The Disciples’ Private Picnic

 Sermon Notes 2008   for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost    (Matthew 14:14-22)

 [14] When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. [15] When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” [16] Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” [17] They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” [18] And he said, “Bring them here to me.”[19] Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [20] And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. [21] And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. [22] Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

The context for today’s Gospel lesson (the verses which preceded the above verses) has Jesus looking for a place to go and be alone as he has just learned of the execution of his cousin, John the Baptist.  No doubt the disciples were glad themselves to be away from the demands of the crowd.  But the people somehow figured out where Jesus was headed in his boat and they beat him to his vacation destination. 

Imagine if you can that you decide to take a much needed day off and you want to get away from the demands of life and the crowds, and you get into your boat and go out to your favorite island far from the crowds, only to discover that everyone you know and everyone who is looking for you is already there.   That’s what happened to Jesus.

But Christ’s response to the crowd is not bitter disappointment, or a weary sigh, or a grumpy resentment.   Rather Jesus has compassion on them.   The whole story that follows stems from Christ’s own compassion, love, concern, and care for these people who are hounding Him.   Keep Christ’s compassion in mind as the story unfolds.

So it starts to get dark and the disciples are tired and they tell Jesus to send the crowd away so that the crowd can go and buy food for themselves.

It seems at first glance that the disciples too are being compassionate and are only concerned about the hunger of the crowd.

But take note – the disciples do not say to send the crowd away so that WE might all have a chance to buy food, but so that THEY might buy food.    The disciples are not worried about having to buy food for themselves.   Why?

Because they have brought some food along for themselves – a little picnic lunch that they were going to enjoy alone with Jesus.   But now they are embarrassed to bring out the food they have in front of the crowd and to start eating.  That surely would not be polite, so they politely ask Jesus to send the crowd away.  They aren’t concerned about the crowd, they are concerned about themselves, and about how it would appear if they began eating without offering food to the crowd.

Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves.  The disciples are stunned.  Surely Jesus can’t mean it.  They’ve only brought along enough for themselves, if they try to feed the people there will be nothing left for them.  And no doubt they had heard enough of Jesus’ message to know that Jesus would just go off and do exactly that – give their food away  because He always taught love for the other and self denial. 

Jesus tells the crowd to sit down, and the apostles know that He is going to give their food away and they can’t stop Him.    And Jesus does take their five loaves of bread and two fish from them.

But then the miracle occurs.   The Evangelist does not give us any detail as to what happened or how, but suddenly after Jesus prays over the food there is an abundance of food for everyone.  And the disciples begin distributing the food to all.  Everyone eats and is filled, not only the disciples but the thousands of people who had invaded the disciples’ private picnic.

When the meal is over, twelve baskets full of still uneaten food is collected.  And what is the significance of 12 baskets?

There is an entire picnic basket of food for each of the twelve disciples.  Each who had been so concerned that they be given a chance to eat, each who didn’t want to share with the crowd, are now amazed, and perhaps a little ashamed, that at the end of the meal each of them is given a thanksgiving charity basket of food to take home.  They each are given way more than they need or can use at that moment.

As for the message of the story, unfortunately, we sometimes miss a major point of the story because we so want miracles in our lives.  The feeding of the 5000 is not mostly about Jesus doing a miracle, otherwise he could have simply repeated this same action every day and people would have proclaimed Him king!   But that isn’t what happens in the Gospel.   The miracle is not so valuable in itself, rather it is a sign to the disciples and to all who believe in and follow Christ, that He Himself is making the Kingdom of God present in this world and near to us.  Jesus warns people not to follow Him just to have their stomachs filled with food.   Jesus is much more concerned that people begin to think about the reality which is beyond this present world, namely the Kingdom of God.  He was pointing that Kingdom out to us and pointing us to that Kingdom.  And when we each receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are again being reminded not to live for this world alone, but to seek the Kingdom of God knowing that all else will be given to us when our priorities are straight.    And Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat, just like at the end of every liturgy, we are sent back into the world, to tell the world what we have witnessed and received from God.  It is not an endless supply of food that we have to offer the world, as wonderful as that would be.  Rather we experience Christ to find our way to the Kingdom of God, and to offer to a world which hungers for God, the road map to His Heavenly Kingdom.

Maybe like the disciples, we too just want to spend time alone with Christ at a private picnic, far away from the needy crowds.   But to be a disciple of Christ means to be ever willing to share all His blessings with the world.

See the follow-up Sermon: The Kingdom of God is at Hand: Jesus Reaches out to Peter

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