The holy gospel according to Matthew, the 14th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
13 Now when Jesus heard (about the death of John the Baptist), 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 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the last three weeks, Jesus has been telling us parables. He has been teaching us what life is like in the Commonwealth of God, that is, when God is in charge. And things are the way they ought to be.
We learned that we are to be good soil, receptive to God’s word. We heard that we are not to judge whether others are good or bad, as we are all saints and sinners. We heard that we are to grow in our faith and behave as mature Christians.
This week, Jesus doesn’t teach with parables. He shows us by example what life looks like in the Commonwealth of God. In this case, he contrasts the commonwealth of God with the Roman Empire.
People often ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” Those WWJD bracelets used to be very popular. In this story, Jesus shows us just what the Son of God would do.
The empire has just assassinated John the Baptist for being a prophet, for speaking truth to power. For telling Herod that he shouldn’t be living with his brother’s wife.
Jesus needed some time to get away, some time to grieve the loss of his cousin and friend. He took a small boat out on the lake for a few hours. This is the first thing Jesus shows us. He shows us that when we are grieving, when we need time alone, it is OK to take that time for ourselves.
Sometimes life is overwhelming. The empire of this world tells us we should have our lives together at all times. That we should be able to move through troubled times quickly so that we don’t inconvenience our friends and acquaintances with our grief or sadness. The empire of this world tells us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and get on with life.
Jesus tells us that in God’s commonwealth, it is good to take the time to get away. Go for a nice quiet boat ride. Spend some time in prayer. Jesus says it isn’t selfish to take the time you need to heal or to take the time you need to refresh your soul.
The other side of the lake was a wilderness area. It probably looked like the side of our ridges outside of town in the upper or lower valley, dry grassy hills looking down on a body of water. The geography is important in this story.
Because, when you hear that someone in the Bible is in a wilderness, you know something important is going to happen. You see, the word “wilderness” in Hebrew actually means, “the place where God speaks.”
In the time of the Exodus, Moses led the people through the wilderness to the promised land. The crowds were hungry, but God gave them manna to eat. They called it the bread of the angels, the bread from heaven.
After his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days. One of the temptations there was to make bread for himself to eat. He didn’t succumb to that temptation, though. He didn’t make bread just for himself.
In today’s reading, we hear that Jesus didn’t get much time alone. The crowds went around the lake on foot. They got to the other side before he did. There was a huge group of people waiting for Jesus on the other side of the lake.
Life in the empire of this world is like that sometimes. We don’t always get all the rest we need. Sometimes we end up in the wilderness with a bunch of people who need us to do something for them.
Here’s the second thing Jesus shows us. He has compassion for the crowd. He cured all the sick people. Did you hear that? All the sick people. He didn’t ask who had money or who could afford to pay for medicine. He didn’t ask who was injured on the job. He didn’t ask who had a pre-existing condition. He didn’t ask who was a Jew or who was a gentile. He didn’t ask about their ages or their genders or their marital status. He didn’t ask who was employed and who was retired.
Jesus didn’t complain about the hard week he had or how exhausted he was. Jesus had compassion for all of them. He healed all of them. Because in the Commonwealth of God, everybody who needs health care, gets health care.
By the time Jesus had healed the people, it was getting late. The disciples wanted to send everyone home. We can’t really blame the disciples. It was a logical conclusion. They were out in the middle of nowhere. There was a huge crowd. Nobody had planned for any of this. They were supposed to have been on a little retreat, just Jesus and the 12 of them.
They were in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness. Their resources seemed quite limited. A few loaves and a couple of fish. Barely enough for each of them to have a small sandwich, much less feed thousands of people.
So the disciples acted like people act when they fear that their resources are limited. They try to send needy people away. They try to tell the hungry ones to go get their own food.
But they were in the wilderness, the place where God speaks. Something important is going to happen in this wilderness.
Here is the third thing Jesus shows us. In the commonwealth of God, everybody gets enough to eat and there are leftovers. Jesus took what they had, gave thanks, and trusted God to do the rest. In the commonwealth of God there is always an abundance.
The empire of this world might tell the disciples to auction off the loaves and fish to the highest bidder so that the rich have plenty and the poor go hungry. The empire of this world might tell them that the ones who can afford to buy bread should go buy it, and that the rest of them should have gone to work today instead of following Jesus around the lake looking for a handout.
Jesus isn’t part of the empire of this world. He proclaims the commonwealth of God. When we live in the Commonwealth of God, we have more than enough to share.
Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus tells us that, too. He reminds us that he doesn’t just care about our spiritual health. He cares about the health and nourishment of our physical bodies.
Jesus gives us bread every week to share. There is always enough. There are always leftovers. When Jesus is around, there is no scarcity, there is only abundance.
Jesus gives us his very own self. His very own body is the bread of heaven. He comes to be with us personally in this meal. We only get a small taste, but, when you eat this bread of heaven, it is enough. You will be healed. You will be fed. And there will always be enough to share with the neighbors.
You might have spent some time in the wilderness this week. You might have needed some time to get away. You might need to take time for yourself for prayer and healing.
God speaks to you in your wilderness. Jesus says that in the commonwealth of God, there is always time to get away and pray.
There are always opportunities to show compassion.
In God’s commonwealth, everyone will be healed.
Everyone will have enough to eat, and more than enough to share.
Today, Jesus comes to us, here in our wilderness, and gives us bread.