Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
There is Always Enough: Matthew 15:29-39
If I had to feed a bunch of people, I’d probably make pasta. The box of penne pasta in our pantry has 8 servings. The number of people in today’s reading is way more than eight. Probably more like 6,000. So, I’d need 750 more boxes of pasta. I asked a bunch of my friends what they would cook a whole bunch of people. One said beans and cornbread, a southern delicacy. I looked up how many beans she’d need and it would take about 840 pounds of dried pinto beans to feed all those people. Have you ever seen 840 pounds of beans? That is so many beans.
Another friend said she’d make tacos. I found this tool on the internet called The Taco Bar Calculator. Too feed 6000 people tacos, according to the Taco Bar Calculator, we’d need 1,875 pounds of beef. Or, 825 pounds of refried beans if they are vegetarians. We’d also need 6,000 tortillas, 937.5 pounds of rice, 600 pounds of pico de gallo, and 675 pounds of quacamole. Another friend said she’d make a beef roast and veggies: if a 3 pound roast will feed 6 people, she’d need 400 beef roasts and hundreds of carrots and turnips to roast alongside it.
Our scripture for the days tells us that Jesus fed 6000-ish people with 7 loaves of bread and a couple fish. Must’ve been some really big bread. And, the fish must’ve been those giant tunas that weigh 1500 pounds! Just to be clear... I don’t actually think that Jesus had giant bread and giant fish. Attempts to explain miracle stories through logical methods rarely offer a satisfying explanation and usually dull the power of the story. The author of Matthew didn’t tell us this story so we could use the taco calculator to find out just how big the fish and bread had to be. This is one of those stories that should be read more like poetry and less like math. The numbers, while kind of fun to think about, are not the point. The ability to take care of a lot of people with what seems like limited resources is.
Food is all over Jesus’ ministry. He’s often eating a meal with friends and enemies. Or arguing about what is ok to eat and when it is ok to gather food. And, sometimes he is feeding other people. There is a story about Jesus feeding thousands of people in each of the four Gospels and, there are two “feeding the multitudes” stories in both Matthew and Mark. This is the second Matthew story. They are similar. In both, crowds of people have come to find Jesus in wilderness places. And, in both, Jesus felt great compassion for them and healed them. In the first story, the disciples notice that it was getting late and the people would need to leave to go find food. In the second, today’s reading, it is Jesus who realizes that, after 3 days together, all these people might be hungry. In both, it is Jesus who figures out how to feed them.
Do any of you recognize this language? “After giving thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” Does it sound anything like what I say when we share communion? Yes. It does. In his notes about Matthew in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Overman offers up that the use of these particular words point to the ritual life of the church of this era. They appear in the two feeding the multitude stories and the Last Supper. These actions of Jesus... thanksgiving to God, blessing, and sharing... get repeated because they are important. They are important because they show us something foundational about who Jesus is. They are so important that they become the centerpiece of one of our most important rituals.
It would be fair to say that we come the closest to Jesus in the sharing of the most basic elements of survival. And, Jesus is most clearly divine when feeding hungry people using scant resources in wild places, just as God did for the Israelites in the desert. Overman notes that these stories of feeding multitudes in the wilderness are clearly references to God feeding the Israelites in the desert.
Last week, I shared with you a piece of art by the artist David Hayward. It is called “Puzzle of Love.” In the picture, you are looking down at four figures eating snacks and putting together a giant heart-shaped puzzle. One figure is obviously Jesus in a crown of thorns, reaching for nachos. Another is a rainbow-colored sheep. There’s also a sheep the color of the trans flag, and black sheep. And, there’s pizza. Emblazoned across the top of the image is the phrase “Love is not a limited resource.”About the piece, Haryward says, “Love is not a limited resource! So, share as much of it as you can. It multiplies so fast. Love grows like a weed, in unlikely places and despite the conditions.” Maybe love also grows like a small amount of food, gathered with care, blessed, and shared.
As Dr. Wil Gafney notes in her commentary on this text, we don’t know all of what happened during the three days Jesus was in the wilderness with the crowd. We are simply told that he healed people and that the crowd was amazed when they saw people with visible disabilities healed. They praised the God of Israel because of it. We should remember that it wasn’t only the people who saw Jesus. It was Jesus who saw them and was moved enough to care for them, both in healing and in feeding. Food can be healing in its own right, can’t it?
Dr. Gafney notes that the disciples here worry a lot about what they don’t have and about how little they do have to share. Gafney says that what they have to share is either what they pulled from their own satchels or what the people gathered donated to them when Jesus started talking about feeding people. Sometimes the most important thing to do is to take stock of what is available and be honest about what you think you can do about it. But, the presence of Christ will always be the wild card. Love can make just a little bit seem like more than enough. When we look around and see 7 loaves of bread and a few fish, may we remember that in Christ’s hands, we and our resources can do more good than we know. Not even the taco bar calculator can predict what Jesus will do with the ingredients we have on hand. May we present what we have, and trust that the Holy Spirit will get it to the hands that need it. And, may we be surprised, once again, by all the food we have left to share once again. Especially if it’s beans and cornbread.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney, "Proper 8 (Closest to June 29), Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year A (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2022)
Where I got the pinto bean calculations: https://myhomeandkitchen.com/how-many-pinto-bean-per-person/
The Taco Bar Calculator: https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/taco-bar
J. Andrew Overman's notes on Matthew in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: The New Revised Standard Version with Apocryphya, ed. Michael Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)n The New Oxford Annotated Bible
The artist David Hayward's website: https://nakedpastor.com/pages/my-story
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.