A Sermon from Sherborne
The passage from the gospel of Matthew shows us a very compassionate side of Jesus.
It is easy to skip on to the Feeding of the 5000 and ignore that the first verse in this passage. Jesus’s reaction to the death of his cousin John the Baptist. How does he react? He went by boat to a deserted place to be on his own to mourn. Those of us who experienced the loss of a loved one will be able to identify with this I am sure. It is certainly something within my experience of grief and at times something I still feel the need to do; to be on my own to remember.
For those who have lost loved ones throughout this time of the Corona Virus the chance to grieve has been very difficult. Often a loved one has died alone, the funeral was then very short and with very few people and those who were there could not express their grief with one another. I have in mind a single woman who lost her mother and at the funeral her brother and his family were desperate to give her a hug but of course could not do so. Grieving alone in this instance was a far cry from the isolation Jesus sought to mourn his cousin.
Even in his grief the crowds would not leave Jesus alone. They followed him on foot around the Sea of Galilee until they caught up with him again. This constant pressure on Jesus to engage with the people must have been so wearing but he never turned them away.
This miracle which is the only one to be recorded in all four of the gospels, is of course known by us all and much has been written about it by commentators. The key for me is the link from the miracle to the Eucharist but more of this later.
Jesus had been speaking, healing and generally being with the people for some time – ministry at its finest – when the disciples became concerned about the time and the need for the people to find food Jesus asked the people to sit down and told the disciples to find food to feed them. I am sure there was a look of absolute horror on the faces of the disciples but find food they did; 5 loaves and 2 fish. And we know the rest. Jesus took the food blessed it and gave it to the disciples to distribute and not only was there enough to go round there was enough in leftovers to fill 12 baskets. Matthew tells us that the number actually exceeded 5000 when the women and children were counted so we could be looking at a crowd of between 15- 20,000. And still there were leftovers! Interestingly Jesus was interested in the leftovers. I don’t think he was just being eco friendly – enjoy the experience and leave nothing behind kind of message. Jesus is interested in ensuring that nothing is wasted and that extends to our lives as well. God gives to us abundantly and we should not waste our gifts or what we have been given to use for God’s work.
I said earlier that my understanding of this miracle is linked with The Eucharist which was a meal shared among friends; of Jesus taking, blessing and giving the bread just as he did on the hillside.
The Eucharist is all about the generous love God has for this world. In every Eucharistic service we pray for the world through our intercessions as we have done this morning. We can never divorce our sharing in this holy meal with the needs of others who have to go without physical food. We regularly pray ‘Lord of all life, help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth’.
What happened to the crowd after they had been fed that we do not know. They went home, or perhaps found somewhere to stay for the night so that they could continue following Jesus the next day. We will hear next week where Jesus went. But I am sure wherever they went they told people of their experience on the hilltop. And here is my final reference to the Eucharist. At the end of this service the deacon will command you ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. It is a command not a request, ‘Go!’ because what else can we do when we have ben fed abundantly around this table. Or in the words of a prayer we use, ‘Send us out in the power of your spirit to live and work to your praise and glory’. These are words we use so regularly that we can forget their significance, but they are such an important focus for us in our daily lives until we return again to this table. So, when we say them today, take them to heart and think about how you might put those words into loving action and service, today next week and for the rest of your life.