Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.
The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.
– Matthew 15:29-39
We read the story of the loaves and fishes here one Sunday about a year ago. Were any of you here that day?
Does anybody remember what we did?
I picked a dozen people at random and told you that you were disciples. Then I called a couple of kids up front and they pulled out a big cardboard carton labeled “MIRACLE BOX”.
Inside the box were some cans of tuna, some loaves of bread, can openers, knives, mayonnaise and everything else we needed to make the miracle happen.
There were a lot of laughs and some looks of sheer panic. The rest of the congregation sang hymns while the disciples got to work.
We learned a lot of things together that morning.
1) Tuna fish comes in giant size cans.
2) We can do a lot together when we try
3) The miracle wasn’t in any special words that Jesus said; the miracle happened when people started sharing. Cutting the sandwiches in half probably helped.
4) Everyone had plenty, and there were lots of leftovers. (We donated the extra sandwiches to a local street mission.)
People in the Bible really remembered it when Jesus pulled it off the first time. This story is in all four gospels, which means they though it was really important!
We’ve been looking at a lot of miracle stories together this winter. A few weeks ago, we looked at the story of the man whose son had epilepsy. Jesus told him it would be OK if he just believed, and the man cried out, “Lord, I believe – help my unbelief!”
Jesus knows we have trouble believing sometimes. Jesus knows all about our doubt, our fear, our disappointments and our skepticism. But Jesus is able to do a lot with just the amount of belief that we have. It’s OK. Just give him whatever faith you have, and let him help you.
Last week we looked at a story where a woman came to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter. She wasn’t a Jew – wasn’t one of the people of Israel. She was a foreigner.
Jesus said, “It’s not right to take the children’s food and give it to dogs.”
She came back and said, “Yes, Lord, but even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall under the table!”
In other places, Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. He said that if you trust God, you can ask for anything in Jesus’ name, and it will be done for you.
Today’s story is the same kind of thing.
It’s not who we are. It’s not how good we are. It’s not how perfect our spiritual life is. Jesus said we need to ask with our whole heart, without wavering. He said we need to be persistent in prayer, and never to give up. He said whatever we give will come back to us, 30, 60 or 100 times as much.
Today’s story is one of the best examples we have of the way Jesus works. It started out by saying that he came back from his road trip, walked along the beach for a few miles, then went up into the mountains.
I think that Jesus must have loved the solitude and the beauty of the mountains. He probably remembered the lines from Psalm 121.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth. . .”
Jesus loved to go up to the mountains, and get away from it all.
Next week we’re going to read another mountain story. But today, it says that the crowd followed Jesus. They wouldn’t leave hin alone! People knew in their hearts that he could help them. They brought their sick friends and their helpless relatives.
You can picture the long line of people who were being carried up to Jesus on stretchers. Kids who were being toted on their parents’ backs. People who had given up hope until they heard about Jesus.
There were people who couldn’t speak, who couldn’t walk, who couldn’t see. They brought them all to Jesus’ feet, and he healed them. And they praised the God of Israel.
One of the things that today’s gospel reminds us is that this is our job. Our job is to tell people about Jesus, to listen to their stories, to let them know God loves them. To give them hope. That’s our job.
Our job is to help carry people to Jesus, if necessary. Our job is to pray for people, to lift them up to Christ. That’s what we need to be doing.
Back during the Middle Ages, the church taught that there are works of mercy that feed the body and the soul, things which every Christian should be doing.
The works of mercy that care for the body are to 1) feed the hungry, 2) give drink to the thirsty, 3) to clothe the naked,4) to shelter the homeless, 5) to visit the sick, 6) to visit those who are in prison, and 7) to bury the dead.
The works of mercy that care for the soul are to 1) reach out to the broken, 2) to instruct the ignorant, 3) to counsel people who have trouble believing, 4) to bear wrongs patiently, 5) to forgive anyone who has hurt us, 6) to comfort people who are suffering, and 7) to pray for everyone.
Anyway, that’s how today’s story opens. They brought people to Jesus who were suffering, and Jesus healed them. But then it goes on. Jesus said, ““I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me for three days and they have nothing to eat.”
Jesus’ disciples wanted to send everybody home. But Jesus said, “I do not want to send them away hungry, they may collapse on the way.”
That’s what Christianity is all about. Not just healing, but feeding. Not just healing illness, but dealing with hunger.
The disciples turned to Jesus and they said, “Where are we ever going to get enough food for this huge crowd? We’re out in the desert here!”
Jesus asked, “What do you have?”
That question is one of the keys to the whole story. What do you have? What can you bring to the table? What are you willing to commit? What can you share?
The disciples said what they had was seven loaves of bread, and a few small fish. People back then made flat bread, kind of like pita bread or foccacia. The fish were probably kind of like sardines, that were salted or dried in the sun.
That was what they had. They weren’t bad people, or careless people. After three days up in the mountains, out in the desert, they had eaten up everything else.
The lesson of this story is that a little, plus Jesus, equals a LOT. That is always the case, no matter where this story gets re-enacted, no matter where we are. A little, plus Jesus, equals a LOT.
It says that Jesus gave thanks for what there was – seven little loaves of bread, and a handful of fish. It doesn’t say what words Jesus used – probably he simply said the ordinary prayer of thanks that Jewish people used every day: “Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
And then Jesus gave it to the disciples, and they gave it to the crowd, and everybody was filled, and there were seven big baskets left over. A little, plus Jesus, equals a LOT.
The problem isn’t how much there is, or isn’t. God can make things go a long, long way.
The problem isn’t whether God has the power to help, or even the willingness to help. God loves us. God cares for us. God wants us to be full. The challenge is whether we’re willing to pray, whether we’re willing to be thankful.
Jesus could have just sent them all home. But he wanted to send them home full, not empty. Jesus cares for both the soul and the body.
This story has so many echoes in it. It’s like the manna in the desert, where God fed the people with fresh bread, every day, for forty years.
It’s like the 23rd Psalm, where it says,
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul; he leads me in right paths for His name’s sake. . .You prepare a banquet before me; you anoint me with oil; my cup overflows; goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. . .”
It’s like where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy; blessed are the hungry and thirsty, for they shall be filled. . .” (Matthew 5:6-7)
It’s like where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. . .” (Matthew 11:28-30)
It’s not just saying to do what you can and use what you have. The resources they had that day were ridiculously inadequate. Jesus knew that!
We look around every day, and there are so many needs in our community. There are so many things we wish we could do. We are only a small congregation, and we get discouraged a lot of the time.
Just remember that there are more people here than the 12 disciples that Jesus gathered. And remember that a little, plus Jesus, equals a LOT.
Let’s take this story into our hearts now. Let’s pray a little now, and pray more at home and at work this week.
We may not be very strong. We may not have very much. But if Jesus is by our side, and if Jesus is helping us to pray, we can do a LOT together.