In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
(The Gospel reading from this Sunday)
14 Jesus went out and saw that there was a great crowd. He had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 When evening came, his disciples came to him and said, “This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We only have here five loaves and two fish!” 18 Jesus said, “Bring them to me.” 19 Having instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fish. Looking up to heaven, he blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples distributed it to the multitudes. 20 And so, everyone ate and was satisfied. His disciples gathered up twelve baskets full of what remained left over from the broken pieces. 21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22 Immediately after this, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and told them to go ahead of him to the other side, while he would send the crowds away. (Mt 14:14–22)
In our Gospel reading today, we are once again traveling with Jesus and His disciples through Galilee. In fact, they had just been in Nazareth, where Jesus was rejected by the local people, His “own” people. It is here in Matthew that Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country and in his own house!” (Mt 13:57). How sad it would be to be one of those who rejected Him, and then realize later on what and Who they’d had in their midst!
And a little further on, but just before today’s reading in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus hears that His cousin, the Forerunner John the Baptist, had been killed by Herod. Certainly Jesus knew this was going to happen. But in any case “he withdrew from that place in a boat and went to a deserted place in private” (Mt 14:13). Many times in the Gospels, Jesus shows us by example that it is good to have some time alone with God in prayer. But as is the case throughout the Gospels, the people are not far behind. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark, it says that the people saw where the disciples were going by boat, and ran on foot and arrived at the place where the disciples stopped, before the disciples and Jesus had gotten there! (Mark 6:33).
And as Jesus saw all the people there, He had compassion on them. He healed their sick. How many sick could there have been, that there was a great crowd? He could not turn them away, they are the reason He came to live on this earth in the flesh. He helped them there with whatever their needs were. He saw them, spoke to them, touched them with His healing hands, and spoke into their hearts the words of eternal life. As we read in other parts of the Gospel, you can imagine, how many times did He address first the most important ailment? The sin? How many times did He speak to them as He did to the paralytic:
20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to think about this, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”22 But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, answered them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts in such a way? 23 Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you;’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’ 24 However, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (he said to the paralyzed man), “I tell you, arise, take up your cot, and go to your house.”
As the day went on, it got later and later. The disciples realized that soon the sun would be setting, and this huge crowd was still there with them. And no one had anything to eat. So partly for the people, and perhaps the disciples were getting hungry too, they asked Jesus to send the crowds away so that they could all get food. But Jesus had another lesson in mind for His disciples. Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.” But the disciples answered Him, “We only have here five loaves and two fish!” In the Gospel of John, it happens slightly differently. It seems it took a bit more legwork to find just that small amount of food: 8 ‘One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves [of bread] and two fish, but what are these among so many?”’. (Jn 6:8–9). As Jesus would later teach the Apostle Paul, now He taught His disciples that: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Co 12:9). And “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”(Lk 18:27).
The Gospel tells us that Jesus “Looking up to heaven, he blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples distributed it to the multitudes. And so, everyone ate and was satisfied.”
Here it is interesting to note, that the Lord provided just what the people there needed. There was no ostentatious display, no big production. The bread and the fish were quietly and miraculously replenished and multiplied as all the people were fed. But Jesus could have produced so much more if He had wanted to. But there was nothing extravagant. Just bread and fish. No lambs on a spit, or anything else. This reminds me of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana. When the need arose, He changed water into wine. That’s all that was needed. He did not produce a fine chariot with horses, a big band, or anything else. He simply took care of the need, in a simple, quiet, and humble way. And nothing more.
This contrasts sharply with what today you hear about sometimes being called the “Gospel”, but is rather called the “Prosperity Gospel”, and is very poisonous and heretical. Such false teachings claim that if you have enough “faith”, the Lord will make you rich, or supply you with a fancy car, or heal your sicknesses. It is usually very ostentatious, prideful, and conditional on making a large donation to whomever is spreading this false gospel.
As time wore on in this evening, a certain danger arose. That of a worldly ambition of the people around Jesus. Not His disciples, but the crowd there. Even though Jesus spoke to them the Words of Life, and showed them signs and wonders, such that only God Himself could produce, the people started clamoring for Him to achieve their worldly, political, and nationalistic goals. It seems the people, again, did not realize the significance of who they had in their midst. Our Gospel reading today, comes to a very abrupt end, with Jesus telling His disciples to get into their boat and leave, and telling the crowd to go away back to their homes. In the Gospel of John, we are given a little clarification as to the situation: “15 Jesus therefore, perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force in order to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15). But why did He leave? With His signs and wonders, He could easily have ushered in a new earthly kingdom right then. But as Jesus said later to Pilate: “My Kingdom is not of this world! If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would have fought so that I would not be delivered to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from here.” (Jn 18:36).
After showing the crowd the wonder of multiplying the bread and fish for them, and many healings, Jesus did not want them to place on His ministry and message a worldly value. He did not want them to see in Him a provider of merely temporal and material sustenance and physical health. He did not want the loaves and fishes to eclipse or distract from the Heavenly Bread. While He demonstrated that we should care for our neighbor’s well-being, this is not what Christ came to do. As He says elsewhere in the Gospel of John:
32 Jesus therefore said to them, “Amen, amen, I tell you; it was not Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is what comes down out of heaven, and [it] gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to him, “Lord, always give us this bread!” 35 Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life! The one who comes to me will not be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (Jn 6:32–35). 47 Amen, amen, I tell you; the one who believes in me has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life! (Jn 6:47–48).
As if knowing that there will be times when those of us who have come later on would struggle with doubts, Jesus continues to make the point of the centrality and eternal significance of partaking of that Heavenly Bread:
53 Jesus therefore said to them, “Amen, amen, I tell you; unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and [as] I live because of the Father, whoever eats me will also live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven. Unlike your ancestors [who] ate the manna and [still] died, whoever eats this bread will live forever!” (Jn 6:53–58).
So brothers and sisters let us take courage and remove all doubt about what the Lord has promised us. He promises the same to us today that He promised to His disciples and followers over 2000 years ago. And we know He is the “same yesterday, today, and forever”!
Glory to Jesus Christ!