Friday, August 8, 2014

Jesus' heart is moved: The many banquets, and the great blessing. Mt 14: 13-21

“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” To Jesus, it must have been like a dream…a bad dream; you know, one of those dreams that when you wake up, you can’t tell for sure that it wasn’t real; one of those dreams that leaves you deeply troubled not just that it happened, but because of what it might mean.

Jesus and John the Baptist had a long history; a deeply intertwined and meaningful history. Mary and Elizabeth were kinswomen; they were both pregnant during the same time-frame, and both under most unlikely circumstances…Mary, a young virgin; Elizabeth, old and barren. When Mary, at the beginning of her pregnancy, greeted Elizabeth, towards the end of her pregnancy, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb…John…leapt with joy over the proximity of the babe in Mary’s womb…Jesus. At the Jordan, John recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God; later, Jesus says of John “There is no man born of woman who is greater than John the Baptist.” John’s death at the hands of Herod, Herodias, and Salome must have been devastating…deeply troubling…like one of those dreams. As Jesus sat in the boat, seeking solitude in a deserted place, he must have been thinking…and praying to his Father…about John; about Mary, and Elizabeth; about his life, and his mission; about how all of this would go. Can we even imagine what that prayer…that conversation with God his Father…must have been like?

And before he could even reach the deserted place…it was packed. How did so many people…”about five thousand men, not counting women and children”…get there so fast? How did they even guess where he was going? After his boat ride, his probably agonizingly brief opportunity to pray and to ponder…he was overwhelmed. The Gospel tells us “His heart was moved with pity for them.” In the midst of his own turmoil…perhaps maybe in part even because of his turmoil…he loved them. His deserted place was now filled with desperate people looking for what only he could provide. John’s death, surreal as it was, was now a part of Jesus’ life, and he had to move ahead. He cured their sick; he stayed with them. When the disciples wanted him to dismiss them all to look for food on their own, Jesus chided them: “…give them some food yourselves.”

What happens next overwhelms all of us, from then…until now, and to the end of time. The feeding of the five thousand is related in all four gospels; and in Matthew and Mark there is a second miracle of a feeding of four thousand that many scholars believe may be a retelling of the first. That would make six references in four gospels, and many also believe that the fact that there are multiple accounts lends strength to the reality of the miracle. The scale is staggering: a crowd of “…five thousand men, not counting women and children” equates to a total of maybe fifteen or twenty thousand. Five loaves and two fish is nothing. The significance of the fish is not clear; they are mentioned possibly just because they are a staple of the normal diet of the area at that time…but bread! Bread is life.

  And there are so many layers of symbolism, looking back into the Old Testament and the Manna in the desert, or the feeding of a hundred men by the Prophet Elisha with twenty loaves; and also the symbolism looking forward to the Last Supper, and then to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. God’s super-abundance is simply stated by twelve baskets of left-overs…one for each tribe of Israel; one for each of the Apostles. With just five loaves and two fish, Jesus satisfies…satisfies…possibly twenty thousand men, women, and children, and has food to spare! How could the impact of a banquet like that possibly be lost on anybody? It looms right there with the Manna, and the Last Supper, and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. One more observation of sorts: John the Baptist was beheaded in the midst of another banquet, one that was characterized by jealousy, pride, greed, excess, and revenge…what a stark contrast to Jesus’ banquet of healing, humility, satisfaction, and love!

As Jesus stood there with five loaves and two fish, lifting his eyes towards heaven, in his deserted place that was now filled with thousands upon thousands of hungry, desperate people in need of healing…just like us now…thinking back to the banquets of the Old Testament…stinging from the pain of the banquet that took the head of John the Baptist…and looking ahead to the banquet of his body and blood; his passion, death, and resurrection, and even thinking of us here, now, this morning, how huge are the words of blessing as he breaks the five loaves: “Baruch atah A-donay Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam Hamotzi lechem min Haaretz”.

That is: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth Bread from the Earth.”
Deacon Bill Whibbs