Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 14:13-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR and Bethel Lutheran Church, Sweet Home, OR
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost + August 6, 2017
Text: Matthew 14:13-21

It was a perfectly ordinary day in Galilee, although the mood was rather somber.  Jesus had just received news that John the Baptist had been beheaded.  He wanted to withdraw with His disciples to a solitary place.  Yet as often happened, hordes of people came seeking Him out.  They knew Him to be a miracle-worker, one who cleansed lepers, forgave sinners, and even raised the dead.  Even though the crowds trampled his plans for solitude, He had compassion on them.  He taught them, and He healed their sick.  It was just another day in the ministry of Jesus.
Then it began to get late.  And by the way, they’re in a desolate place far away from settlements, merchants, or lodging.  Then there’s this big crowd of more than 5,000 people.  The problems just keep stacking up.  Things could get urgent, so the disciples start coming up with solutions.  It’s late, their teacher wanted a break, and they’re all hungry.  It stands to reason if the crowds were gone, everything would be solved (well, except where the disciples themselves would get food).
Trouble is that the disciples had a human view of Jesus.  They suggest to Jesus that He should dismiss the crowds, as if He’s just a rabbi who got carried away with His work and forgot the creature comforts of his audience.  But in this human view of Jesus, they don’t see His compassion.  They underestimate both His care for the crowds and His ability to provide.
Oh, one more problem: Nobody brought any food except five loaves of bread and two fish.  People say desperate times call for desperate measures.
What follows is as much for the disciples learning as it is for the crowds and their hunger:
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.”
Jesus knew exactly where they were, He knew exactly how many people had come to meet Him across the shore, and He also knew exactly what it takes to care for that great crowd.  But was Jesus failing them by allowing things to get so urgent?  Couldn’t He have just as easily warned the disciples ahead of time so they could make provision?  Instead, He was teaching them and refining their faith, which He did by presenting them with a ordinarily impossible task: “You give them something to eat.”
The place was deserted, the hour was late, the food was in short supply, and the people were many, but none of this is an obstacle.  They had the Lord of Creation with them, which is what He was showing them.  All of the facts of their circumstances were true, but what would save them was the Lord’s compassion and the truth that nothing is impossible with God.
That has something to say to us in our trying times.  Is God unaware of our need when He allows us to come into situations over our head?  On the day you lose your job and a big medical bill comes in, was God on vacation?  We often feel that God is distant when life gets hard and overwhelming.  Even if He is near, we complain that He’s not much help because doesn’t seem to have things under control.
So, desperate times call for desperate measures, right?  If you need money, look to the lottery or the casino, so you can make a fortune on the false hopes of others.  You’re hungry, your family needs food, and the grocery store has so much.  Surely it isn’t wrong to take just one or two cans of soup.  You’ve had a killer week, so you think it wouldn’t be so bad to take your mind off things with a few drinks.
Just like the disciples wanting to dismiss the crowds, these are human solutions for people who do not have a God.  But we do have a God, and One who is ever-present, loving, and able to help.[1]  “I will never leave you nor forsake you,”[2] your God says.  So bank on it, and follow the example of your Savior.  This is how a son of God faces desperate times.
Jesus, the man, is taxed from hearing about the death of his cousin, John, and He’s been ministering to this massive crowd all day.  He’s tired and hungry, too.  Don’t think that Jesus is above the situation, because He’s a part of the human need also.
What food is there for all these bellies?  Five loaves and two fish.  “Bring them here to me,” Jesus says.  He looks up to heaven and blesses God for that little bit of food.  His eyes are not focused on what isn’t there or what He thinks should be there, but on what is there, what God has provided.  And for this He gives thanks and blesses God.
How can He bless God in a time like this?  Because this is what it looks like to commend one’s life—body and soul—into the heavenly Father’s care, trusting in His promises: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”[3]  He made you, intricately fashioned in your mother’s womb, and He knows all your needs—spiritual, emotional, physical.  He knows your life better than you do, the future as well as the past.  Employers, medical tests, school admissions, family conflict, church politics—none of these is too much for Him to overcome.  Bless God and give thanks for what He’s given you, knowing that He is not limited by the circumstances you see.  Hold fast to what an Almighty Father does for His beloved children.
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 said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them 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.”  Their Father in heaven provide not only enough to feed 5,000 men and their families, but also provided enough to supply Jesus and His twelve disciples with Him.  Believe in His Word and count on His faithfulness in Jesus Christ, because He does the same for you.  Amen.
Fahling: The sad feature of it was that it was not a Savior-seeking, but a miracle-seeking crowd.
God is moved with compassion, even for those who do not believe and begrudge Him as Savior.
Luther: The great need of the disciples on this occasion was that, though they could think and figure, they did not believe or realize what kind of Lord they had in Christ. And that is the universal need even today, not only when we need food but also when we realize all sorts of necessities. We know how to figure and calculate carefully so that our needs might be filled. But when help does not come immediately as we would like it, we get nothing out of our careful figuring and calculating except sorrow and loss of spirit. It would be much better for us to commend the whole matter to God and not think so much about our needs.
Buls: “No one was overlooked. “Satisfied” is usually used of animals which eat to the full. That is the point here. The left-overs amounted to many times more than the original five loaves and two fishes.”
[1] Psalm 46:1, Psalm 50:15
[2] Hebrews 13:5-6
[3] Psalm 145:15-16