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. And all ate and were filled. (Matthew 14:19-20a)
So you stand in front of the refrigerator at 8:00 at night with the door open. You had an early supper around 4:15 PM and you are hungry. As you open the door and look through the shelves, what are the leftovers you are hoping to find? [Congregational responses … pizza, watermelon, hummus, jerky, desserts] Personally, I look for lasagna. It is always better the second day, I think. The oither thing about pasta is that it seems to multiply overnight. You put it in the frig and the next day it seems like there is more than what you started with.
Today we talk about hunger,too. Turn if you would to the Gospel lesson in your bulletin, and read verse 20 with me aloud — And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
Our Gospel Lesson today is about food that multiplies. The bread and fish that Jesus blesses for the crowds who gather to be fed. It is a very familiar story. We read it every year from one of our four Gospels. We have become comfortable with the idea of Jesus providing this miraculous meal of food. Maybe too familiar. And it invites us to voice our preaching question, “How Hungry are You?” The reality is that most of us are rarely hunger, unless it is by choice. But statistics show that obne our of every nine people in the world are chronically hungry. Today’s lesson is one that deals with the most basic level of our hunger … our physical nourishment. But of course, you are hungry for more than that.
Another story … In my pastor’s letter in the June Herald I noted one of the books on my summer reading list, The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us, by Bruce Feiler. (It is a great book that I would highly recommend.) I referenced a short section of that books two Sundays ago in my sermon, and one of the worshipers that day tracked down Bruce Feiler in a TED talk from a bout seven years ago. In that TED talk Feiler spoke about his diagnosis a few years back with a rare form of osteosarcoma. He faced a long road of recovery, and at his lowest moments during that time he found one important thing to be true, and I quote Feiler here … “When I felt the least human, people were drawn to me in the most human way.
Please turn to verse 14 in today’s Gospel Lesson and read along with me aloud — When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
As a lead-in to this miraculous feeding story, we hear about Jesus’ compassion for those who came to him with deeper needs. Sickness is noted specifically. But what Jesus embodies here is a spirit of feeding that moves deeper than physical, bodily needs. Jesus ministry seeks to feed the emptiness that lies within us that food does not touch. In this Jesus reminds us that when we answer the question “How Hungry are You?” we will speak of things that ordinary food will never touch.
One final illustration. And to set the stage for it, I will ask you to turn to the first verse in our Gospel Lesson, verse 13, and read along with me — Now when Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
Our story geins not with an identification of the kind of hunger that bread and fish can salve, but a deeper hunger that wants to defy all offerings of sustenance. As we read these opening words of our lesson, we should naturally be transported back to a part of Matthew’s Gospel that is ten chapters earlier than today’s lesson. We return back to the fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Do you remember what story we find there? A story that could easily be defined as the start of Jesus’ public ministry … the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. There too, we see Jesus struggle with the kinds of issues that haunt us in the darkest of our days on earth. Those things that allow despair to knock on the door of our hearts and souls. The loss of a loved one … a life threatening illness … the loss of a job and the sustenance it provides … utter loneliness … a family tragedy.
This feeding miracle touches the human sustenance that the crowds experience. But the circumstances that drive Jesus out into the wilderness point us to a deeper reality. The wilderness is always a place where spiritual depth compels us to look at life with new eyes and a more nuanced heart. Jesus may use the bread and fish to get the attention of those who have gathered around him, but it is primarily a vehicle to a deeper hunger … a more insidious hunger … a hunger that food alone cannot touch.
As we engage again this very familiar story, and relive the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish, remember that God intends to fill a much deeper hunger and yearning within you. How hungry are you? … and for what do you hunger?