To Be Fed
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, James Tissot 1836-1902
When Jesus fed the multitudes with fish and bread,
They ate because they were hungry.
They ate because they were led.
Feeding people can be hard work especially when they don’t know what they really want to eat. And what’s worse are picky eaters. There is a great cartoon that illustrates Jesus standing in front of a multitude holding out a loaf of bread and a fish. The title was, “If Jesus had to feed 5000 today.” Three of the spectators call out with the following comments, “I can’t eat that I’m vegan,” “Has that fish been tested for mercury” and “Is that bread gluten-free?” Funny, but in today’s times we can hardly equate picky eaters to those who follow plant-based diets, have genuine concerns over environmental risks or those who have developed food allergies. We would do well to examine what leads us to the table and most importantly what would lead us to Christ who visits the shores of our Galilee today.
Hunger is caused by a hormone in your body. When your stomach is empty and you anticipate another meal, the brain triggers the production of Ghrelin. This hormone then triggers the release of stomach acids that begin the process of digesting food. If there is no food then the acids begin to attack the walls of the stomach, thereby creating “hunger pains.” It is certain that everyone has experienced hunger pains. When the stomach is full an opposite hormone, called Leptin is produced which then suppresses the appetite. Physiologically then, one would think hunger depends on the quantity of food, but that is where you are wrong. The nutritionist Rachael Hartley on her blog “The Joy of Eating” explains there is a difference between being full and being satisfied. Filling oneself by eating a lot may not help give you the fuel if you are not taking in the right nutrients. Starving yourself won’t help either. Fullness is about the right amount of physical sensation while Satisfaction comes from knowing you ate the right type of food and therefore the right mental sensation. They go hand in hand.
Could it be that on that day when five thousand men, besides women and children, came out to be fed they were hungry for something more than physical or mental satisfactions? This narrative story of Jesus feeding the multitudes is one of the most widely told miracles of the Son of God by all of the evangelists and told twice by two of them: Mark and Matthew. Perhaps it is because we can all relate to being hungry for what is missing in our lives. Maybe we want more. Maybe we want better. Matthew writes there were crowds who heard about Jesus coming near by boat, and towns along the Sea of Galilee began to empty with people who wanted to go and see him. We can picture a cove of some sort on the banks, where he came ashore and there before him were five thousand men, as well as women and children. Remembering that Matthew was evangelizing to mostly Jewish readers, there is significance in the emphasis he gives to the story. Many theologians believe that Jewish recollections were based on habit and counting. Numbers matter. Feeding the 5,000 was a way to relate this new movement of Jesus followers to the ancient understandings and the 5,000 related to the five books of the Pentateuch. Following the long day, twelve full baskets were collected. This may represent the twelve tribes of Israel. If Matthew was trying to proselytize and covert Jewish people into believing Jesus was the Messiah, what better way than to appeal to their diet of sacred custom. It was something they were familiar. To make this point even more palatable, Matthew tells the story again, just a chapter later, this time feeding 4,000 with seven loaves of bread and seven full baskets. This is intentional. He uses the number seven, a number of completion to satisfy the Jewish understanding of God creating in seven days, encompassing all people, both Jew and Gentile and saying it was good.
This is how Jesus feeds the hungry with good things, by giving them a diet of what they are familiar. The number of people, whether they were men, women or children, even the type of food is not the miracle here. The miracle of having more than enough, to fulfill and to satisfy so many, literally all the inhabitants of God’s creation is what we should share with others. If Jesus were to come by boat to the shores of our Galilee, what type of food would he bring us to get our attention? Maybe this is why we come to Church, read the Bible or sit in silent prayer. It is to let God lead us to the place where we hunger for time with Him. In body and blood, he pours out life to heal our sickness, to bind up what is broken and to cherish our existence. It is not hard for him to feed those who hunger. It is hard when people push God away, demanding more.
We are like the multitudes who Jesus fed with fish and bread,
We eat because we are hungry.
We eat because we want to be led.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Matthew 15:32-49