Summary: A reflection on Jesus' feeding of the 5000
“More than a Miracle”
A Reflection on Jesus’ Feeding of the 5000
The story is told of the late Pope John Paul II... Who was due to visit a local hospital on one of his international trips, but was running a little late – of course everyone had been waiting in anticipation of his arrival, so when they saw the clock ticking by and he still didn’t arrive they began to lose heart a little. One of the doctors on duty decided to take a break and plonked down into a nearby wheel-chair... By the time Pope John Paul arrived most of those present were caught unawares (and he was a little embarrassed himself, it must be said). The Pope walked in and immediately blessed the Dr by making the sign of the Cross; and at that the doctor sprang up out of the wheel-chair and suddenly the whole entourage started applauding... It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!
According to a survey done by Princeton University’s Religion Research Centre, 82% of all adults either agree fully or mostly with the following statement: “Even today, miracles are performed by the Power of God.”... Strange, that in world apparently seduced by rationality and science and all things National Geographic, we still have 82% of all adults that believe in the miraculous – Personally, I think that bears testimony to humanity’s desperate need for faith and God’s undeniable presence in the world, but be that as it may.
Miracles are funny things, aren’t they? We all have different opinions regarding the so-called miraculous – whether it be that such events are acts of God and should be accepted and believed at surface level, or that they should rather be investigated with a touch of scepticism in order to discern the truth of it, or that such events should simply be branded accidents of nature that would have perfectly reasonable explanations if we understood them rightly. Whatever our opinion of the miraculous might be, there can be no doubt that such events, and stories of such events, tend to evoke all manner of responses from us.
Now, especially as far as the various accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels are concerned, we must all come to terms with our response to these stories...
[Might I add as an aside at this point that I am thoroughly convinced that our response to miracles depends very heavily on our perspective regarding God’s involvement in everyday life; I heard of an alcoholic who became a believer and was asked by a sceptic how he could possibly believe all the nonsense in the Bible about miracles. “You don't believe that Jesus changed water into wine do you?” “I sure do,” he replied “because in our house Jesus changed the whiskey into furniture.” This man’s response to the miracles we read of in Scripture was formed by his perspective on what God had done in his life, it is the same with all of us... but that’s perhaps a matter for a different sermon...]
In our text for this morning we read of that well known event of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 – a story repeated in all four gospels, and one that each of us here have heard a million times, I’m sure. Either in Sunday school classes, or at Bible study, or perhaps even from the pulpit. And, no doubt, on all these occasions different aspects of this story would have been highlighted and different contours of the story would have been explored in order to come to a fresh understanding of it.
By the way, people often wonder how an ancient book can speak to us today, but this is precisely the beauty of Scripture, that there are different layers, different contours to each story that we can explore in order to understand it more fully. And it’s only when we hold these different contours in perspective that we are able to see a fuller picture of what the author and the text is trying to portray.
So today we are going to do just that... We are going to reflect on this passage by looking at three different contours of this story, in order to see a fuller image of what Matthew was trying to communicate: firstly, we’ll consider the ‘behind-the-scenes’ contour by exploring what the text has to say about Jesus as the One who wrought this miracle, the One who stood behind it all, as it were; then, we’ll consider one of the “surface-level” contours by taking a closer look at the role of the disciples in this miracle (and, by implication, our own roles in the work that Jesus continues to do); and then, finally, we will consider a slightly “deeper” contour of this story by reflecting on the hunger of the crowd and what that might actually illustrate for us?