In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of
the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I can’t get no…satisfaction.” So sings Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. For an
Englishman, he uses awfully poor English, but such is the license of poetry and
song lyrics, it seems. I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Jagger’s prose
with William Shakespeare’s.
In our Gospel lesson today, we hear St. Matthew’s
account about a miraculous feeding of a large crowd along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, an event commonly known as The Feeding of the Five Thousand. We know,
however, that a much larger number was fed, because all the Gospel writers
record that those who ate included 5,000 men, and Matthew explicitly tells us
that this did not include the women and children who were present.
As I was reading through the parallel accounts of this
miracle in the four Gospels, I was struck by something I thought was
remarkable. Miracles are, of course—by definition—amazing and remarkable
events. Miracles are things that defy logical or scientific explanation.
Certainly no one in his right mind is going to claim that you or I could break
up five ordinary loaves of bread and two ordinary fish and provide enough for a
crowd of five thousand or more to eat their fill.
So it wasn’t so much the extraordinary nature of the
miracle itself that I found remarkable, because I was expecting
to read that. Rather, the thing that struck me most significantly upon
comparing the four Gospel accounts was the high degree of consistency with
which the human authors present the circumstances and the details of this
Yes, we certainly expect that the Word of God, the
revealed will of He who is perfect and holy, to be consistent when we properly
read and understand it. After all, among the fundamental tenets of the
Christian faith are the divine inspiration and the inerrancy of Holy
Scripture. We also expect Matthew, Mark, and Luke to have similarities in how
they present events from the life of Jesus. That’s why we call them the
“syn-optic” Gospels; they “see things the same way.” This would especially be
so if one or more of these documents served as a source for the others, as many
scholars have concluded.
Usually, though, there’s at least a good degree of
variance among the accounts, even when two or all three of them record the same
event. Yet here, in The Feeding of the Five Thousand, while we do see
some differences in phrasing and vocabulary, there is nowhere near as much
variance as we usually find.
What’s more, even St. John captures this event—the
sole time that his Gospel records the same pre-crucifixion miracle as all the
other evangelists, and even his account is very similar to
Maybe it’s just me, but when I see the Holy Scriptures
presenting us with something on several occasions like that, and with such
remarkable similarity from one place to another, I tend to sit up straight and
pay a little closer attention. It’s a signal to me that perhaps the Holy
Spirit is communicating something very important here.
That’s not to say that any of God’s Word which isn’t
repeated quite so often, or which isn’t given with such consistency of language
and detail from one place to another should be considered any less significant,
of course. It’s just that here. in The Feeding of the Five Thousand, we have a
pretty good indication that what has been written does have a great deal
Consider, if you will, some of the key facts we’re
told in Matthew’s account, many of which are shared among the other Gospels.
First, Jesus and the disciples are attempting to go
off on their own, to get away from the crowds. The Feeding of the Five
Thousand coincides with Jesus receiving news of the execution of John the
Baptist. It is also about the time the disciples have returned from their
mission to drive out demons and cure diseases.
It’s little wonder, then, that both Jesus and His
closest friends could use a little time alone. John’s death by beheading would
have been gruesome and troubling news for all of them. The disciples were
probably physically exhausted, too, from all of their preaching, and from meeting
the demands of the many they had encountered along their way. So Jesus
withdraws by boat to a “desolate place,” as it is described.
But His solitude is not to be. Eager, desperate
people follow Jesus and His disciples out to this “desolate place.” They are
gathered on the grassy hillside near the shore, eager to hear the words of
Jesus and to have their physical ailments healed.
In Matthew’s account, as in the others, both Jesus and
the disciples express or demonstrate concern and compassion for the large
crowd. Jesus does it by preaching about the kingdom of God, and healing the
sick. But now the day is spent, and the sun begins to set. People have come a
long way from where they usually dwell in order to be with Jesus. The
disciples then demonstrate some concern for the crowd as well, although we
might interpret their suggestion to Jesus as having some elements of
selfishness, too. They suggest to the Lord that the people be dismissed to
seek food, and perhaps even shelter for the night.
Jesus will have none of that. He knows that they have
come to see and hear Him. They have journeyed a great distance on foot to have
their hearts and minds filled with the wisdom and encouragement of His words,
and to have their bodies made whole by the power and healing of His touch.
They aren’t likely to voluntarily walk away from Him, even to quiet the rumble
of their empty stomachs.
The crowd need not go away, Jesus says. Instead, the
Savior issues a gentle challenge to those who are His closest followers: “You
give them something to eat.” It’s a challenge they aren’t up to, any
more than you or I would be. And just like you and I do when we’re faced with
difficulties—physical, emotional, or spiritual—instead of turning to the Lord
and trusting that He will meet all our needs, the disciples make excuses:
“It’s a long way into town to get food.”
“We don’t have enough money.”
“The food we’ve got here is barely enough for us.”
Such statements are true, of course. It was a long
way to the towns and villages. They almost certainly didn’t have enough money
to buy food for 5,000 people, unless Judas had something up his sleeve besides
his money-grubbing hands. And the five loaves and two fish wouldn’t have been
much of a dinner for 13 grown men. They had no doubt worked up quite an
appetite themselves in the course of the day’s travels and activities.
It’s here that Jesus does what Jesus alone always
does: He takes charge of a bad situation, and makes everything not only good,
but beyond good. When the disciples say, “We have only five loaves here,
and two fish,” Jesus replies, “Bring them here to me.”
It is as if He is telling them, “You might not think very highly of these
small, seemingly ordinary gifts of God. You might think them inadequate for
the task. But bring them to me, for I’m going to do something remarkable with
Jesus took the loaves and the fish, and He looked up
to heaven and spoke to His heavenly Father over them, and suddenly—in the
speaking of His words—where there had been inadequacy, there was fullness.
Where there had been insufficiency, there was abundance. So much abundance
that—after 5,000 men had eaten their fill; after all the women and all the
children had taken everything that they needed and wanted—there remained
plenty. Indeed, there remained far more at the end than what they had even
We’ll leave it to the numerologists whether the twelve
baskets of leftover bread and fish have any symbolism to them, such as
representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The explanation may be far less
complex than that, and the remainder of the Bible is silent on the matter.
Perhaps each of the twelve disciples simply gathered one basket each.
The number of baskets isn’t nearly as important as
what had taken place, and how: Jesus had taken the ordinary, spoken His word,
and the miraculous had happened. People who had been hungry had been fed, it’s
true. But more than that, they had been satisfied.
That’s a concept that is somehow foreign to many of us
today. Fueled by the competitiveness of our society, encouraged by the murmurs
and shouts of advertisers, dazzled by the extravagances of wealth that the
media alternately celebrates and condemns, being satisfied isn’t
something we’ve come to either expect, or accept. Instead, we have
individually and collectively developed an insatiable appetite in nearly every
area of life.
Our employers demand greater and greater productivity
to stay ahead of other organizations. Our families and our jobs both want more
time than we have to give them. Our parents demand better grades, better
performance on the field or on the stage, cleaner rooms, cleaner language.
We want our minds to have less stress; our bodies to
have less weight, more muscle, and just the right contours. Our egos seek out
clothes with the right labels, houses with the right zip code, cars with the
right hood ornament, vacations to the right destination. We’re never
satisfied, and others are never satisfied with us.
Is it any wonder that we’re frazzled? Is it any
wonder that our face breaks out, our back goes out, and our
spouses and kids stomp out on us? We live and give unsatisfying lives,
among others who live and give unsatisfying lives. We constantly are looking
for something beyond what we have, that little “edge” that will get us past
that gnawing feeling that what we’ve got now isn’t quite all there is, or isn’t
all it should be. If ever there was a people whose motto was: “Bigger,
Faster, Better, More,” it’s right here in 21st century America.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We don’t have
to join the band and sing along with Mick, “I can’t get no…
satisfaction.” You’ve tried, and you’ve tried, and you’ve tried, and
you’ve tried, but maybe it’s time to stop chasing the illusion of worldly
Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Sit down on
the grassy hillside. Sit in the house of God. Kneel before the cross of
Jesus. Be still. Be quiet. Listen to the words of God. You’ll be reminded
that you are never going to be able to fulfill all your own wishes and
desires. You will never meet all the expectations and demands of others. You
most certainly will never satisfy the perfection which the Law of God demands
in order to be reconciled with the perfection of His holiness.
That might sound rather defeatist, or at least
discouraging, and if that’s all we hear, it is. But Jesus doesn’t leave you
sitting on a figurative hillside, tired and hungry. Jesus became incarnate and
came into the world for you for the same purpose He came to the people gathered
that day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee:
JESUS COMES TO PROVIDE TRUE AND COMPLETE SATISFACTION,
BOTH FOR US AND FOR OUR HEAVENLY FATHER.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the means
which God chose to address the great chasm that had been torn open between man
and God by sin. That infinite, humanly unbridgeable gap is what causes the
alienation and dissatisfaction we experience with others, with God, and
sometimes even with ourselves.
In sin, we are never truly satisfied with anything.
Instead, we look for ways to be satisfied that can really only dull the pain,
avoid the confrontation, or substitute false sources of satisfaction.
The eating of the greatly-multiplied loaves and fish
on a Galilean hillside may have satisfied the appetite of the crowd that
followed Jesus that day long ago, but it was the shedding of the blood of the
one-and-only-begotten Son of God on another hillside in Judea several months
later that satisfied the wrath of God against the sin of you and all people—not
a one-day or temporary satisfaction, but a satisfaction of the condemnation of
the Law for all time.
That satisfaction is complete. It is eternal. It is
perfect. Most important, that satisfaction of God is your satisfaction, too.
It was done on your behalf, and if God is now satisfied with you for the sake
of Christ, then you most certainly can be satisfied with Him and all He has
done and all He provides. In Christ, all that you need has already been
accomplished and given.
And now, when we gather together as God’s chosen and
favored ones, it is not simply to be reminded of that
accomplishment. Rather, in coming together here in this place, we hear the
declaration of His forgiveness. We are immersed in the same Word which accompanied
the waters of our own baptisms. We are fed at the altar with food more divine
and powerful than miraculous fish and loaves. In all these things, we have
that accomplishment—that satisfaction—applied and distributed to us, as real
and as fresh as the first time, every time.
The miracle of The Feeding of the Five Thousand is
well-known. It was recorded in all the Gospels. It demonstrated the divine
power and compassion of Jesus, and in a very real way provided for the physical
well-being of those who followed Him. Yet as miraculous and wonderful as it
was, those who ate the loaves and fish and were satisfied did not gain
forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life through Jesus’ action that day.
We look instead to the lasting satisfaction—a satisfaction
that meets the needs of both man and God—in the miracle of the Death of the One
on the cross. It is there where the divine power and the compassion of Jesus
come into sharpest focus and have their greatest implication for your life. It
is there, where the living bread of heaven was broken and bled for you, that
you will find all you need for the complete and eternal satisfaction—and
salvation—of your body, mind, and spirit.
Amen, amen… it shall be so. In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.