Preached (via YouTube) on Wednesday, 5 August, 2020, at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Barrie, ON, Diocese of Toronto
Readings for today: Psalm 17, Isaiah 43.1-7, Mt 15.32-39
If you were listening to me read today’s gospel, about Jesus miraculously feeding a crowd, and thinking, “Hey, didn’t he jus tread that gospel on Sunday?”, don’t worry, you’re not experiencing deja vu. There are two feeding miracles in Matthew, the one we’ve just heard today, from Matthew 15, and the one appointed for Sunday’s gospel (Mt 14.13-21). The first, from Mt 14, in which Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand (men – women and children are mentioned but their number is not recorded), is the only miracle repeated in all four gospels (Mk 6.31-44, Lk 9.12-17, Jn 6.1-14). The second, from Mt 15, in which Jesus feeds four thousand (again, only men are counted), is also told by Mark (Mk 8.1-9). There are a total of six feeding miracles in the four gospels, which leads us to wonder, why so many? Why was this story, in its various versions, so important to the early Jesus movement that it made it into all four gospels?
The quick answer, I think, is that all these stories all tell us something about who Jesus is. In both the feeding stories, Matthew tells us that Jesus is motivated by “compassion” for the crowd (Mt 15.32). Compassion is something we’ve seen in Jesus all along. For three days now he has been with these people up in the mountains, curing them and making them whole, so feeding them now, when he sees their hunger, is just another demonstration of his deep compassion. I talked on Sunday about how centering ourselves and our actions in the compassion of Jesus is our best guide as to how we should act as church and as Christians. As +Andrew, our Diocesan Bishop has frequently reminded us since the pandemic began, we can’t go far wrong if we err on the side of compassion and generosity.
Also, the sheer abundance of these stories, the vast amounts of food left over, points to how Jesus does things. Jesus doesn’t believe in rationing or just enough. With Jesus, there is always enough, and more than enough. There’s enough forgiveness in Jesus to give to our enemies, not just a little but “seventy-seven times more than enough” (Mt 18.22). There’s enough generosity in Jesus to give a gold ring and a fatted calf to a wayward son. There’s enough faith in Jesus to tell the devil to get lost, enough righteousness and holiness in Jesus that demons run in fear. There’s enough healing in Jesus for a dead girl, a bleeding woman, and entire crowds out their in the desert. There’s enough life in Jesus that the whole might of the Roman Empire can’t snuff it out, enough life that we can all have it, and have it abundantly. That’s how it is with Jesus. There is always enough, and more left over.
I think the feeding stories summed up all these things for the early church and more. They pointed to a simple theology of grace, that all are welcome at God’s table. For the early church, where some were slaves and some were poor, their meals together, meals of fellowship and eucharist, reminded them that God through grace had made them into a new people in Christ. People didn’t always get it. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was in part to make them understand what eating together meant. Every church needs to learn this lesson, that if we are one when we eat, then we are one in all things, which is why Father Simon is so right to remind us that we must never charge for a community meal, for all are welcome, regardless of their ability to pay. If we are one when we eat, then we are one in all things.
Of all the many challenging things about the pandemic, one of the worst is that we, God’s people, can’t eat together. Our kitchen is darkened, and our altar is bare. Communion, when it starts again, will be by wafer alone, and with far greater care than we’ve taken, even since the days of SARS. I look forward to the day when we’re all vaccinated, when we can take the bread and wine, sing our favourite hymns as loudly as we can, and then sit down to one of those amazing church suppers were there is SO MUCH FOOD, where no one leaves hungry. That will be an amazing day, but I think, whenever it comes, we will all know, deeply and confidently, that God in Christ, in all his love, in all his faithfulness, and in all his inexhaustible resurrection life, in all his crazy abundance, has been with us all the time, because that’s how it is with Jesus. There is always enough, and more left over.