The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 2-3, 2008
Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever noticed how many varies of fish there are? You can order delectable Talapia a restaurant. A few years ago, Orange Ruffy was in fashion. You could grill salmon steaks. Then there is the ever useful Cod and Halibut. Of course in Chronicles of Narnia Mr. Tumnus promised Lucy sardines with afternoon tea. Apparently that has gone out of fashion in England. The actress who played Lucy had never had sardines so someone arranged for her to sample them. She doesn’t like them. Then of course we have local varieties, Walleye, Perch and the various forms of pan fish. I suppose nearly every form of a fish is eaten somewhere by somebody. People will smoke suckers. Scandinavians will pack fish in lye. The Romans thought eel was a delicacy - especially after the eels had just eaten a couple prisoners. It was a truly shocking practice. Some people even eat carp. Well, I suppose if you’re hungry enough...
Bread and fish. It doesn’t sound like much to our modern ears. Especially since it probably wasn’t exactly really good fish. The bread was probably what we would call pita bread or flat bread. This was the meal that Christ would serve His guests. Oh, did I mention that it was probably 15-20,000 guests and that Jesus fed them all with five loaves and two fish. I don’t think even Martha Stewart could pull that one off.
Christ was seeking some time alone. He probably wanted to pray. We can surmise this because later that day, Jesus did manage to find some time alone and this is what He did. The crowds followed Him about in the wilderness. Christ did not shoo them away. He taught them and healed the sick. This was common enough for His ministry. But toward evening, came the crisis. The people needed to eat. There was no place really to send them for food. And to bring food to them would be an enormous task. This was feeding an army. It would literally take a wagon train miles long to bring food to them. Christ then provides yet another miracle. He multiplies the bread and fish and feeds them. In fact, there is so much food the each of the twelves disciples gathers up a basket of food to spare.
Christ Himself, in the John 6 likens this miracle to the giving of manna to the Israelites that the time of Moses. Many will object saying that God made the manna, but here Christ just increased the bread and fish. But this is not really the case. Moses knew what manna was. He had seen it before. It appears that the Israelites even had some knowledge of it, but had not seen it before. Manna is actually known today. It is a fungus, closely related mushrooms. It grows up in the night and wither as soon as the sun hits it. When ground into a powder it makes an excellent flour, but cannot be stored. Today, it is found is very tiny quantities growing in the deserts of the middle east. So here too, God took something that existed and multiplied it to provide food for His people.
One of the problems at the time of Christ was that people thought that Moses had given the manna. Christ would teach the people that Moses gave them nothing. God gave the manna. Christ, throughout His ministry would do miracles the echoed the works God did through Moses. Usually, Christ would do Moses one better, and He would make it clear that He did this Himself - by His own power and authority. This was to show that Christ indeed is the one Moses Himself prophesied: [Moses said] The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) Here Moses is speaking of Christ. Christ is the prophet who would be the new Moses. He would have God’s words in His mouth. He would authenticate those words by signs not seen before or since.
There is a warning in this as well. God will demand payment from any who does not listen His chosen One. This doesn’t exactly sound all too nice. It isn’t. God isn’t nice. He is loving. But He also an avenger. One must never reduce God to single attribute. This is one of the great errors of our age.
So this then becomes the context of Christ’s miracle. The people were waiting for this special prophet. But they were hard hearted. They didn’t really believe God’s promises. In many cases they twisted the promises of God. They weren’t looking for a savior from sin. They were looking for someone to trash the Romans. Christ comes and begins to teach. His teaching is different. He teaches by His own authority. What does that mean. Well, what we see through the Gospels. It sounds something like this. “You have heard it said... but I tell you...” Or “Moses wrote... but I tell you...” He does not rely upon the authority of others. He is clearly claiming that His authority is greater. Okay prophet, if you’re such hot stuff, prove it, the people would say. Christ would proceed to heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, walk on water and the like. In many cases people still didn’t believe. It makes you want to scream, “What is it going to take.” Indeed, as Christ Himself said on another occasion, they will not believe, even if someone were to come back to them from the dead. Such is the nature of unbelief.
Christ came to be God with us. He came to be a blessing. Sadly, for some it became a curse. But we must not think that Christ has left us. Indeed, at the end of Matthew Christ tell us that He is with us always. He did not ascend into heaven to be an absent and distant Lord - like some nobleman who lives in another country. Rather Christ continues to feed us. He gives us His very Body and Blood, given and shed on the cross for our sins, as our food to drink. This is an even greater miracle than multiplying a few fish and pitas. Here we are fed with the very thing that was sacrificed for us. And so here at the rail we should see a continuation of Christ’s feast. It does not end, but continues for His people through all eternity. The Body and Blood become the ultimate sign for those who believe. Here is the greatest feast of all time. Here is the bread our Savior would give us to feast upon - the true bread of eternal life. For those fed in the wilderness of Galilee were soon hungry again. But not so for us. The true hunger for forgiveness and life is filled here, continuously. It is a bread that cannot be taken from us. It is a living bread that remains within us, forever.