Feeding the 5000

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Mathew 14:13-21

Imagine that we – Hope Lutheran Church – had an unlimited budget.  Imagine that we could spend as much as we want on whatever we want and never accrue a penny of debt.  What do you suppose we would do differently? 

Stadium seating with gold plated pews… or maybe we’d go with La-Z-Boy recliners? Titantron screens? Catered brunches from 5 star restaurants every week? World class musicians playing on state of the art instruments?  A personal pastor for every member? Slickly produced services, broadcasted in primetime and streamed around the world? 

If there were no limit to our budget, how much bigger would our reach be? 

But instead we have to settle for what we have.  One lousy preacher. 40-year-old pews. And the same old Jesus we’ve been preaching for 2,000 years.  But if we just had more money… boy… there’d be no stopping us. 

Or maybe it isn’t really money that’s limiting us.  Maybe, in fact, our limited resources are meant for God’s glory.  After all, the story we read today about Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 would not have happened if they had enough money to cover it. 

I would suggest that we aren’t really limited by our finances.  We are limited by our hunger.  For that to make sense, let’s go back to the text. 

You’ll remember that the crowds have come out to the middle of nowhere to hear Jesus.  They are hanging on His every word.   So much so, that the disciples take it upon themselves to suggest that people should go home to eat. 

If people were leaving on their own, this wouldn’t have come up.  No one in the story seems to be concerned with dinner except the disciples.  It’s as if the crowds were hungrier for Jesus’ words than they were for bread.  But it’s the disciples who have their minds on their stomachs. 

I wonder if, after hearing Jesus preach so often, they’ve kind of grown too familiar with it.  They’ve lost their appetite for it. And so their minds go to earthly things… specifically they begin to think about what they lack. 

And when you think about it, it’s rather presumptuous.  “Jesus, you should send these people away so they can eat.” As if Jesus is less aware of their needs than the disciples.  As if Jesus is less concerned with caring for the crowds than the disciples.  We should probably learn from their mistake here: if you ever start to tell Jesus how He should do His job, you’re probably about to say something foolish. 

From an earthly standpoint, the disciples seem to be helpless. It would take a small fortune to feed all these people.  Getting the food from town and bringing it back would be a logistical nightmare.  There is no practical way to meet the need with the limited resources they have. 

And Jesus has the audacity to say, “They’re fine.  You feed them.”   

“But Jesus… We don’t have enough.  Not by a long shot. I mean, I know that you said not to worry about what we will eat or drink.  Just seek first the kingdom, and you’ll take care of the rest. But this isn’t a metaphor.  This isn’t a teaching illustration.  These are real hungry people.” 

“I know.  I really meant what I said.  These people have sought the kingdom.  I will take care of the rest.  Bring me whatever you can scrounge up and you will have plenty to feed these people.” 

If the disciples had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, they could have probably handled this food problem all on their own.  They wouldn’t have needed Jesus at all… and they would have learned nothing about Jesus in the process. 

Which brings me back to today.  If we had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, how much would we lean on Jesus?  How much would we learn about Jesus? Would we seek His kingdom first… or ours? 

I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus is every bit as powerful today as He was 2,000 years ago.  I believe that there is as much need today as back then… in fact, I believe that we have a poverty right here in America that rivals any the world has ever seen.  It’s not a poverty of empty bellies or homelessness.  Even the poorest among us, by worldly measures, are some of the richest people who have ever lived in all of human history. 

But when you think about the spiritual emptiness, the broken homes, the desperation, the despair, and meaninglessness that’s in our own neighborhoods… from God’s perspective there is incredible poverty and hunger all around us.  And there is nothing that can meet that need but Jesus himself. 

And when we think that our reach is limited by our resources, then we’ve really missed the point of this story.  If a mountain of money would empower us to be the church He wants u to be, then He’d give it to us.  But I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. 

We aren’t limited by our resources.  We are limited by our hunger.  If, like the disciples, we are focused on what we don’t have, then we are hungering for the wrong things.  If we are focused on what we want and what would make our lives better, we will never be satisfied.  But if our hearts and minds – which is to say our priorities and our desires – belong to Jesus, then he will make what we have more than enough. 

There’s a curious ending to this story, you know.  I mentioned earlier that the disciples were likely motivated by wanting to feed themselves.  Rather than Jesus feeding them along with everyone else, He instead tells them to feed others.  He didn’t have to. He could have just snapped His fingers and made a plate appear in front of each person there. But instead, He told His hungry disciples to feed others. Don’t worry about your own belly, you take care of them. 

This may seem like a bad deal for the disciples, until you get to the end of the story. When everyone was fed, there were 12 basketfuls left over.  12 baskets, 12 disciples.  Jesus hadn’t forgotten His disciples. Rather, He wanted them to see that if they put others first, they would still be provided for. 

Many churches and many churchgoers suffer from a consumer mentality when it comes to God’s Word.  They come to church only focused on what they get out of it.  “Did the music touch me?  Did the message inspire me? Did we do the things that are meaningful to me?” Consequently, these folks wind up getting less out of it.  Moreover, they are often easily offended or disappointed.  They rarely reach out to others in meaningful ways, and are the most likely to make visitors feel unwelcome. 

But what if instead of focusing on what we get out of it, we come to church focused on what we can take away to share with others?  What if we assume that the sermon isn’t just for us, but also for the people we know who aren’t here?  What if we were more concerned about meeting the needs of others than having our needs met?  Do you think that your needs would not be met along the way – and that in abundance? 

We have more than we need to feed the hungry souls around us, right here and right now.  We have Jesus, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fish.  He has more than enough to meet the needs around us, and His invitation to us is the same today as it was back then, “You give them something to eat.” 

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