Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Much with Little August 2, 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

Here we find the only miracle of Jesus, aside from the resurrection of course, that is recorded in all four of the Gospels. That alone should tell us that this is an important miracle.

For Matthew, the purpose is to put Jesus in the context of the Old Testament, to demonstrate how he is the fulfillment of Old Covenant and the bringer of a New Covenant. Jesus is the new Moses, the new Elijah, the new Elisha, the new law-bringer, and the new prophet of God. In the Old Testament, we find miracles of abundant provision of food in two places. One is the manna and quail in the wilderness after the Exodus. The other is in the ministry of the two greatest prophets: Elijah and Elisha.

And those miracles are paralleled here. Jesus and the disciples go to a lonely place, the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, which was sparsely populated. There was only one village there, Bethsaida. The manna and quail of the Old Testament become the bread and fish of the New, both of which were staples of the Galilean diet.

Elijah did a food miracle providing flour and oil for the widow of Zarephath. The closest parallel from the Old Testament to this miracle is when someone gives the prophet Elisha 20 loaves of barley bread, and he directs them to be used to feed the whole company of prophets. The objection is made, “How can so little feed so many?” But Elisha says, “It will feed them all, and there will be some left over.” And that’s just what happens.

The context of this story in Jesus’ life is that it is just after John the Baptist’s death at the hands of Herod Antipas. Jesus withdraws to grieve, but the crowds follow after him. He was still very popular at this point, which was still early in his ministry.

Jesus has compassion on them. Where Christ is present, the weary find rest. The hurting find healing. And the hungry are satisfied.

The disciples urge Jesus to send the crowd away, as there is no way for them to find food out in this lonely place. Jesus insists, “You feed them.” They think it’s impossible, since they have so little. Matthew leaves out of the story the part of the young boy who brought them to Jesus. Matthew tells more stories about Jesus than the other three Gospel writers, but the drawback of that is that he tells them in less detail. In Jesus’ time, “books” were written on a scroll. And so your book could only be as long as the scroll, typically no more than about 30 feet, or it was just too heavy and awkward to hold and use. That’s why we don’t find any books of the Bible that are 200 pages long. So we don’t find a lot of details in all these stories that Matthew relates.

He focuses instead on Jesus blessing the food, then giving it to the disciples to give to the crowd. This reminds us that all good gifts come from God. And gifts flow from God to the followers of Jesus and then out to the world in need.

There is a paradox here. On one hand, the Church is powerless without Jesus. We rely on his presence and power that come through the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. But at the same time, Jesus is also “powerless” without the Church. He can’t do his work in the world without us, for we are now his Body. Teresa of Avila said it this way: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Jesus gives the food to the disciples. They give it to the crowd, and all eat and are satisfied. There are even 12 baskets full of leftovers. The number 12 likely refers to the disciples. At this time, when people traveled, they typically carried a basket on their back for their supplies. When I was growing up, we went to Scout camp at Heritage Reservation down in Fayette County. Each patrol would send two Scouts to the dining hall at every meal with wicker baskets on their backs to pick up the supplies for the meal. Same idea. So not only does Jesus feed the crowd; there are even leftovers for the disciples. Who doesn’t like leftovers!

There were 5000 men fed that day, plus many more women and children. In that culture, men ate separately from women in public, and the children ate with the women, in case you’re wondering why they are mentioned separately.

I think the great takeaway from the story is how God is able to do much with what little we have. Maybe we feel like that young boy that Matthew never mentions. What do we have that God can use? Maybe it seems so very small. Maybe it seems it’s not even worth offering it. But that’s not how it works! The question is not how little we have but how greatly God can use it. Little always becomes much in the hands of Jesus. So never be afraid or ashamed to offer what little you have. God can use it, far more than you can imagine.

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