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Loaves and Fishes This is not the age of information. This is not the age of information. Forget the news, and the radio, and the blurred screen. This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand. --David Whyte Matthew 14 (New International Version) N I V a t I B S N I V a t Z o n d e r v a n Z o n d e r v a n Matthew 14 John the Baptist Beheaded 1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, 4for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. 6On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand 13When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” 16Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. 18“Bring them here to me,” he said. 19And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Jesus Walks on the Water 22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat was already a considerable distance[a] from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It's a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.” 28“Lord, if it's you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 34When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. Footnotes: Matthew 14:24 Greek many stadia The story goes that Rabbi Jesus heard about the death of his cousin John the Baptist. It was a gruesome, stupid death. Herodias, Herod‟s wife, hated John because he was preaching that it was wrong for her to be married to Herod. She had been his brother Phillip‟s wife. Herod had a big party, and Herodias‟ daughter danced the dance of the seven veils, and Herod was so enchanted, so drunk, that he said “Whatever you want, my dear, I will give it to you!” She consulted with her mother, who told her to ask for the head of J the B on a platter. H had not wanted to kill J the B. The people thought he was a prophet. There was going to be a mess. He couldn‟t lose face in front of the guests, though, so he had the guard behead John, bring up his head on a platter, and present it to the girl and her mother. Everyone would have been upset at the news, especially his family. Rabbi Jesus wanted to go off by himself and be quiet for a while. He couldn‟t make it happen, though. People followed him. They were beginning to know who he was, and they wanted to hear what he would say, see what he would do. He didn‟t yell at them or whine. He talked to them, healed the sick. There were a lot of them. The gospel accounts say five thousand men, along with women and children. Evening came, and this disciples said he should send them back into the towns so they could buy themselves something to eat. “You give them something,” he said. For the first time it was on them. They had been watching him do it all, now it was on them? They resisted. We don‟t have that kind of money. It would take 200 days wages to feed this crowd, they said. We have done the feasibility study and this thing isn‟t do-able. We have five loaves and two fish. There are 5,000 people here. More, if you count women and children. Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples and they distributed the food. Everyone there ate until they were satisfied, and there were twelve baskets of pieces left over. Did it really happen? Who can say? Let‟s set that question aside and look at it as a teaching story. You have people gathered and they are hungry. What are people hungry for? Food, of course, but you know, we are always hungry for something. In the banquet in the story right before this one, they are gathered, hungry for power, hungry for stimulation, hungry for position. They get crazy and drunk and it ends up in destruction. In the second meal, they are hungry for healing, hungry for the stories the teacher is telling, and the meal is an occasion for sharing and the creation of abundance. Bruce Springsteen says “Everybody has a hungry heart.” I was reading a detective novel the other day by James Lee Burke. I found some words I think we are all hungry to hear in some form or another. In the book they are in a Christian form. A preacher said to the main character, right after he comes up out of the river water at his baptism “You done been joined in spirit to God, to earth, to sky, to water and trees. Jesus is your light, your sword and shield. There ain‟t no place in his kingdom you don‟t belong. You ain‟t never got to be afraid again.” In this life we need a light, a sword and a shield. For some of us it‟s truth, for others its love, for some it‟s God, or our Higher Power. We‟re hungry to hear we belong. We‟re hungry to know we ain‟t never got to be afraid again. The food that feeds the hunger in this story is shared loaves of bread and fish. Many preachers say the bread is Jesus, the bread of life, the fish is a symbol of Christianity. I don‟t think so. I read the letters of Flannery O‟Connor, where she laughs about a teacher writing her to ask what the symbolism of the black wide-brimmed hat is the man is wearing in the story “The Misfit.” O‟Connor replied, “. . . Most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats.” …. “its significance . . . was to cover his head” (O‟Connor, Habit 334). The most important part of this story, to me, is when the disciples hand Jesus what they have. He gives thanks for it and breaks it open. He gives thanks for it and breaks it open and there is enough. With the way of looking at the Bible that is my favorite, I get to ask: “What grows when you break it open? What expands as you share it?” Answers come flooding in. Love is like that. Energy, when you hoard it, lessens, and when you spend it, grows. Blessings are inexhaustible once you start blessing everything and every one. Time -- as you try to control it and do seven things at once you are left with nothing done and no mind left. Spending time on a spiritual practice, breaking time open to give some to the soul helps everything else go slower and one thing at a time get done. Community -- the reason we have an empty chair in each Covenant Group circle is that when you close down on community, when you say “We have enough people now, no new ones please,” the community tends to curdle and dry up. When you clutch tightly to what you have, you can kill it. We are told to hold love lightly. I think the same is true of money, of what we possess. There is supposed to be a flow. We use clothes, furniture, money, then we let it go. If we have clothes we aren‟t using, they belong to someone else and we should get them to a resale store or a thrift store where they can find their rightful owners. If we have money piling up we need to think seriously about what is enough, and let some of it go. If we have furniture in storage (and I have a basement full) we need to figure out who we‟re saving it for or let it go to the folks who are supposed to be its owners now. We think of conservative Christians as usually being conservative politically, but there are those with left-leaning politics who see this story as one of the stories of Jesus that talk about economics. This is a story about the redistribution of food. Those who had, gave it , and it turned out to be enough. Reagan‟s economics was trickle-down economics. “A rising tide raises all boats,” say some. Rabbi Jesus told a story about trickle-down economics. Lazarus the beggar lived outside the rich man‟s house and he ate the crumbs from the rich man‟s table. In the afterlife, Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man is in the flames, begging for a cooling taste of water from the man who used to depend on bread to trickle down. It„s almost enough to make me want to believe in hell. It‟s not there, literally, but the point of the story is that in Rabbi Jesus teachings, trickle down is wicked. Those who have should share. We all have different amounts of money, time and skill here. Most of us feel tight in all those areas. Yet we are promised by this story that if we begin to open up, if we begin to share what time we do have, what skill and energy and good will we do have, there will be enough. We are not promised happiness or crazy drunk ecstasy, just that the community will last another day. Another day of teaching, of healing, of sitting side by side and doing what it is we do. Was this a miracle? Yes. Which miracle was it -- the loaves and the fish multiplying magically or someone seeing someone else give what they have, then deciding to pull out what they had and share it, then someone else pulling out what they had and sharing it? Either way, magical food or hungry folks deciding to share -- it‟s a miracle.
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