital in West Roxbury, and the chapel was just down the hall, so I popped in for some alone time. I think it is understandable that Jesus, and his disciples, would want to take a little time on their own after learning about the demise of John the Baptist.
They got into a boat and set off for a “deserted place, ” but the “crowds heard of it” and they followed him. Now Jesus is used to having crowds around him, but he wanted some alone time to truly process what he was feeling. He is human after all, and his cousin had just been murdered. Sure, it is all part of the plan, but the news must have still come as a shock. But even in his own grief, “when we went ashore…. He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Even in his moment of grief, he was thinking of someone rather than himself.
Now the disciples came to him and asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they could go into the area towns and villages to get some food to eat. But Jesus told them to “feed them.” Scripture estimates that there were 5,000 men (not including women and children) we can assume that there were at least double if not triple that number. Here are these twelve guys, looking at this vast crowd, and trying to figure out what to feed them. So, they come up with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus repeated the command to feed them. Not only did everyone get something to eat, but there were twelve baskets left over. The disciples were in for a surprise that night at the miraculous power of God’s love.
As I mentioned at the start, this is the only miracle story that is included in all four of the Gospels, and some suggest that it was read at the Lord’s Supper each time they gathered. Others will point out the parallel to the Book of Exodus and God’s provision of the Manna in the wilderness that fed the children of Israel. But, more important than all of that is that this story was treasured by the early church because it taught Christians the very heart of the gospel message and was a profound source of hope and inspiration for Christians who were seeking to be faithful against all odds.
This is a story of great power because it demonstrates that God is love, it teaches what it means to follow Christ, and it assures us of God’s power for good in the world.
The first, and I believe, the most important lesson of this story is that it teaches us that God is love. Jesus had compassion on the people when he saw them. Deep in his grief, he looked upon these people, sick and hungry, probably outcasts and he had compassion. Despite his grief and his desire to just be alone, compassion for the people was his prime motivation. This was compassion so deep that it cares for the basic needs of humanity, food. God, who is the ultimate power in the universe, intends peace for the world, an end to hunger, the wellbeing of families, and spiritual wholeness for all people.
The second important lesson to be learned from this passage is about being disciples. God has given us an awesome responsibility, Jesus did not feed the 5,000 he told his disciples to do it. We are the body of Christ, his hands and his feet, through which the work needs to get done. God does not work alone but through you and me. To follow Jesus is to express our faith in concrete acts of love, justice, and compassion towards others, no matter what their circumstances. Notice the disciples did not pre-qualify anyone for service, they just fed people.
The third lesson is a reminder that when we need it the most, God will give us the power to work for good in the world. When Jesus commanded the disciples to feed the people, they must have thought this an impossible task. The need was great, the people were many, and the resources were few. But Jesus blessed their work, and in the end, they cared for everyone and even had an abundance left over. They did not hold anything back; they were willing to give it all away to fulfill the mission that Jesus had given them. They had faith, and in the end, the mission was a success. What do we hope to gain by holding back the resources we have when they could be used for the up building of the kingdom? The disciples allowed the people to take what they wanted, and they fed everyone.
The power of the Holy Spirit is an amazing thing when the faithful come together and work together for a common mission. The promise of this story that we heard this morning is that if we join in unity and faithfulness, God will be with us. If we become the hands and feet of Christ to a world that so desperately needs us, God will be with us. If we give to help people, without holding anything back, God will be with us and leave us with an abundance.
However, this is not a promise that will come in the absence of pain and struggle, even Jesus had to endure the Cross, but this is a promise that God will be with us and that God’s intention for love, peace, and justice in the world will ultimately prevail.
This is a promise we desperately need if we are going to be faithful in carrying out the call of Christ to join Jesus in hope to the hopeless and a voice to the voiceless and compassion to those in need. We know that this is a promise that Jesus kept with his disciples on that hillside in Galilee and had kept with God’s faithful people over the centuries and will keep with us.
The deeper message of today’s scripture lesson is the miracle of God’s love for the six billion people on our planet today and the miracle that we are called to be partners with God in making fullness of life become a reality today for the world that God loves.