In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.
The Gospel today from the 14th chapter of St Matthew is about how Jesus Christ fed more than 5,000 people at the end of the day “in a lonely place.” We think first of the miracle: How did five loaves of bread and two fish multiply to feed so many people? We don’t know precisely how it happened, but the miracle did happen. The same story is told in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St Mark, the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St Luke and the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St John.
I am reminded of a friend of mine who experienced a similar more modern miracle. She was a committed Christian in Huddersfield, in Yorkshire in England who had very little money and worked for a charity. She had a quite reliable car, but no money to buy petrol (or as the Americans say, “gas”). The charity didn’t have much money either; and they told her, “Stop visiting people who need help. Make them come to you.” However, that wasn’t really sound policy. Her potential clients didn’t have much money, either. She needed to visit people with her car. So, what could she do? She stopped putting petrol in the tank of her car and simply kept on visiting people for several years. Not many people knew what was happening, but the parish priest did. He wanted to know, “How does the petrol tank stay full, when you don’t put any petrol in the tank?” She said, “I don’t know. With prayer!” It didn’t work for the parish priest though; it was her prayer to meet a problem that she saw and understood.
Now, in both those situations—the feeding of more than 5,000 people and the car that ran for years without petrol—we think first of the miracle. That’s OK, but let’s look more closely at what Jesus Christ is saying to those hungry people “in a lonely place” and to us. Remember, the disciples urged Christ quite sensibly to “send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” The Gospel reads, “Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” In other words, Christ is saying to the apostles and to us, ‘Where there is need of help, you help. Where some action clearly needs to be taken to help someone, you do it.”
The apostles protest, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” Jesus Christ asks the apostles to bring that limited amount of food to Him; and he orders “the crowds to sit down on the grass.” He creates a calm and orderly atmosphere. Then He takes the food that is available; and “He looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”
St John Chrysostom has pointed out in his Homily 49 on the Gospel of Matthew: “Note carefully the Teacher’s skill. Observe with what discretion [that is, “avoiding notice of Himself”] that [Christ] draws [the Apostles] toward believing [in Him]. For He did not simply say, ‘I will feed them.’ . . . What does He say? . . . You give them something to eat.’” St John continues: “In this miracle Jesus was teaching [the Apostles] humility, temperance [that is “moderation”], charity . . . and to share all things in common. He did so . . . by providing nothing more than loaves and fishes . . . and by affording no one more than another.”
In this Gospel, you will recall that everyone “ate and were satisfied. And [the Apostles and their helpers] took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces leftover.” St John Chrysostom offers a beautiful interpretation of why all these baskets were filled with broken pieces of barley bread. St John preached: “[Christ] does not hold back on the miracle, but it continues as the loaves become fragments. The broken pieces signify that of those loaves, some remained unreceived. That was is order that those who were absent might also learn what had been done.”
That’s us! We were absent. This Gospel took place some 2,000 years ago, but we have learned what was done. This miracle definitely happened. As we read the many stories in the four gospels about the life of Jesus Christ, we learn that we can trust Christ to guide us in prayer to what needs to be done in challenging situations in our own lives. We learn that Christ expects us to act when we see specific needs before us. The miracle is not only that the fish and the loaves of bread increased or that the car ran without petrol. The miracle is also that Christ is with us in our lives today and tomorrow and all the days to come. He guides us to help other people to experience His love for them, too. Because we know that Christ loves us as we are, we can then love ourselves and love others.
So be it, as we ascribe as is justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.