Summary: A Sermon on the feeding of the 5,000 that concentrates on the significance of the Eucharist in the spiritual lives of Christians.
Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21
Ordinary 18-A / Pentecost +11-A
July 31, 2005
There are some things in this world that compel us to do things we might not ordinarily do. I spent two summers in Israel when I was in college, and I toured all over Israel while I was there. It was a spectacular experience to actually be in the places where Jesus lived and taught and healed. I saw all the religious sites in Jerusalem, but the most meaningful experience of my travels in Israel was a morning I spent walking by the Sea of Galilee on my way to see the place where the feeding of the 5,000 happened. The thought of visiting the site where such miraculous happenings occurred compels you to do things you might not ordinarily do, like set out from the city to the country without food or water or much thought of how you are going to get back.
It is about five miles from the city out to the place where the feeding of the 5,000 happened. And I walked it one morning, taking in all the nostalgia of the area, passing fishermen by the shore, feeling the warm sun on my face. Apparently, the chance to see Jesus and to hear his teachings was so compelling that others traveled out to what Matthew calls a “deserted place” to hear and see him. Like myself, they made little or no provision for their physical needs before they went to see this Jesus.
I arrived at the place just before lunch, and I hoped to buy some food there, but the only thing you can buy there is an ice cream cone or a bag of chips. So, I saw the church that is built on the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. The rock he placed the bread on is preserved as the altar for that church. It is absolutely marvelous to see this place and to stand where all this happened. I hoped to hail a taxi to take me back to the city, but I failed to notice that taxis don’t really come out into the country from the city. I was stuck and I was hungry. I wish I had taken some time to read the Gospel story instead of my guide book, for it clearly says in two places that this was a deserted place. So, I did the only thing I could do. I set back out for the city on foot, hungry as can be.
By the time I got back to the city, it was almost 3 pm and I still hadn’t eaten any lunch. I was absolutely famished. I told myself that I would go to the first eating establishment I saw, and believe it or not, right there as you enter the city of Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, there is a dazzling piece of Americana—McDonald’s. And not just any McDonald’s, this was a 2 story McDonald’s that was much nicer than the ones in America. I stumbled up to the counter and ordered the biggest burger on the menu, the McRoyale with cheese, and the girl behind the counter asked me, “Do you want that supersized?” Without hesitation I said, “Yeah…supersize me.”
Well, I highly doubt that there was a McDonald’s in Tiberias that the people could ride their camels up to the window and order a supersized Fillet O Fish Sandwich and French fries, but they didn’t need fast food. They had Jesus who miraculously took their inadequate and ordinary bread and turned it into a feast.
This is really a great story. Did you know this is the only story that is mentioned by all four gospel writers? After Jesus had heard news of John the Baptist’s death at the hands of Herod, he withdrew to a deserted place, devoid of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, but the people followed him. Jesus healed their sick, but the disciples noticed that it was getting late and that the people had no food. So they come up to Jesus and remind him of the time and that the people don’t have any food to eat. Instead, Jesus tells them, “You give them something to eat.” This isn’t obvious in your English translation, but the Greek word for “you” is written in such a way as to be emphatic. Jesus is telling the disciples directly and with emphasis, that they should give the people something to eat. The disciples protest and remind Jesus that they only have five loaves and two fish. But Jesus takes what little they have to give, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, and everybody was filled enough that 12 baskets of leftovers were collected!
The point of this story is so simple, and yet we miss it entirely so much of the time. We may think we don’t have enough to do the task that is set before us. But what little we have can be transformed when Jesus is in the picture into an abundance. When we read a story like this, physical needs like food become secondary to the event itself. Jesus takes our bread and transforms it and us into so much more.