Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
Last week our gospel reading was all about metaphors...pictures to help us envision the Kingdom of Heaven is like. A mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl of great price - and so on. In other words, we were being asked to think about just what a life-changing idea the Kingdom is.
This week - the focus changes, to a real-life example of the Kingdom being worked out. It’s story of the Feeding of Five Thousand. I’m afraid I can’t think of this story without remembering a Sunday School song that has stayed in my head for about 45 years! Do you remember it?
Two little fishes, five loaves of bread.
Five thousand people by Jesus were fed.
This is what happened when one little lad
Gladly gave Jesus all that he had.
All that I have, all that I have
I will give Jesus all that I have.
It’s basically a simple story. Jesus has been pursued by a great crowd. When evening falls, the disciples ask Jesus "Shouldn’t we send these folks away to buy some food?". But Jesus takes a few loaves and fishes, he blesses them, and commands them to be distributed among the crowd. The food somehow multiplies - so much so that there are 12 baskets left over.
Was this a miracle of multiplication? Was Jesus showing off his divine power? Or did something else take place – something much more radical, and much more important than a divine conjuring trick?
Could it be that people had, in fact, brought food with them? After all, not many people would go out to a deserted place - miles from home - without packing a few sandwiches for journey. So perhaps, when Jesus started to distribute all that he had, people started to open their picnics up - and began to share with each other. You can be sure that most people had packed far more in their picnic than they would need! But until Jesus showed them how to share, they were keeping their sandwiches hidden away…
Here’s another important point to note. In response to the disciples’ question about sending people away, Jesus replies, "They need not go away...YOU give them something to eat". Then, a few lines later, after he has blessed the food, in verse 19, Jesus gives the food to the disciples, for THEM to pass it on to the crowd.
God gives the task of sharing the wealth of the world to US, his friends and followers. The disciples could have taken the blessed food, and disappeared behind a bush to eat it all themselves. But Jesus commands them to share what they have. There’s a really important Kingdom principle at work here: the Kingdom of Heaven is not about getting and keeping, it’s about giving and sharing.
We live in a time when getting and keeping have become such a normal pattern of life. We live in the time of 'consumerism' - when getting and then keeping as much stuff as we can has become the norm – perfectly acceptable to most people.
This pandemic is showing us, starkly, just how much of our Western economy is based on the consumption of stuff…and on so called ‘entertainment’. I feel very sorry for the for the staff of shops who sell plastic rubbish, meaningless birthday presents and fashionable clothing. Their sales have taken a huge hit, and their livelihoods are desperately threatened.
And I feel sorry for staff of pubs, cinemas, and theme parks.
And the airline crews.
And the cruise-ship crews.
And the car factory workers.
And the eyebrow-waxing salons.
But, honestly, is this really the way we want to live? Is this all we are? Consumers of stuff, wholesale burners of fossil fuels, obsessed with foreign holidays and the appearance of our eyebrows and nails?
It is an uncomfortable fact that consumerism as the new religion. Temples, mosques and churches have been replaced by shopping arcades.
- The priests of this new religion are the marketing managers, who tell us what will make us happy. "Buy more stuff!" they cry, and find fulfilment.
- The collection plate, once used to maintain the church and bless the poor of the community, has been replaced by the cash register.
- Icons and spiritual imagery has been replaced by advertising posters.
- Hymns and spiritual songs have been replaced by jingles and advertisements.
But Jesus still calls to us across the centuries. "You fool!" he says, to the man who has stored up great wealth for himself. "Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth, where it will only rot and decay. Instead, store up treasure in heaven, where it will last for eternity". "Stop hoarding and learn the power of giving!" Live simply, start sharing, and actually you’ll find there’s plenty to go round.
The feeding of the five thousand is the only story that is common to all four Gospels. It demands that we radically re-appraise the way we live. Much more than the story of a God who can magically multiply fish and bread, it’s a call to all humanity to dig deep, bring out the wealth from our pockets, and share the wealth of all creation.
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