"5,000 Too Many"
A Sermon By:
David D. McDonald
Texts: Psalm 17: 1-7, 15
Matthew 14: 13-21
August 9, 2020
NRSV Psalm 17:1-7, 15
1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
NRSV Matthew 14:13-21
13Now 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. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When 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.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then 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. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Five loaves and two fish might provide dinner for twelve hungry men, but the crowds would make 5, 000 too many. They want enough food for themselves. They had given up everything to follow Jesus and these crowds, what had they given up? They knew that at any moment, they might need to defend Jesus from the Romans or radical Jewish leaders. The potential for an ambush was everywhere!
Think about the context of this passage in Matthew’s Gospel. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus had just been beheaded in prison. Why? John had dared to call the relationship between the king and Herodias adulterous and sinful. Herodias was a mean-spirited, vengeful, conniving soul. That would not have made the anguish of Jesus any less. It would not alter the destiny of Jesus to die on the cross.
Don’t you think the multitudes should have been caring for Jesus? His cousin had just been executed by Herod. Jesus should have been the one being consoled. The disciples, no doubt felt that Jesus should have been left alone to grieve and pray. Isn’t it possible that's why he went to a deserted place? Surely, Christ’s heart ached as would any of ours hearts ache when a tragedy occurs in the family. Jesus needed time with his heavenly father to be renewed, refreshed, and encouraged. That was not to be. The crowds were beating a path to Jesus. How could he possibly endure to the face of this pressure? How could Jesus show compassion to the multitudes when his heart ached? How could Jesus keep the pace and not falter? Clearly, there were 5,000 too many souls with too many problems for one man to pay attention and meet all their needs! How could Jesus bear the constant demands, the unrealistic expectations and not blurt out in frustration to his next visitor, “WHAT NOW?"
“In 1973 the science fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin wrote The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and won a Hugo Award for the best science fiction story of the year. The story concerned the magical city of Omelas, where all lived charmed lives, safe from danger, free from want.
But there was a price for this security; a child was isolated and imprisoned, ill-fed and ill-clothed. Moreover, the residents of Omelas had to walk by the cell where the child was kept once a year and see this for themselves.
How absurd! Who could live with themselves, and stay happy, if their prosperity depended on the suffering of others, especially children?... … when we witness the suffering of others and as a result make changes in our lives and in other lives in the name of Jesus, at the command of Jesus. When we realize we don’t need a miracle, we don’t need Jesus to feed the multitudes, because we have the power to do so if we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary, we too enter into a place that most people cannot imagine – the kingdom of God.” (M.A.M., 8/3/14)
– Frank Ramirez
There is something driving Jesus. There is something giving Him that inner reserve of strength sufficient to meet the challenges of the day. There is something which this man possessed that kept him from corning apart at the seams and allowed him to maintain his composure even while the rest of the world seemed to be losing it. There is a focal point for Jesus that gave him his game plan, his determination, his courage, as well as his compassion, c, Jesus knows why he is there in a deserted place with a multitude of hurting souls. The place may be a deserted space, but it is very much occupied. Where Jesus is; there the power of God is found to be. What Jesus most clearly possessed day in and day out was what others had possessed only intermittently - a vision.
* Abraham had it when he .journeyed out of Ur.
* Moses had it when he led a multitude of slaves out of Egypt.
* Joshua had it when he entered the promise land and overthrew Jericho and a whole host of other Canaanite cities.
* Deborah, the judge had it when the people of Israel were threatened by the Canaanites.
* King David, had it when Saul anointed him.
* Solomon had it- when he commissioned architects and craftsmen to build the temple.
* Peter had it when he went to bring the news to the gentile, Cornelius.
* Paul had it when he journeyed to Ephesus and Corinth and Galatia and other cities too numerous to mention.
Mother Theresa had it in Calcutta.
Albert Schweitzer had it in Africa.
Our list could go on and on and on like the toy rabbit beating the drum in the commercial. When people have vision they can accomplish whatever the Lord requires. That is what this story is about. On the surface, there seems to be little to signal the presence of God:
+ The people are ill and far from home.
+ The Lord is grieving.
+ The disciples are tired.
+ The supplies are non-existence.
What the disciples see and I expect any of us would see is a crowd of 5,000 demanding and expecting too much!
However, there is more then enough. One commentator writes:
“Today’s Gospel reading is a familiar one where Jesus feeds 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. In fact, it’s one of the few stories about Jesus that makes it into all four Gospel accounts of his life. There are some parts that vary with each story, but overall the story is the same. That tells us that this event was pivotal to Jesus’ followers and contains a message that is so important we still need to hear it today. … What this story really illustrates is Jesus’ power to take even our smallest gifts and infinitely multiply them with more than enough left over.
Jesus tells the disciples to bring the meager gift of five loaves and two fishes to him. The disciples were dubious about whether the small amount of food would feed such a large crowd, but Jesus knew that it wasn’t the size of the gift that mattered. What matters is the giving.” (M.A.M. July 31, 2011)
The only things they seem to have are five loaves, two fish, and a man with a vision that has dedicated his life to saving the world by giving his life away. That, of course, is all that is needed. That is all we ever need. God supplies and then multiplies. The rest seems to be limited only by vision. We can never underestimate the power of a vision.
Someone has noted the following about the nature of vision.
First, let us note that, "A vision without a task is a dream..”
(1) Many of us have—dreams all the time. We dream of winning the lottery or being awarded the Publisher's Clearing House top prize of $5,000/week for life. We might dream of winning the Olympic marathon or kicking the winning field goal in a Superbowl. We might dream of writing a feature story for Southern Living. Our dream might be an Odyssey into deep space or a dive for sunken treasure. Without a task these will remain only dreams.
The Virginia state legislature was very surprised in the early days of its experiment with the lottery when a group of people made it their task to win the lottery and practically guaranteed their winning by buying a large block of tickets by means of electronic wizardry. The world stood in awe years ago on the eve of the Olympics, when Joan Benoit made it her task to win the marathon and overcame a whole host of obstacles including knee surgery 3 weeks before the Olympic trials. You and I could site numerous occasions when a person or people made a task of their dream and it becomes a compelling vision.
It is clear that the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a miracle. It is not; however, a story of a man who used a magic God button at every opportunity. Quite the contrary; this is a story of the man Jesus who was the visible, physical, presence of God. This was a man who gave up his privacy for God. This was a man who lived in the wilderness for 40 days and stood head to head with evil incarnate. This is the man who stayed awake in the garden and dozens of other places shaping the vision which God had entrusted into his hands. Ultimately, this was the man who withstood the agony of flogging and crucifixion that God’s vision be formed in earthen vessels. Jesus came with a vision, but he also came with a task.
(2) Secondly, we note that, "A task without a vision is drudgery. (2) Bathing starving, disease ridden, stinking human flesh is drudgery unless one is Mother Theresa in :Calcutta and .the ...reason you are there is because that's "where God told you to be. Who knows why? Who cares why? Answers will never be found, only a vision.
— Sailing in a small wooden vessel, being shipwrecked, bitten by vipers and being stoned is nothing but pain, , heartache and drudgery unless you are Paul and God has closed all other doors and this journey is your calling. Who knows why? Who cares why? This was Paul's calling.
Washing the dishes every morning, dressing the kids for school, going to work every day, doing the laundry, putting up with squabbling family members, living with the monthly bills can be sheer drudgery unless there is a vision. If a shape cannot be given to the family with not only tasks, but things to look forward toward and dreams to be reached, then the drudgery will remain. For Jesus the crowds were his family. He looked around him and called them mother and father, brother and sister. He had compassion upon them, sat with them, broke bread with them and then gave them food for the journey. He called them to be more than strangers in a deserted place; he sat them down on the grass and then spread a feast before them. It was like going to one of those grand covered dish picnics after church where everyone who goes is filled, friendships renewed, and a sense that God was in that place. Some may not have sensed it, but if one listened to the words of the disciples and the chatter of the people then the vision could be seen taking shape.
Let us be honest. Many of the tasks which the church has can be labeled - drudgery. Mowing grass is hot, dirty work. Vacuuming thousands of square feet of floor space is enough to make anyone's back ache. Washing and waxing floors, cleaning kitchen sinks, cleaning toilets, washing windows and a whole host of other tasks too numerous to mention are laborious work. Teaching Sunday School, serving as Youth Advisors, serving on Session, moderating Presbyterian Women or Presbyterian Men is time consuming, requires preparation, and demands patience. Without a vision the task can be drudgery.
(3)We must conclude then that, "A Vision with a task is the hope of the world." That is the way Jesus saw his work. He knew that the hope of the world rested upon the cross and the resurrection. Paul knew that the voice of Christ remained alive in the world wherever he carried it. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, the passage concludes with 12 baskets of food remaining. There was a basket for each disciple. Whether the tale of this feast remained only a story or was carried over to another day remained in the hands of the disciples. It has been said that the Christian faith is always and has always been one generation away from extinction. If we lose sight of the vision or let our tasks become only drudgery then there is no hope.
Jesus, are you talking to us? The disciples want to send the people away. Jesus commands them to feed the people. How much more must the disciples do to prove to Jesus that they are utterly unable to perform up to his demands?
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them to me,” he said. And then Jesus directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied.
Consider the following story that William Willimon tells:
So I walked into a church in the inner-city. This church serves breakfast every morning of the week to people who are homeless. There they are, serving breakfast to around 150 of the homeless every day. Other churches pitch in to help them with this task. Still I’m surprised, when I walk in one morning and glance in the kitchen and see a man whom I had met elsewhere. I recognized him as a member of one of our city’s most affluent congregations. I spoke to him and he, looking up from the dishwater, spoke to me. I thought it was rather remarkable having a man like him, from a church like his, there, washing the dirty dishes of homeless people.
So I attempted to engage him in conversation. “I think it is great that you are here,” I said.
“I am glad that you think it is great,” he mumbled as he continued in his work.
“I am curious, have you always enjoyed ministry to the homeless?” I asked.
“Who said that I enjoyed this?” he replied. “Frankly, I mostly can’t stand the homeless people that I’ve met here.”
“Really?” I said.
“Have you sat down and talked with our guests here? A lot of them are homeless for a reason. A lot of them are half crazy,” he continued.
“Well I guess that makes it all the more remarkable that you are here, washing dishes for the homeless,” I said. “Why are you here?”
He looked up from his work at the sink, and said to me, with a tone of exasperation in his voice, “Because Jesus put me here. That’s why.” Then he continued in his work.
It’s a heck of a way to get the job done, but it’s uniquely Jesus’ way.” (P.R. 8/3/14) W. Willimon
God often takes a church faced with an overwhelming array of tasks, facing a community with an overwhelming array of needs; to do a job that none of us can do alone. Yet, somehow with the Lord’s help things get done and it is enough, even when there are 5,000 too many mouths to feed.