GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Two Banquets - 08/06/2017

We know this miracle story … most of us, I would venture to say. It is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all of the four gospels. It is the miracle of the loaves and fishes and 5,000 men and countless women and children with empty bellies who were drawn to the Galilean countryside to hear Jesus teach.

The story has moved so many people that there are hundreds of organizations and groups that have named themselves after this feeding miracle as they let it and other stories about Jesus push them to care for people in their own communities who are hungry and marginalized. You'll find organizations called “Loaves & Fishes” in communities as close as Ishpeming, as far as San Jose, California, and pretty much everywhere in between.

It's no wonder. This is a moving and inspirational portrait of our Savior that we have here.

Jesus must have been feeling the human side of himself quite plainly here. He has just learned of the horrible death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod and his household. Our scriptures give us different possibilities for how Jesus and John the Baptist were connected.  Perhaps they were cousins, like we hear in Luke's gospel. Or maybe they were more like colleagues who studied and grew in their ministries together.

Regardless of the exact details, it does seem clear they there were close and so we can also presume that, like us, Jesus wold have heard this news and felt very deeply wounded. Like us, he probably would have sobbed at the news, felt shaken and unsure of how things would carry on without John. He probably would have felt anger – wanted others to hurt like him, especially those with John's blood on their hands.

He was grieving deeply and so he went off alone – maybe to shake an angry fist at God, maybe to pull himself together after such a traumatic experience, maybe to be quiet and get a clearer vision of what to do next – maybe all of the above.

But, as often happens with Jesus, his escape into wilderness for a little space to be unplugged and rest and pray are interrupted. 

So he's interrupted by these mounting crowds that are drawn to him. And despite that painful and vulnerable place of grief he is in, he is moved to compassion by the crowds right away. He sees these people and maybe a little of the clarity returns as he resumes what he began – his radical ministry centered on God's love for everyone and how it frees us up to love one another with abandon.

The disciples are there too. We can imagine them moving through the crowds with high energy and Jesus-like compassion – helping to bring the sick forward to Jesus through the crowds. Stopping  to talk to others now and again about things like mustard seeds, wheat and weeds, the sower who throws seeds everywhere.

Some people probably asked the disciples if it was true that Jesus had been run out of Nazareth when he taught at the synagogue there. You can imagine the disciples answer people –  teachers themselves now, maybe repeating that same conclusion Jesus came to after the incident at Nazareth.  “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” (Mt 13.57b)

But as usual, the disciples came pretty quickly to the end of their imaginations about what they and Jesus could do or accomplish in a day of ministry. They began to worry about what would happen as the sun began to set and they started thinking about how far some of these people were from home. They probably imagined  people beginning to get what we call “hangry” in our family. So they took their concern to Jesus.

And in my mind's eye where I continue to let this story unfold in my imagination, I see the disciples trying to get Jesus' attention. Jesus excuses himself from a deep and lively conversation with someone about humanity's persistent and ever creative tendency to judge one another. He listens to the disciples' concern. “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away ...” (14:15)

This concern is coming from a place of compassion too – but it's compassion with human limits on it. Jesus looks at them rather quizzically then. “They need not go away ...” (14.15) he says. In other words “Why would you send people away when you have food and God has promised to provide for all?”

“We have nothing...” the disciples say … “except this something … a few measly loaves of bread and couple of fish.”

And right there, where the disciples' imaginations end, God's imagination keeps right on going and creating. We remember through an amazing act that fed AND filled all – when it comes to God, wherever there is something, there is everything.

It is a powerful story. It's so familiar and inspiring and able to stand on its own, in fact, that we might glaze over how the episode operates as part of the larger story of this gospel. I think it's worth looking at that bigger picture because I think it serves to inspire us even more and moves us to act – or rather to get out of the way and allow God to act through us in miraculous “everything” kinds of ways.

What I think is very thought-provoking about this story is how it is paired with another large gathering – a gathering that is eluded to at the beginning of our reading today. “Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist,]...” our modified Gospel text read today, it reminds that this much-loved and timelessly inspirational story of loaves and fishes is directly connected to another part of the story.

In fact, when I looked at these two parts of the story in the bible, they actually looked like two halves. They have almost the same number of words and occupy a similar-looking space on the pages of the bible where we keep them, I noticed. They seemed to call the reader to see them together, as two halves of a bigger picture.

But our lectionary separates them, so I'm going to read you this “other half.”

(Just after Jesus had begun teaching people using the Parables of the Kingdom of God), Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

This is what happens just before the beloved “loaves and fishes” portrait of our Redeemer. It's another portrait of another kind of leader. People gather around him too. We don't get a specific number, but we know from our knowledge of the lives of these earthly kings that many would have come to help Herod celebrate his birthday. Some would have come because they were drawn to his power. Some would have come because they did not have a choice. Some would have come to see what kind of spectacle and drama would unfold.

The people who where there would also have been fed until they had their fill. They too would not have had to worry that they were far from home and dependent on someone else for a meal that day.

But that is where the similarities end.

We have two feasts –

… one hosted by the earthly King Herod, who thinks he's a god and who operates out of fear and desperation to keep and build his power …

… one and the other hosted by the Son of Humankind, who operates out of the One True-God's steadfast love and covenantal promise of abundance for all …

And what is born of these two feasts is very different and continues to illustrate what Jesus came to teach us about the difference between what we can expect from the earthly kings and gods who think they are all-powerful, and Kingdom of God Jesus ushered into this world.

The contrast couldn't be much clearer. Where Jesus' actions and teaching about the laws reveal truth about the Kingdom of God, the actions and teachings of Herod's household reveal the deceit of his kingdom.

Where life-giving loaves and fishes are served to all who gather even in the deserted wilderness with Jesus, a platter of death is served up for the company sitting comfortably in Herod's palace.

Fast forward now from the 1st Century to the 21st Century and consider how we continue to embody the differences between these two feasts and celebrations when we come together around our table here.

Some may look at our feast  and see these little pieces of bread and a single cup of wine and think: “Well that's hardly anything – it cannot feed and fill me or all the people who gather around it.”

And to that we 21st Century disciples grab hold of God's idea of abundance and we say, “Come and see for yourself what it is to make this table the center of your life, because we have come to know through this journey as people of God and followers of Jesus, that what may seem like nothing or not enough gives us All We Need. It tastes of  freedom from sin and life everlasting and it fills us up with truth, life and hope!”

And we to can say, why would we send people away when we have food and God has promised to provide for all?


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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