Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Gospel lesson for this week is from Matthew 14:13-21. It is the familiar incident of Jesus feeding 5,000, plus women and children, using just five loaves and two fish. We easily become distracted by this passage. We emphasize the idea that Jesus can take care of hunger. Many of us have heard sermons about how when we bring the little that we have (lunch for two) and give it to Jesus it becomes enough to feed a huge group of people. We speak about the twelve baskets of leftovers, more than Jesus used in the first place. We try to make it an object lesson that says if we listen to Jesus’ teaching we will always have enough for our physical needs.
I was about to say, “This is all well and good.” However, it is not well and good at all. It misses the entire point of the passage. Let’s find the point.
The crowds in Galilee evoke Jesus’ compassion. Although he is seeking some time of quiet reflection, time to himself, the need of the people around draw him out. He cannot let them go without his care. Seeing the need of others normally draws us out of ourselves.
What is the need of these people? It is not food. Granted, later, Jesus meets a need for food. But that is not the primary need. Furthermore, the disciples understood that the crowds could be sent away and would be able to get what they needed. The incident isn’t about food at all. It is about something much more precious.
The food that Jesus fed them was disposable. After eating even a hearty meal, people are ready to eat again in a few hours. By morning, every last one of those people would want to eat something. Bread and fish does some good. But it is not what the people needed.
What pulled Jesus out of the boat, out of the private time, into his work of helping the crowds, was their need to be taught about the Kingdom of God. This is the work which would nourish them to eternal life. The miracle with the loaves and fish was more likely to show the disciples Jesus’ ability to meet every need. But the heart and center of the miracle here is that the crowds came looking for Jesus and he taught them.
It is very easy for us to miss the essence of God’s kingdom by trying to focus it on social programs, on caring for the poor, on working for peace and justice. While those are good things, they will come naturally out of a community which has been well taught about God’s reconciling work in Christ. If you want social justice, build a society of people who confess they sinful by nature, who repent of that sin, and who seek to do good rather than evil. Social justice will emerge rather quickly.
Jesus taught the people. That’s what the church does. Let’s keep ourselves on-message.
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