Most of us have heard, read or studied this very popular Bible verse about Jesus Feeding the 5,000 or Jesus Feeding the Multitudes.
It’s popular because it not only shows us an amazing miracle of faith— thousands of people gather to hear Jesus’s teaching, and when it gets late and there is no food to be had, Jesus takes all that there is, which is five loaves of bread and two fish, blesses and breaks the bread, and there is enough to feed all of the people with even more left over than what they had to start with.
But these six short verses — like the bread and fish that were multiplied — also give us so much more.
The lessons here expand immensely, they’re multiplied even.
So rather than focus solely on the story of the miracle and the subsequent faith that we have in Christ, let’s look at the blessing that is multiplied.
First, what is Compassion?
Matthew tells us in Verse 14, that Jesus had compassion on the people gathered.
The dictionary defines Compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
That’s all fine and good, but in looking to the root of the word Compassion, we get an even better understanding — that is exactly what Jesus was feeling.
In Latin, the word is Compassio, and its root is compati, which means to suffer with.
Break compati apart, and we have com (meaning with) and pati (meaning passion).
To suffer with…
Do you see the difference here?
It’s not simply being sympathetic to the suffering; it’s actually suffering with them.
So we can look at this reading and ask, “What are these thousands of people suffering from?”
We can say, “Well, they are hungry.”
They’ve been hanging out listening to Jesus teaching all day, and now they are famished.
Is Jesus hungry with them? Is that the suffering?
And some are sick and they want to be healed, too.
Is Jesus suffering with them on this, too?
The hunger and the sickness here become a metaphor for more, don’t they?
Let’s put a pin in that for a moment. We’ll come back to it.
Rewind the story a little bit, and we can understand what Jesus is going through.
In the same chapter, but previous verses, Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, has been brutally killed.
Jesus and John were very close.
They were born about six months apart.
Mary, Jesus’s mother, and Elizabeth, John’s mother, were niece and aunt, respectively.
This was a close family, and John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus.
John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
Now, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.
And Jesus has just been delivered this horrific news, Matthew tells us.
And so Jesus, wanting to mourn his loss alone, retreats by getting into a boat.
But by now, Jesus’s ministry is in high gear, and people are coming by droves to be healed and to hear his teaching.
And it’s not long before people are lining the shore of a lake near Bethsaida calling to him.
Remember last week, we learned that the Hebrew root Beth, which means house.
Saida, means hunting or fishing.
That’s where you would go to go fishing.
So rather than sailing out further to be alone in his mourning, Jesus heads back to the shore because he is compassionate — he suffers with them.
So now, let’s go back to the hunger and the hurt of the thousands of people gathered.
Jesus is suffering, too, isn’t he?
He’s suffering the lost of his cousin, John.
But that’s not the same thing that he is suffering with the people gathered.
Because what are they really suffering from?
Sure, hunger and hurt, but those things become the point of metaphor for something much bigger.
Why would thousands of people just drop everything and flock to where Jesus was?
We can see that they are hurting from how this broken world is — they are being persecuted by the Roman Empire as well as the Jewish pharisees.
They are waiting for a savior to rescue them.
They are hungry for salvation, for truth, and for the life God promises them.
And Jesus has come — the Messiah, the Savior — to rescue them and free them from their bondage.
To feed them and to heal them.
It’s all such beautiful metaphor, yet the physical feeding and healing that Jesus gives — by the miracles of breaking the bread and his laying on of hands — those physical things become a just an entry way for something so much bigger.
Again, Jesus flips everything that we know right onto its head.
So let’s talk about the bread now.
We tell this story as it it called — Jesus feeds the 5,000.
But the 5,000 is only the men in the crowd — not the women and children.
So the number is much greater.
With women and children, it could be triple that.
But does the number really matter?
Whether it’s 5,000 or 15,000, it’s a way more people that can be fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish.
The number doesn’t matter.
Just replace that number 5,000 with the word “Everyone.”
Because what’s happening here is a parallel to Christ’s crucifixion.
As followers of Christ, isn’t this what we do?
We follow Jesus, and we even listen to what Jesus says and promises.
But we don’t come prepared for the long run, and we find ourselves in need.
And we’re hurting.
We know we need to be fed and healed— we need nourishment — from Christ.
We are not able to feed or heal ourselves.
And so Christ intervenes.
He touches and heals, and he gives bread, and he fills.
He blesses what amounts to so little — five loaves and two fish — and with great faith, he is able to feed everyone who has followed him.
No one goes hungry, not one person.
Everyone is fed.
No one hurts anymore.
They are all healed.
What’s more, when everyone has been filled and is satisfied, there is still so much more to go around.
That’s God’s abundance.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”
It references the Exodus people — the Israelite slaves called out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land.
For the entire 40-year journey, God feeds the people by giving bread — manna.
And it just appears each morning, covering the ground.
God tells the people that if they try to hoard it or save it for the next day, it will be rotten.
Instead, God wants to demonstrate to the Israelites what faith is.
In other words, they have to have faith that each day, God provides.
In a way, this is what Jesus is doing.
He’s feeding the people.
But he’s not simply feeding them with bread.
He’s feeding them faith.
This is what faith looks like.
But we also have to take that a step further.
What does Jesus tell his disciples?
Fill in the blank for me:
I am the ______ of life. — John 6.25
If Jesus is the bread of life, then we are receiving nourishment from Jesus.
It is a foreshadowing of the crucifixion.
Jesus is the bread that is blessed and is being broken to feed the multitude.
Can you see the figure of Jesus’s own death as the bread of heaven, broken and multiple through the sharing among those who follow him?
In other words, when Jesus took the bread, blessed it and gave thanks to God and broke the bread as he does right before feeding the multitudes, it’s the same words he uses during the Last Supper, when he blesses the bread, breaks it and gives thanks to God and gives it to his disciples.
“Take and eat, this is the body of Christ broken for you and for the many for the forgiveness of sins.”
We say this — and we’ll say it in a few moments — when we partake in Communion.
The bread — Christ’s body — was blessed and broken and given to the multitudes — and that means you and me — for the forgiveness of our sins.
To heal our brokenness.
It takes something broken to make us complete.
To feed our hunger for life!
This act of breaking and blessing the bread in faith is a great prophetic foreshadowing of what Christ will give, what Christ will achieve for us on the cross.
It really doesn’t matter the number of people who were fed that day.
It’s not the number, it’s the act.
In fact, it’s not so much the miracle as it is the meaning.
It’s all about the bread and what that bread represents.
Jesus truly is the bread of life.
And why bread of life?
Because he feeds, nourishes and sustains us.
A life of freedom and joy that is only found through Christ.
A life without hunger and without pain.
How amazing that these six verses are, like the bread, multiplied for us?
We learn that Jesus’s compassion is one-hundred percent perfect — that he puts aside his own immense suffering to feed and heal us!
We learn true faith by expecting that Jesus will nourish and heal us.
And we understand how Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate act that ultimately feeds and heals us.
I often preach about solidarity.
That true solidarity is not simply sympathizing with others in their suffering;
True solidarity is standing with others in their suffering.
Time and time again — and perhaps no greater than in the example of Jesus feeding the multitudes — we see Jesus model true solidarity.
True compassion — suffering with.
Not just sympathetic to suffering, but suffering with.
So, we can ask ourselves: Who are we suffering with?
Or maybe this: Are we so wrapped up in our own lives and our own beliefs and traditions that we fail to see those who are suffering in this world?
Or to slide back into the metaphor here:
Are we selfishly rowing out away from the shore while the multitudes are calling to us for help on the shore?
What does Jesus tell us?
Row back to shore.
Do you think these stories ended up in the Bible to merely convince us what a great guy Jesus is?
But they are examples of how we must live our lives.
Jesus feeding the multitudes is no different.
Here’s the secret, friends:
If you’re always rowing out away from the shore, or if you’re always living far from the calls of the suffering, then you’ll never see them or hear them.
And what does Jesus tell us about them?
Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
If you help them, you are helping Jesus.
If you turn away from them, you are turning away from Jesus.
You are literally turning away from Jesus.
Because of the bread.
Because the bread that was broken for us was given to us so that we become one with Christ and one with each other and one with all of the world.
This is what Communion is.
The people suffering on the shore, guess what?
They ALREADY are our family.
God made them, too, and this bread — Christ — is available to them, too.
Already, they are family.
And today, members of our family are facing political, social and religious persecution all around the world as well as in our own back yards.
Our very own sisters are earning 83 percent of what a man earns in this country for doing the same job with the same skills.
About 13 percent of the U.S. population is African-American, but they make up 35 percent of jail inmates.
Hate crimes in the U.S. are up by 20 percent since 2016.
And around the world, a child dies because of inadequate nutrition every 10 seconds.
Strength and nourishment
We have a whole lot going on in our lives.
We have jobs, obligations, responsibilities and — let’s face it — we’re just not as strong as Jesus.
Sometimes, we just need to row out where it’s deep and quiet so that we, too, can recharge and pray and be strengthened and refreshed.
We need our Sabbaths, so that we, too, can be effective in the ways God calls us to be.
But there are a lot of us in this family.
So we can cover for one another pretty well.
We don’t have to do it alone; we have one another.
But that doesn’t mean someone else will take care of everything.
We have to row back to shore, too.
We have to hear the calls of the hungry and the suffering.
We we have to suffer with them as well.
Pray for them, yes, but also pray that God will use you to help them suffer no more.
There are profound needs in this world — they sometimes seem overwhelming — but little by little, prayer by prayer, and name by name, we become more and more like Jesus.
And so when we break this bread and remember what Jesus did for the multitudes and what he did for us on the cross, let this bread — this body, this family — become our nourishment, healing and strength that we, too, can step out of this boat we call worship, and step onto that shore that we call our world and truly be compassionate to all of God’s children.