Materials for Worship at Home on 6th August, 2023

Moira writes: This morning our gospel passage is taken from Matthew 14:13-21 and the illustration below shows us just what it’s all about. As you prepare for worship this morning, please read through the passage and hear what God is saying to you in verse 16, they need not go away; you give them something to eat.

Our Gospel passage this morning begins with Jesus receiving the news that John the Baptist is dead, and with a heavy heart, Jesus wanted to get away from the crowds to go to a quiet place. The crowds had been following Jesus as he travelled in towns and throughout the countryside, and they hung on his every word. Now Jesus needed some time to himself and no doubt he wanted to be alone to pray to his Father. We all know that when Jesus wanted to talk with his Father, he almost always went up into a high place where he could be alone, and this particular day it looks like he almost made it. Almost, until the crowd heard and began to follow him on foot. I’m sure we can all empathise with Jesus in his need to be alone to grieve over the death of his dear friend John. While it is good to have family and friends around when we are trying to cope with a death or even serious illness, there are times when it’s good to have some time to be alone and to pray. In chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had been rejected as a prophet without honour in his own town. Herod’s desire to kill John, which was inhibited by his fear of the crowds who regarded John as a prophet, is similar to the Chief Priests’ desire to arrest Jesus, which was hampered because, as it says in Matthew 21:46, they feared the crowds, because they regarded him (Jesus) as a prophet.

And so we find Jesus trying to withdraw from the crowds, not through fear of them like his opponents, but through the need to spend some time on his own in prayer and time with his disciples in teaching. But of course, the crowds had other ideas, they follow him and find him, and motivated by compassion, Jesus provides for them and heals them. It’s interesting to note here that Jesus is instantly drawn into helping those he sought to withdraw from. I think this is a situation that those in ministry and in pastoral care often find themselves in. The need to have some time to relax and refresh, and the sudden call of those who find they are in need of care. The passage continues as the disciples join Jesus, and by evening the situation becomes overwhelming, so many people, adults and children, who have walked for miles to be with Jesus and who now need to be fed. However, the reaction of the disciples is quite the opposite to that of Jesus. They see the crowds and ask Jesus to send them home because they are hungry and need to be fed, after all, the disciples don’t have much food themselves. They want the people to buy food of their own, but Jesus says to his disciples, they need not go away; you give them something to eat. You give them something to eat! A simple request, and yet impossible with so many hungry men, women and children needing to be fed.

So how did the disciples respond? We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish. Jesus is calling his disciples into action, but they seem to be hovering on the sidelines. ‘O ye of little faith’ springs to mind. This story looks to the past, a past when Moses led the people across the Red Sea into a wilderness, where they were fed with manna and quails, remembered as ‘bread’ in Deuteronomy and ‘food from the sea’ in the book of Wisdom. Here in our gospel passage, it’s Jesus who initiates this wonderful provision for the people, engaging his disciples in his work.

We can’t possibly fully understand the miracle that happened that day which enabled so many to be fed, but there are some things that we do know for sure. The disciples gave up what they had, Jesus gave thanks to God, the food was shared out, and there was more than enough. If we try to work through the mechanics of this miracle, it won’t get us anywhere. We will, as they say, be ‘barking up the wrong tree.’ Like so many stories in the Bible, we need to ask what we can learn from them. So, let’s start by reversing the order of the facts we know and have listed.

‘There is plenty of food available,’ it should be shared fairly, we need to be grateful for it and sometimes we have to give something up. Just think for a moment about the world food crisis and the food poverty in our own communities. These are overwhelming situations! When the disciples felt overwhelmed by the task of feeding the crowd and they protested, Jesus told them to do something; to get on with it. He wanted the disciples to use their own initiative and called them to action. If large supermarkets and suppliers can share surplus food with local food banks, and we do whatever little thing we can, then there should be plenty of food available and it should be shared fairly.

Remembering to ’give thanks to God’ for what he so graciously provides for us is something we often forget to do. Making it part of our daily prayer or at mealtimes, if this is our tradition, reminds us that God wants us to use our own initiative and that he calls us to action, asking that ‘we give up something’ to help others. In an earlier chapter of Matthew’s gospel, chapter ten, Jesus had summoned his twelve disciples and sent them ‘to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ and so here in today’s passage, the twelve baskets of food remaining symbolises the fulfilment of God’s promise to the twelve tribes of Israel, you shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God, found in Deuteronomy 8:10.

Our gospel passage also looks to the future, to Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, when he again took bread, blessed, broke and gave the bread to those around the table. In today’s story, he gave bread for the community when the crowd came together into the presence of Jesus, and the disciples renewed their compassion realising their capacity to feed the crowds. If Jesus hadn’t called his disciples into action that day, to help provide for the great crowds of people, they would have gone away hungry, and nothing would have been done. When we answer God’s call to action in our lives, great things can be achieved – and more. In today’s parable 5,000 people were fed from five loaves and two fish and there were still 12 baskets of pieces left over! In the life of our church today, we have the chance to be active Christians in the things we choose to do and the things we choose to support. The donations of food to a local foodbank, toiletries for the Ukrainian community, the hosting of Tea and Toast for mums and toddlers and many other projects we as a church support. The disciples in today’s story felt helpless in the face of a seemingly impossible task. Jesus tells them to do what they can with their limited resources, and these turn out to be ‘more than enough.’ We too are easily paralysed by the enormity of the world’s suffering. However, instead of getting caught up in the difficulties in our world, we might think of one small act of generosity to perform this week. This is the challenge I feel we are being set in this week’s passage from Scripture. Not to be inactive, but to be active in responding to God’s call to look beyond the great difficulties in our world and to make a difference, however small that might be.
They need not go away; you give them something to eat. AMEN.

Please pray

For those who are struggling to feed themselves and their families.
Give thanks to God for local foodbanks and charities.

For the young people in our community and in our churches during school holidays.
Give thanks to God for holiday clubs and community events.

For our Rector Nerys and our church family at St. Mary’s, giving thanks to God for the life of our church.