Scripture: Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 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. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21 ESV
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Observation: As we read in yesterday’s Daily Focus (click here to read it), John the Baptist’s disciples buried his body after Herod beheaded him (per Herodias’ vengeful scheming). They then beelined to Jesus to inform him of the disheartening news (14:12). This marks a strategically placed interlude that provides the backstory to Jesus concluding his Galilean ministry. Seeking solitude, Jesus sails south from Capernaum to a remote region on the south shore of the Sea of Galilee outside of Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction. But news travels fast, and another crowd from this southern shore of the sea learns of the direction he has set sail from Capernaum and hurries to meet him on his arrival. Despite finding little time to withdraw from the frenetic pace of his ministry and seek comfort and refreshment from his Father, Jesus turns to this gathering of desperate souls and compassionately heals many into the evening hour.
Pragmatically assessing their remote location and the lack of food, Jesus’ disciples urge Jesus to send the people on their way to fend for food by their means. Much to their shock, Jesus rebukes his disciples and tells them to feed the masses. But they plead their case: “We have only five loaves here and two fish” (verse 17 above). Christ then tells them to bring what modest provisions they have to him and instructs them to direct the people to sit while he looks up to heaven and blesses the loaves and fish. He then miraculously breaks apart the bread and fish and keeps giving portions to the disciples, who disseminate this miraculous multiplication of earthly elements from the land and sea to five thousand men and their families. And Matthew, emphasizing the magnitude of this miracle, adds that all ate and were satisfied, and the leftovers filled twelve baskets.
Takeaway: Most commentators hold that Jesus did not withdraw to mourn but to turn his focus toward Jerusalem now that he could no longer freely move about Galilee under paranoid Herod Antipas’ watchful eye. Indeed, this segment of Matthew’s Gospel marks the critical juncture where Jesus begins his climactic journey to his cross. Still, it would be reasonable to assume that this Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3) also sought solace from his beloved Father—reminding us of his fully human nature. Regarding his fully divine nature, his feeding of the masses reveals his sovereignty over all creation (including the laws of nature as we understand them).
However, this story’s big idea is that Christ is real food for the hungry. How so? Matthew’s detail of twelve baskets of leftovers points his audience to the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the twelve disciples. Jesus later tells the Twelve, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28 ESV). But he further illustrates through The Parable of the Sheep and Goats that all humankind will face judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Still, those who have served Christ by faith will receive pardon and his invitation to enter his kingdom. And as Luke records in Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-24), those who reject his invitation to come and sup with him will conversely face condemnation. But all those who accept his invitation will joyously feast with him (implying that all their needs and desires are eternally satiated).
Meanwhile, as we sojourn a fallen world marred by sin, as Christ warned his disciples, we will continue to face trials and tribulations (John 15:18-25). So he has given us his Holy Spirit, our Helper, who will guide and comfort us (John 15:26-16:15). And he has prepared a table before us and invites us to come and sup with him often as we celebrate a foretaste of his eternal banquet: our Eucharist (Holy Communion). Thus, when we come by faith, we receive real spiritual food that feeds our souls and satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son who has prepared a table before us at the immeasurable sacrifice of his life. And we thank you that there are always leftovers to sustain us throughout the week. So would you please help us approach his table by faith and feast on him so that our hungry souls may be satisfied in him alone? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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