A Provocation: Ninth Sunday After Pentecost: August 6, 2017: Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
14:13 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.

14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

14:15 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.”

14:16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

14:17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

14:18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

14:19 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.

14:20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

A Question or Two:

  • Why did the crowd not make provision for meals?
  • What does that do to the feeling of this story?

Some Longer Reflections:

A short note: the disciples have confidence in the ability of the people in the crowd to take care of themselves.  They advise sending them into the towns around the area to look for food.  The disciples expect that the crowd has resources, both monetary and logistical, that will allow them to find food, and they further imagine that the people in the surrounding towns can be counted on to be hospitable and generous.

This is important to notice.  They don’t sit around whining and waiting for miracles when there are problems to be solved  I admire such directness and practicality.  And I respect the faith that lies behind it.  The disciples expect that things can be made to work  I think that they usually are correct.

Another thing to notice: Jesus does not (in Matthew’s telling of this story)  express concern about the crowd’s ability, or their infirmity, or the scarcity of resources.  He just tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves.

Think carefully about this.  Is Jesus staging a demonstration miracle so that the crowd (or the disciples?) would see that he had extraordinary power?  Some interpreters take this line, but it seems to me that, if that were the point, Jesus would have said, “I will give them something to eat.”  He does not.  He says, “You feed them.”

Does Jesus want to throw the disciples into an impossible situation so that they realize, without Jesus having to say it, that he is a Grade A miracle worker?  I suppose this is possible, but I’m pretty sure that I won’t like the theology that emerges from such a passive-aggressive beginning.

I do not know why Jesus says and does what he does.

But I think that the disciples’ response is interesting.  Their first words are, “We have nothing….”  some commentators seem to have read no further, and make fun of the disciples’ idea that they have nothing when they are in the company of the Messiah, for Pete’s sake.

Don’t go there.

What I notice these days is that the disciples say, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

The most important word just might be “but.”

The disciples have a clear view of their actual resources, limited though they might be.  What they have, they know they have.

It turns out that this was enough.  It turns out that there was a great deal left over.

And it was the disciples who passed the food out. And it was the disciples who picked up the scraps.

This matters.  From the way the story is told, I have to assume that, if you asked a person in the crowd what just happened, she would say that the disciples gave them food.  And Jesus healed people and blessed the food.  But the disciples fed the crowd.

Which is exactly what Jesus said they should do.

I suppose there is a sermon sitting there, waiting for you to ask her to dance.  I suppose so.

But what I notice right now is that neither Jesus nor the storyteller scolds the disciples for knowing the exact state of their resources.  They knew what they had, and they knew what they didn’t have.  They trusted the people in the crowd to be able to feed themselves, and they also trusted Jesus when he told them to start handing out the food.

And it was enough.  More than enough, in fact.

That is worth thinking about.

2 thoughts on “A Provocation: Ninth Sunday After Pentecost: August 6, 2017: Matthew 14:13-21

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