Note: Due to the Sunday scheduling of the Transfiguration in 2023, Pentecost 10 which would have had the “Feeding of the 5,000” was not heard. Here is a commentary on the lectionary for that week
I.Theme – God cares for his creation
"Christ Feeding the 5000" – Eric Feather
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Our readings this week continue to show how much God cares for His creation. We read about lives changed forever. We hear about the innocent people suffering but also that God understands. God even shows His love for those who disobey Him and turn away from Him. We see that God wants to bless His people and we see that come about with miracles taking place and people being blessed.
We are an open church – we welcome everyone to share in our community:
– even the Babylonians and Persians in Isaiah
– Jews who question the falling away of the Christ movement in Paul
– Those who wanted to cast away the people in the Gospel for a lack of food
The Psalm demonstrates the actions of the Lord – the Lord “raises,” “gives,” “fulfills,” “hears,” and “watches.”
This week has the only parable contained in all four Gospels – the feeding of the 5,000. Ironically the emphasis of the event is not so much upon the miraculous nature of the feeding, for the usual reference to the astonishment of the disciples and crowd (12:23, 14:33) is absent, as it is upon the implied revelation of who Jesus is.
At the beginning of the passage, Jesus had retreated on news of John the Baptist death
"This passage shows so beautifully the humanity and divinity of Jesus." writes Rick Morley
"He could have sent them away. He could have told them all what had happened to John. He could have just cried and yelled and screamed. He could have gotten into the boat, conjured up a good storm and been done with them all.
But, he was moved with compassion. He always is. He was able to see beyond his own pain, and feel the pain they were bringing."
For the early Church, the eucharistic significance of the feeding of the 5,000 made it a central experience in the narratives of Jesus’ ministry
The key acts are all there :
1. Jesus takes the food which is an offering – we give what we have.
2. Jesus blesses the food by giving thanks. Our liturgy thanks God on behalf of creation, humanity, and the Church. In our lives we struggle to relearn the natural prayer of our childhood, when we woke each morning with wonder and gratitude in our heart.
3. Jesus breaks the bread. In church, the breaking of the eucharistic bread may help us recall Christ’s sacrifice and death. In our lives, it is our very selves we are challenged to break—our limits of prejudices, fears, and old attitudes. God calls us to break through to a new awareness of the power of God’s love and of the needs of our brothers and sisters.
4. He shares with all as we extend his ministry to the world.
This is the truth in which Paul exults when he proclaims that nothing, not our fears, not our sins, not the crushing powers of this world or any other can keep us apart from the love of God shown us in Jesus our lord. Our lives are broken, but we are loved forever.
Old Testament – Isaiah 55:1-5
This chapter concludes a section of the book called Second Isaiah by many scholars. It was written during the Exile of the people of Israel from their homeland. They had refused to obey God’s laws and now they were suffering the consequences of their actions. God had allowed the Assyrian army to be his instrument of reprimand. Their land had been conquered and they had been taken prisoner in Babylon for seventy years. These people were strangers in a strange land, separated from their homeland by hundreds of miles of wilderness.
Now, Babylon fell to the Persians. This section began with Chapter 40, and key themes presented there are repeated here: the way of the Lord, calling the people to enjoy God’s gifts, a new deliverance, the word of the Lord, the king, heaven and earth, God’s relationship with Israel, forgiveness, and the participation of other nations.
The vision that the prophet paints in Isaiah 55:1-5 serves as an antidote to this idolatry. The text opens with a series of imperatives: Come. Buy. Eat. Listen. Delight. Behold. The list is truly impressive. Note that the vision set out here is not optional. It is imperative.
Vv. 1-3 invite all who thirst for God (even the impoverished) to join in his freely-given banquet at the end of time. The meal symbolizes God’s love, his abundance. Recall other banquets:
in Egypt, after a plague killed every first-born son but passed over (did not afflict) Israelite sons; and after Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai.
Here the banquet is for “everyone”. The economy of the promise here reiterated is built not upon the scarcity of exile but upon God’s abundance.
The invitation begins with references to the material: water, wine, milk, bread. These bodily needs are provided. The Lord asks the question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2). The food is both invaluable (“without price”) and cannot be bought (“without money”). The outrageous abundance promised opens the way for hearing the promise of a renewed covenant — an everlasting covenant.
God made an “everlasting covenant” (v. 3) with David, making him a great leader and guaranteeing him an enduring line of successors; now this greatness is transferred to Israel (“you”), so that they “may live”, i.e. see the promises of long ago fulfilled now and in the future. Now nations who neither know Israel nor are known to her will come seeking Israel’s “ LORD” (v. 5). All may now “seek the LORD” (v. 6), turn humbly to him, not only in the Temple but wherever he may be found, for “he is near”.
The invitation to share in the life of this new community is even extended to evildoers who repent and “return to the Lord” (v. 7), for they will be pardoned. God may be “near” but he is transcendent, sufficiently removed not to be contaminated by human sin. His ways are beyond human comprehension (vv. 8-9). Vv. 10-11 say that God’s word comes gently from him, to permeate the earth and return to him, mission done. His spirit, infused in humans, brings in them godliness, success in furthering God’s plan. Vv. 12-13 say that sin will be abolished; all the world will recognize God; creation will be renewed, and all will rejoice. This will be an “everlasting sign” of God’s love.
This is a hymn summarizing the characteristics of God. This is the last psalm that has David’s name linked to it and the title, “A psalm of praise” is used only for this one. This hymn is categorised by praise not thanksgiving or even prayer. It’s set apart for a specific purpose, much like Psalm 86 is referred to as “A prayer of David”. . According to the ancient Israelites, those who recited this psalm twice in the morning and once in the evening, a person who sang this psalm out loud three different times during the day would be “happy”.
It is in acrostic form, making it easy to memorize: each verse in Hebrew begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. Vv. 1-3 are the psalmist’s personal expression of praise. In v. 4, he expands to speaking of descendants, of passing on knowledge and experience of God. God is known for his “wondrous works” (v. 5). In vv. 8-20, he expands still further, to “all people” (v. 12). Vv. 8-9 mention his love, vv. 10-13a his kingship over all, vv. 14-20 of his care of all in need. Responsiveness to his call brings protection (v. 20a) but those who oppose his ways will be destroyed. Finally, v. 21 combines the personal commitment to God with that of “all flesh”.
On one level, the language of Psalm 145 is straightforward and simple. The words, “The Lord is,” occur five times, and their object is usually “all” or “every” of some category, for example, “all who are falling” (verse 14). Another type of statement predicates actions of the Lord, such as “raises,” “gives,” “fulfills,” “hears,” and “watches.” In other words, it is the theology we first learned at the table: “God is great. God is good.”
On another level, however, human history and personal experience prompt us to wonder just how the Lord’s goodness becomes active and effective for all creation. Whatever our theological convictions may declare, sometimes it’s just difficult to feel that goodness at work in the midst of suffering and loss.
The poetic style and imagery of Psalm 145 intend us to see the goodness of God in “successively broader circles,” so that nature and history point to the complete goodness of God’s nature, rather than to a human moral assessment about each and every event is in the cosmos. Paul’s thinking in Romans 8:28 runs parallel to this truth, namely, that it is the experience of God’s people that “all things work together for good,” not that all things are morally good in themselves.
The major portion of this Sunday’s lectionary (verses 14-21) interprets the goodness of God primarily in terms of God’s faithfulness (verse 13b) to and for the people of God. Psalm 145 invites those who sing and pray it into a circle of trust, a place where we begin to see God’s relation to the world not in terms of our own needs but in terms of the larger stage of divine purpose and action.
Thus, in spite of the fact that this psalm begins with the first person singular, it soon moves well beyond any single individual to all times and places. Seeing Psalm 145 as a “community” praise psalm helps us realize that its theology transcends its personal application to one’s own spiritual growth, and certainly beyond praying for the next nice thing God can do for me.
Epistle – Romans 9:1-5
Paul has written of the new way of being we have in Christ, in the love of God, aided by the Holy Spirit, with the certain hope of eternal life – while others continually alienate themselves from God and face the finality of physical death. We are adopted children of God, and so will attain complete oneness with him, sharing in his power (glory).
When the first Christians began to move beyond the Jewish community and some Gentiles were converted, they had to do some re-thinking since God’s covenant was with the people of Israel. The stark reality was that few of the people of Israel had accepted the idea that Jesus is God’s Messiah.
The opening salvo would seem to signal that Paul’s reputation is on the line. Later in Romans Paul is somewhat nervous about his upcoming trip to Jerusalem. As he takes an offering from his churches to the saints there, he is worried about those who are disobedient and about whether this gift will be accepted (Romans 15:31).
Today’s reading forms the introduction to the letter’s next major section of Roamns (chaps. 9–11) in which Paul wrestles with the problem of the unbelief of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Why have most Jews rejected the good news? This causes Paul, as a follower of Christ, great pain. Although Paul never says so explicitly, it appears that he hopes his mission to Jerusalem will help cement the place of his converts as equal partners with their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Paul seems to be defending himself against the charge that his law-free mission to the Gentiles entails a callous rejection of his own people, of Israel. The “law” is an aspect of Israel’s story that Paul struggles to explain, as he attempts to guard his Gentile converts from being defined or bound by it, while at the same time he affirms that love of neighbor fulfills the law (Romans 13:9-10).
Perhaps some thought him insensitive to the plight of his fellow Jews, but the “Holy Spirit”, within him, “confirms” that he really cares. He would even be willing to be “cut off from Christ” (v. 3), be condemned to damnation, for the sake of bringing his fellow Jews to Christ. They are “Israelites” (v. 4) – a title given to them by God.
But the rejection of the Messiah raises the question of whether God has been, and how God will continue to be, faithful to Israel. Their rejection is even more problematic because God bestowed so many gifts on them
They have seven gifts from God:
“adoption”, being chosen as children of God;
“glory”, God’s presence in the desert and in the Temple;
the “covenants” of God with the patriarchs;
“the giving of the law”, the expression of God’s will at Sinai;
“the promises” to Adam, Noah, Moses and David; and
a heritage still in effect, of worshipping the God of their fathers, “the patriarchs” (v. 5, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
There is an eighth gift, the greatest: Jesus, who was born a Jew. But they fail to recognize him for who he is: the “Messiah”, the Christ. Paul’s basic answer is in vv. 6-18: God, not humans, choses through whom he works to bring about his plan of salvation, as the Old Testament shows. God decided that the lineage of Israel, his people, would be through Isaac and Jacob, not through Ishmael and Esau.
Gospel – Matthew 14:13-21
Matthew has told us of the beheading of John the Baptist – killed because he denounced Herod Antipas’ marriage to his brother Philip’s wife when Philip was still alive (a violation of Jewish law). Jesus is reeling over this . His reaction is to withdraw privately to a desert-like, remote place. So Jesus withdraws to be alone with his thoughts and his sorrows – in a “deserted place” to regroup, to recharge. But it doesn’t work, of course. The eager crowds are on him – there is no rest for the weary – and he can’t let them down since he is compassionate. Out of his own heartache, he bring riches
This is the story of the feeing of the 5000. It is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that gets recorded in all four gospels.
There are 3 parallels in this lesson. It’s a parallel to the Lord’s Supper – reinforcing the metaphor of Jesus as “the bread of life.” The tie-in to the Eucharist is the reason. A small amount of food becomes a feast like the Eucharist becomes sufficient to feed the world and to deal with all of the problems that entails. There is no cup but the language of “taking,” “loaves,” “blessed,” “broke” “gave to disciples”, “ate,” and “all” in 14:19 appears in the last supper scene in 26:26-27.
Secondly, it parallels Moses’ manna in the wilderness, implying that Jesus is the new Moses.
Third, there are 12 baskets of leftovers, enough for all the 12 tribes of Israel (or in Matthew and Mark, seven baskets for the seven Gentile nations).
It happened during the Passover season about a year before Christ’s death. At this time several things had happened. Jesus had been rejected by the people in His hometown. He left the area as they were tried to push Him off a cliff. His disciple’s had just returned from preaching and teaching, a trip He had sent them on. Jesus had also just heard that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.
A deserted place or wilderness is not just solitary but is place of chaos. He has to take what is dangerous (death of John the Baptist) what is wild, what is uncertain (the supply of food) and put it back into order. He brings back the abundance of life. Jesus did not make just enough bread and fish to squeak by but such an over-abundance that the leftovers had to be gathered up.
We also have to recognize an issue common to our time – food insecurity. Many people knew food insecurity and struggled on a daily and seasonal basis for adequate food and nutrition. The empire was very hierarchical in its social structure with a small group of ruling elites who enjoyed abundant variety and good quality of food. But most of the population lived around, at, or below subsistence level with inadequate calorific and nutritional intake. The petition in the Lord’s prayer that God will supply daily bread reflects this situation
Food access reflected the elite’s access to power that controlled resources. The lack of food was one of the ways many people experienced the injustice of this disparity of power. It is also one of the reasons we see so many sick people in the gospels. Diseases of deprivation (inadequate nutrition) and diseases of contagion (inadequate immunity) were rife.
The biblical tradition explicitly identifies God’s will that hungry people be fed. God provides food for the wilderness generation (Exodus 16). Ezekiel condemns Israel’s leaders or “shepherds” for failing to feed the sheep/people (Ezekiel 34:1-10). The prophet Isaiah declares God’s will that people “share your bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7, 10).
Matthew’s Jesus endorses the merciful practice of almsgiving that redistributes resources to those in need (Matthew 6:2-4). He defends the practice of procuring food as a way of honoring the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8). He also declares that the nations will be judged in part on whether they have provided food for the hungry (25:32-42).
This is a story of a miracle, but which miracle? The obvious answer is the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but there is perhaps another miracle here. Matthew places this story in a section of the gospel about training the disciples for their mission, so perhaps Jesus is teaching them about what they can do. (A peasant in Palestine, then and now, travelled with food.) Jesus says to his disciples “you give them something to eat” (v. 16). He is saying: you have the resources to solve this problem! Take the initiative! Be leaders!
What we do know is that Jesus continued this activity until evening. The sun was going down. There were still thousands of people around, watching, hanging around, or waiting for their own healing to come. The disciples noticed that all of these people were staring to get hungry and restless. So they came to Jesus and said, send these people away, Lord. It is getting late and we have no way to feed them, so send them on their way now. Let them go to the villages and fend for themselves! Jesus teaches them to be a leader.
He had cured other situations. But the disciples still didn’t get it, Jesus told them there was no need to send the crowd away. But Jesus really catches the disciples off guard by saying, “You give them something to eat.” But how. We have nothing but five loaves and two fish.” They have forgotten that they also had the Christ.
He then lifts the bread and fish skyward, a gesture of offering, blessed them, broke the loaves (a standard act for the host to do for his guests) and gave them back to the disciples to feed the crowds.
In v20, The disciples get everyone to work together to a common purpose. All are “filled” and much is left over: a basket for each disciple. Each of them has a mission to perform, one of telling the good news of the infinite abundance of God’s love, which all can eat.
In the end it’s the last statement importance for the coming of the kingdom in our actions to redistribute resources to those in need.
Ezekiel envisages an age when “the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil … when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them … I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land … ” (Ezekiel 34:27-29). This age of secure and nutritional food supply comes when God breaks the self-satisfying rule of imperial powers.
Isaiah anticipates an age when “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6-10a). One of the reasons that the new age is often represented in terms of abundant food is the absence of such food in the present.
Coming back to the beginning the feeding of the 5,000 reflects a different type of power from Herod’s killing of John . Jesus removed himself to show a real power – the feeding of the multitudes. Jesus is life giving, not life-taking as with Herod. Not only are the people fed but there are leftovers for you and me. And the disciples are motivated for mission.
There was more than enough to go around. This is a great statement for today – we live in a world of abundance, but perceive ourselves to be in a world of scarcity. Jesus tries to show us our abundance.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
First Reading – Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm – Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Epistle – Romans 9:1-5
Gospel – Matthew 14:13-21