Proper 13: Isaiah 55.1-5; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all
good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in
us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great
mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
DO WE think of Jesus having a row? He needed space to grieve
over the execution of his cousin, but the crowds would not leave
him alone, and compassion got the better of him. That resulted in a
food shortage. The disciples suggested: "Get rid of the problem -
send people away to fend for themselves," but Jesus expected them
to come up with food, and sat the crowd down. Everyone was
watching, and there was no escape for the disciples.
We know the rest. Jesus took the bread and fish, looked up to
heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the
disciples for distribution. He did the same at the Last Supper. We
do it week by week. This alfresco meal was a foretaste of heaven's
banquet, could people but see it. Because it was a heavenly meal,
there was more than enough - 12 full baskets left over. God is a
God of abundance.
Jesus could have fed the people himself. Instead, he threw the
situation to the disciples, who could see the problem all too well.
The Church's vocation is to be so closely involved with our broken
world that we know what is going on, and articulate the needs to
God. Even then, we cannot just dump the solution on to Jesus; the
disciples had to do something about it with their measly
How often Jesus seems to break what we offer him, and then give
it away to others. Then he wanted the left-overs to be collected.
With God, the author and giver of all good things, nothing is
wasted or too scrappy to be collected up and celebrated as a sign
of God's abundance.
This story has six potential endings, each of which sees it
differently. It could conclude with the disciples' giving food to
the crowds, but it goes on "and all ate and were filled". Then "and
they took up what was left over of the broken pieces", then "twelve
baskets full"; "and those who ate were about five thousand men";
and, finally, "besides women and children".
Matthew's extra details move this from being a story about
meeting an immediate need to one where there is not just enough,
but more than enough. There was overflow for others not present,
and we never know who ate the leftovers.
This has implications for our celebration of the eucharist.
Jesus's actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread
are not in the context of a meal with friends, but the overwhelming
needs of a very large crowd. He expected the disciples to find the
resources to meet that need, which they did - to their own surprise
- by bringing the five loaves and two fish that they could
Eucharist is about God's generous love for this world. There can
be no celebration of holy eucharist without prayers for God's
world, for the crucial theological reason that our sharing in the
heavenly banquet can never be divorced from our sharing in the life
of the world, with its needs and confusions.
Eucharist is the foretaste, the anticipation, of God's Kingdom
come on earth as it is in heaven. So, in the eucharistic prayers,
we pray, for example: "Lord of all life, help us to work together
for that day when your Kingdom comes, and justice and mercy will be
seen in all the earth." Eucharist is about justice and mercy,
because our communion is with Christ, who makes his communion with
people in need.
We pray to be nourished with all goodness, a vivid image; and
then, at the end of every eucharist, we commit ourselves to serve
Christ in this world: "Send us out in the power of your Spirit to
live and work to your praise and glory;" "May we who share Christ's
body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to
others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world."
If we do that, then Isaiah's prophetic vision of the thirsty,
poor, and hungry delighting in rich food can begin to become
reality in our corner of the world. Only those adjusted to a
healthy diet can cope with rich food: it is not occasional
emergency hand-outs, but regular, healthy food for everyone that is
God's vision for the world, of which the eucharist is foretaste and