The Golden Temple of Amritsar in Northern India provides food for over 5,000 people every day. It has a community kitchen that is open 24 hours. Catering at Camp Bastion in the middle of the baking desert in Afghanistan has a dedicated team of army chefs rustling up thousands of meals a day. You certainly need some gastronomic skills of hospitality in order to feed so many hungry soldiers, to keep an army marching on its stomach. Every week troops consume 8.8 tonnes of potatoes, 5.9 tonnes of beef and 12.7 tonnes of chicken!
But of course the Gospel story of mass feeding wasn’t like this. There was no kitchen for the disciples to prepare vast quantities of food. No catering team. No tonnes of food. In fact there was hardly any food at all – a few loaves and a couple of fish. It’s not the golden arches of McDonalds – but an absolute miracle with a golden capital ‘M’ instead!
The crowds were intrigued by Jesus’ teaching and His miracles and wanted to see more. But it’s getting late so the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away so they can go to the villages to by food for themselves. Their intention is genuine but not logical, as no village would have enough food to feed thousands of extra people. Even stranger is Jesus’ response: “That isn’t necessary – you feed them.” He knows what He’s going to do. And He knows He can do it – but His disciples remain incredulous: “But we only have five loaves of bread and two fish!” (Mt.14:16-17). Jesus didn’t accept that. He longs to bless people, He was moved with compassion (Mt.14:14) and you know the rest of this well-known miracle reminds us of God’s generous provision. Every day we are blessed both spiritually and materially, way beyond what we could hope for: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Ps.103:2).
How blind or selfish are we to recognise divine generosity; to see our abundance? It’s like the bloke going to the gym. He uses a new machine they’ve got there – only for 10 minutes though as he starts to feel sick. It’s great though. It does everything – KitKats, Mars Bars, Snickers, Crisps, the lot! Seriously though, as someone once said, “The Lord Jesus spreads a large table every day” – so from vending machines and supermarket aisles, to the food on our tables we are indebted to God from whom, as we sing every week, “all our blessings flow.” Perhaps then we should be sorry for the times we have not recognised He gives us what we need.
Perhaps that’s why in our comfort and affluence it’s easy for us to be blasé about such a familiar Gospel passage. This is a shame as it’s full of cryptic clues revealing the power and authority of Christ. In the OT Exodus, God miraculously sent His people manna to eat – literally bread from heaven. And what is Jesus going to do? Exactly the same – feed the people with bread – new manna! Just like Moses – only greater. So with a packed lunch, the multitude, not counting women and children, are fed and 12 full baskets are left over – symbolising the 12 tribes of Israel who represented the people of God. The Church today is the “New Israel” – and we are God’s people. From this story we can see how Jesus cares for us, and how He would like us to care for people too.
Let’s also be realistic. It’s all very well hearing about Jesus feeding 5,000 plus people, but every year 15 million children across the world die of hunger. For the price the MOD spend on one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for 5 years. Our military personnel need protection of course, but with the political and economic circumstances in the world today, we ponder…always asking that obvious question: If God is so loving and wonderful, why can’t He feed the starving? Yet the way of connecting this miracle to our situation today, and to help answer this infernal question is to remember what Jesus says:“YOU give them something to eat.”
The hungry are not just thousands of miles away either. Gary and Caroline Price had a vision about being involved in a project to provide food parcels to anyone in need across Wolverhampton, without prejudice. 7 years ago they started The FoodBank. They shared their testimony with us a couple of years ago and our church has been supporting them ever since. They now have connections with over 80 churches and organisations across the City and in South Staffordshire. In fact we are a “drop-off” point for people who can’t get to the warehouse – so encourage friends and neighbours to help us fill our container every week.
Their initiative continues to expand. No longer just food, but in their large warehouse, soon clothing, furniture and electrical items will be collected and distributed and they are now a limited company calling themselves The Well confirmed by these Scripture verses given in prophecy to Caroline: “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them… I will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” (Is.41:17-18).
Gary remarked, “We know God has it all in hand! We have felt for a while that we need to prepare for what He has told us He will do, so that the structure is in place to be able to contain the growth to come.” On their website there are many stories of hope because of the difference a food parcel makes. This is the left over baskets of abundance – feeding and clothing 1000s of people each year in crisis, and bringing them the hope of the Gospel at the same time, as Jesus’ love for people is the foundation of this project. Every item that leaves the warehouse has a “With Love From Jesus Christ” sticker on it. Also an envelope is included with every food parcel containing Bible verses. It’s the recipient’s free choice as to whether they read any of them.
Sharing is miraculous isn’t it? “YOU give them something to eat!” (Mt.14:16). Foodbanks are springing up all over the place because there is great need. Remember also that Jesus didn’t magically make the food appear from nowhere. He used what was offered. In John’s telling of this miracle it’s a young lad who has the food; one of the least important people in the crowd, a child offering the very thing the Lord needs. Young or old – we can all help make a difference, because whatever we offer with a true heart, even though we may not have very much, becomes much when it is placed in God’s hands and He can use our gifts to help towards solving the world’s problems. What have you to give today?
This story in the gospels has a great deal of relevance to listeners in every age. It’s telling us what we should do when we so easily say, “There’s not a lot we can do” – or “someone else will solve the problem” – or “it’s not our concern” – look again at the God given resources, the blessings you have and give something back – as God will bless your efforts and things will begin to happen – even multiply! When we understand this we can really begin to see how we can make a difference. Starvation is a massive problem, the poor and hungry will be with us always – but we can play our part and begin to see signs where others see only hopelessness. With a little faith, a little ingenuity, the desire to fight for justice, as well as a little compassion – we will move closer to the presence of God’s kingdom seeing modern miracles happen.
Lastly the greater symbolism to take away from today’s reading is that Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, removes all hunger that no food or material thing can ever satisfy and He continues to nourish us forever. And like the bread that fed the five thousand, His gift of eternal life is absolutely free for the taking! And just as He instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass, rest and be fed, so too are we to take this offer, and every Sunday, the Holy Sabbath, is an opportunity to rest, reflect, and be nourished by the Gospel.
Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.