Barley bread and the best from the rest of us

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Today, we are moving on from Romans and back to the Gospels, and will be taking a few weeks to look at the life of Jesus.

Today, we’ll be reading from Matthew 14:13-31

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

A familiar story

We’ve all read this story before, and chances are, if you’ve ever been part of a Bible study, Sunday school class, or VBS, you’ve studied the story.

It’s a feel good story. If it was around at the time, this would have been turned into a lifetime special.

It involves children, food, and miracles.

How can this not be good?

So…What’s going on here?

Most of us know the specifics of the story.

We know that Jesus, tired and wanting a break from the continual pushing and emotional pressure from ministry and the ever-present crowds, got in a boat and attempted to sail across the lake and find peace and recharge.

But why leave now? What is driving Jesus towards solitude? This is a question we often breeze though, however there is depth here that must be named before we move on.

If you read the chapter immediately prior to this, you’ll read in Matthew 14:3-12…

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Jesus isn’t just trying to take a break from the daily grind…

The overwhelming probability is that Jesus is in mourning. He is mourning the loss of his cousin. He is mourning the loss of a powerful ally and voice within the same movement.

And so Jesus draws away.

It had to have taken a toll on Jesus, at the least taken him a moment to regroup, after hearing about the murder of John, by Herod, at the request of Herodotus.

But it’s not just about John.

While John’s death is significant, it’s just one note in a symphony that is growing more and more dark, and one that is inevitably leading Jesus to the cross.

It’s almost palpable.

We can sense it all around Jesus and his disciples.

There has been a tangible shift in the ministry of Jesus and how he is being perceived by those around him.

The Honeymoon is over.

During the early ministry of Jesus We see Jesus being received in joy by the people. This was the honeymoon period. The period when he’s giving free wine to people.

Who wouldn’t like him?

Current to this story: We see people, especially the religious institution, becoming increasingly hostile and resistant to Jesus and his teaching. They scheme and plot for his death. They argue with him, and call him names. They question his authority, and his spiritual standing.

Still the crowds came

And Jesus sailed across the waters.

Hoping to find empty beaches ringing with the sounds of solitude, he found people. The crowd having run ahead of Jesus, were there waiting for him when he arrived.

Take a moment and imagine being Jesus.

While Jesus was 100% divine, he was also 100% human.

This was a man filled with emotional connections. In the Bible, we’re told that he felt all that we feel, and dealt with all we deal with. His earthly experience was filled with all the emotions and baggage we all deal with. He just moved through it all perfectly.

Placing myself in Jesus’ shoes, I would surely have been frustrated to the point of furious.

I would have asked, “why can’t I have a moment alone?”

“Can they be so selfish that they don’t realize what I’m dealing with?”

Each of these responses would have been reasonable, and would have been, possibly, in the right.

But Jesus never blinked.

It’s always, only, about others.

The scene has been set:

Jesus is surrounded by 5,000 men, plus an unknown number of women and children. While nobody knows for sure how many where there that day, this was a crowd numbering in the thousands.

All are tired and hungry, but none have a bite to eat…and there are no reasonable places in which they can hope to find food.

Not wanting to deal with the situation at hand, the disciples speak to Jesus first. They say, “Jesus, really, it’s late. We’re tired, you’re tired. We’re all hungry.”

“Let’s send the people away,” the disciples say.

At this point in the passage, they were in the middle of nowhere. The only cities in the area were small, wall-less settlements that would be completely unable to handle the crowd standing in front of them.

Yet they still asked Jesus to make it the crowd’s problem to solve.

 

But Jesus, filled with compassion, was having none of that.

He passed the problem back to the disciples. He says, no, we’re no sending them away. Instead, he says, you figure out how to feed them.

In this interaction, Jesus is saying, no, you can’t dismiss the need that is staring you in the face. He is telling them, sure, this isn’t convenient. It’s not how we drew it up, but here they stand. Here they are. Men, women and children who all have needs for sustenance and no way to fill this need.

We’re not sending the poor to be taken care of by the poor.

No, you and I…we’re going to deal with this together.

And in this moment, Jesus is placing the responsibility of the people on the shoulders of his disciples to see what food they are willing to provide.

I wonder if he is hoping they will remember back to the miracle of Cana and hoping they see the possibility of Heaven and Earth touching. Maybe Jesus is hoping that they ask Him, in faith, to meet the need that they so obviously cannot meet on their own.

But they were unable to see the potential for a Kingdom moment.

So Jesus met the need, using what was present and available.

These loaves presented to Jesus where not the artisan bread we’re used to seeing. This bread was made of barley. It was cheap and it was knowng for being coarse.

This was the bread of the poor, and where the disciples saw limits and inconveniences, Jesus saw a feast.five-loaves-two-fishes2

So we see Jesus, in the midst of his pain, and in the midst of his sadness, blessing and creating a meal for those who were looking for love.

He broke bread with the people around them, and took the little they had, and out of it, created abundance.

This is passage has an obvious connection with the Eucharist.

In this passage, we see the message that the Messiah’s supply is so lavish that even the scraps of his provision are enough to supply the needs of all who are hungry.

That the belief that we must have the best to offer is a fallacy.

Christ will take our Ramen noodles and create a feast worthy of a king. Because, after all, Communion has nothing to do with us, does it?

It’s always about Christ- pointing each of us towards him and his sacrifice- and it’s a reminder that we’re there, poor, hungry and without a penny to our name, and we are, by his hands, fed.

This isn’t a feast for the kings, for the elite, for the 1%. Rather, it’s a feast for all of us.

A feast and the beauty of communion with our savior.

The leftovers

When it comes to the Kingdom life, when Christ asks us to follow him, and when he asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our plans, our opinions, and our will, often we believe that it will take all we have and leave us with nothing.

Who are we if we lose ourselves?

However, when we sit at the table, and when we make the focus of our attention the bread of life, we realize that after all is said and done, we’re left with more than we ever could have imagined.

We’re left with more love.

More joy.

More peace and patience.

More concern.

More humility, and a deeper drive for justice within the world around us.

To feast at the table means that we’re all equals, and that we’re all driven by the same goal; to participate in the redemption of the world.

When we’re at the table, the best we can offer, our barley bread, is taken, broken, and with it Christ feeds the world around us.

Thanks be to God.

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