Reflections

A reflection on  Matthew 14.13-21 from Sunday 2 August 2020

It’s lovely to find a familiar Bible story for our reading today. I don’t know about you, but I remember this story from Sunday School, it’s one of those Bible passages that people sometimes grow up with. But here, in Matthew’s gospel, we hear the story told from one particular perspective, from the point of view of the disciples.

The story actually starts with something unfamiliar – a traumatic event where John the Baptist has been beheaded. John’s disciples bury their master and then come and report to Jesus everything that has happened.

I wonder how Jesus’ disciples must have felt? What were they thinking? If this could happen to John the Baptist, it could happen to Jesus, it could happen to their master… I’m sure they were scared. Scared of what might happen to Jesus, scared of what might happen to them, scared of what the future would look like.

I wonder how much their feelings echo our own at this time? I’m sure there have been moments through the COVID outbreak where you’ve felt scared, where you’ve been nervous about the future. Perhaps you’ve worried about what it means for your family or friends or for our church community. These moments of fear are a normal part of our response to trauma, but we also have to think about what we might do next. Perhaps we can learn something from the disciples.

Well, Jesus’ response to the devastating news was to try to go to a quiet place where he could be alone and pray. I bet the disciples were relieved. Somewhere away from the crowds would definitely be safer. They could regroup and work out what to do next.

Only, when they got there, it was not a solitary place at all. People’s desire to meet with Jesus led them to run ahead to where they thought he might go, and a crowd had formed. Not just a few people, but a massive crowd all hungry to meet with Jesus.

Do we remember that people might be hungry for the same thing today? Do we remember that relationship with God is something that people want and need to have in their lives? There are people who long for his healing touch and compassion in their lives, people who want to receive the good news of Jesus.

The disciples spot the problem before it arrives. ‘Jesus, it’s getting dark, it’s getting late. People are gonna get hungry and there’s nothing here for them. Send them away, Jesus, so they can look after themselves.’

But, the same compassion that overcame Jesus and prompted him to heal the crowd also lead Jesus to want to feed the crowd. He pushes the problem onto the disciples. ‘You give them something to eat.’

I wonder how the disciples responded. I’m sure there was at least one voice saying, ‘look, just tell him we can’t do it, we’ve not got enough…’ and when the disciples looked to their own resources, they will have thought that. You see, when we look to our own strength and our resources to reach out in mission, we’ll see that we fall short, we’ll see we don’t have enough.

Fortunately, there was another voice in the room, a voice that replied to Jesus, ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.’ Nobody thought that was enough to meet the needs they could see. Nobody thought it would even feed the disciples, but they offered what they had to Jesus.

That’s what mission looks like. Not being able to do everything ourselves, but having something we offer to God and allowing God to bless it and turn it into something more. Jesus takes the humble offering of loaves and fish, prays to heaven and shares it, Jesus gives some to the disciples and they give it to the crowd. Men, women and children, over five thousand fed and satisfied. But more than that, in God’s blessing, there was such an abundance, that they gathered 12 basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. This number represents not just an abundance, but enough for all of God’s people, represented by the 12 tribes.

It’s not about us having everything neat and packaged, worked out and finalised. It’s about us stepping out, meeting God and taking the risk. As we take risks in God’s strength, we leave space for him to work, we make ourselves and our resources available to God and through that, God’s Kingdom grows.

I said that Matthew tells us about the feeding of the 5000 from the perspective of the disciples, so I wonder how they felt at the end of the day? They’d seen something amazing, they’d seen five loaves and two fish feed an enormous crowd of people. They’d heard Jesus teach, they’d seen him heal the sick. This was the most amazing day, but what about the backdrop to the events? What about the thing that happened right at the beginning?

The story starts when John the Baptist is killed. The disciple’s day began with them hearing about what had happened, with their fears of what that meant for Jesus and for them. I imagine when they sat down around the fire at the end of the evening, conversation about the day’s events would be the first topic of the day. But I’m sure that some mentioned the trauma as well. In the elation of the miraculous, the fears about the world bubbled up. I wonder if they were more able to trust in Jesus because of what they’d seen? I wonder if they realised how powerful he was, what authority he had?

When we’re in the midst of trauma, thoughts about growing God’s Kingdom can be far away. Thoughts of how we might step out in faith seem distant. But it is in doing this that we can best understand who Jesus is because we witness his power and authority, we see his hand at work in the world. So, as we try to cope with the trauma that surrounds us, we learn to trust God more. We equip ourselves to deal with the fear and anxiety of life.

So, how can we, as a church, rediscover who God is and see his hand at work in the world? I don’t have any neatly bundled, answers to that. But in the story of the feeding of the 5000, my hope is renewed that I want to see how we can reimagine our mission here amidst the trauma and the pain, because that is how we best remember the glory and wonder of God.