This is a copy of my talk on Matthew 14:13-21 given on Sunday 3 August 2014.
I’m really looking forward to the picnic in the Rectory garden later on, but I want to tell the story of the really BIG picnic that we just had read from Matthew 14.
This is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels and marks the peak of Jesus’ popularity. Thousands are flocking to see Jesus, hoping to see a miracle performed for them. In fact, Jesus was so popular, the people wanted to make Jesus king. However, just to show how fickle people can be, it wouldn’t be long before these same people would be calling for Jesus to be crucified.
Jesus is teaching and when evening approaches, the disciples become concerned that the crowd are hungry. Their solution is to ask Jesus to send them away so that they won’t have to worry about them. But Jesus tells his disciples: “You give them something to eat!”
In Luke’s Gospel, Philip (typical treasurer), wants to know: Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat? Eight months wages would not buy enough bread to for each one to have a single bite.
Philip saw the issue financially: how would they pay for so much food? For Andrew the issue was even more basic – finding enough food for so many would be pretty much impossible.
This situation, not surprisingly, was more of a problem for the disciples than for Jesus. When problems crop up, it’s very tempting to think that Jesus has been taken by surprise just as much as we have – yet Jesus, even before he spoke, already knew what the solution was going to be.
Andrew found a little boy who’d taken his lunch of five loaves and two fish – a packed lunch, with only enough to feed himself! It’s amazing isn’t it, that it was a child who had the foresight to take his lunch along with him! Andrew adds: But how far will they go among so many.
The combination of the rational, the practical, the visionary, the sacrificial and the spiritual still makes for good teamwork in any task to which the Lord calls us.
Five loaves and two fish may have seemed too little to Andrew, but for Jesus it wasn’t just a starting point it was the starting point.
It all sounds so familiar doesn’t it? How can we make a difference with what little we have? How can we fund so much? We have so little and the need is so great. What we can do is only a drop in an ocean. We haven’t got the human resources. We don’t even know how we will make do ourselves.
Jesus doesn’t listen to negative comments – and neither should we. It took only one person to provide what Jesus needed to make something wonderful happen. And it wasn’t even an adult!
Sometimes an unspoken rule in some churches is that they don’t take seriously the contribution of children to the spirituality of church life. How many of you, when you know there is an All Age Service on a Sunday morning make the decision not to attend? “Oh no, a children’s service. We’ll have to sing an action song. I’m going to give it a miss!” But adults don’t have a monopoly on spirituality do they? And why’s that? Maybe it’s because adults are so often cynical and rational. We disbelieve whereas as children are more accepting of the impossible and the miraculous.
Jesus said if we want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we must have a child-like trust and faith in Him. As adults, we so often think we have all the right answers but, unlike children, we fail to ask the right questions. My mum always said my favourite, and most irritating, word was: why?
Jesus was pointing out that we must learn from the example of children if we are ever going to develop into the right kind of adults. There are certain things we will never understand as long as we have a hard, critical adult heart. We need to have something of the spontaneity, enthusiasm and innocence of children. There’s nothing quite like it – it’s special and irreplaceable.
Children have an open, trustful and, sometimes, generous nature. They make friends, they accept love, and are blissfully unaware of class-distinctions and social barriers. They are not filled with delusions of grandeur or self-sufficiency. A child doesn’t assume intellectual authority, they know when they are ignorant, are willing to admit to foolishness, and are always looking for the right answers to their questions.
What a contrast we see in adults. We like to rely on our own strengths, intellect and wisdom. We find it hard to admit failure and to recognise that we have fallen short of God’s required standard.
But without genuine humility, we can never enter into a living relationship with the Lord. Our pride comes in the way of everything that Jesus has in store for us. And it is this that Jesus was talking about that makes it difficult, but not impossible, for adults to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Most parents, when they are expecting a child, attend Parent craft or parenting sessions. These are run by health visitors or NCT. They also read lots of books etc. When Ben was born, and Annabel, Paula was a midwife, so we thought we were well prepared for all that Parenthood would mean. But, strangely enough, no amount of preparation seemed to have equipped us for how we would feel about having a small baby in our hands who was wholly dependent upon us for life, love and survival.
Yet, this is exactly how Jesus wants us to offer ourselves to him – as insignificant and as vulnerable as children, wholly/totally dependent on him. We are to have a simplistic, child like faith. But being childlike is not about suppressing our enthusiasm and enjoyment of life. It is childlike faith, not a childish faith.
The little boy was willing to share what little he had and five loaves and two fish were enough for Jesus to work with. After giving thanks to God, he shared the loaves and fish with the disciples and begins to feed the 5000. Incidentally, this number of 5000 doesn’t include women and children.
But why did Jesus perform this miracle? Mark, Matthew, and Luke all begin their account of this miracle by saying when Jesus saw the crowd he had compassion and care for them. Which is quite amazing given that the reason Jesus had retreated in the first place was because he’d heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, had just been beheaded by King Herod.
But what Jesus did, from the time he first saw them, the teaching, the healing, and the feeding, showed that compassion, and showed that care.
He never said he was too busy. He never complained that they had interrupted him, he never said he wasn’t a miracle worker, he loved them and served them. A great example to us.
Not only was there plenty of food for everyone there was even 12 baskets left over – more than there was to start with. One for each doubting disciple!
Jesus needs no more than who we are and what we have. He doesn’t ask us to be what we are not, but he does expect us to offer what we have. There’s no situation beyond his power – so don’t hold back whatever little we have to offer – our equivalents of bread and fish for him to transform. No matter what difficulties face us as individuals/church, Jesus knows the way forward.
This miracle shows us that on our own we may not be able to do amazing things, but by giving what we have to Jesus, by doing what we can and by being obedient we can be involved in wonderful things.
The little boy shared what he had and everyone was fed. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do and everyone was fed. Jesus prayed to the Father and everyone was fed. There was a working together and they achieved a much more than they could have done on their own – but that’s only true if each of us are doing the best we can with what we have to offer!
Prayer: HF WTY that we have so much to be thankful for. WTY that you give us so many good things. WTY that when we give ourselves, and what we have to you, you make it so much better. Help us to care as you care, and to share as you share – so we can do wonderful things together. We pray in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.