Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Matthew 15:29-39

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

      29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

     32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

     33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

     34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

     “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

     35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

The Gospel of Matthew includes two accounts of Jesus feeding thousands of people with small amounts of food – a few small fish and some loaves of bread. And by the way, these ‘loaves’ were probably more like pita or flatbread than the loaves of bread we’re used to buying at the grocery store.

The context of the story suggests that this big crowd of people had been following Jesus around for several days without making any provision for eating. That suggests to me that Jesus was a genuinely charismatic preacher and teacher – people were so engrossed in listening to him that they didn’t think about food and shelter. I suspect that’s a detail we’re meant to notice in the story.

The reason I say that is connected to something we’ve said in past Reflections about the miracles Jesus performed: Each of them is meant to represent a kind of preview of the kingdom of heaven Jesus had come to proclaim. In that kingdom, the blind will get their sight, and Jesus gave sight to the blind. In that kingdom, the dead will be raised, and Jesus raised the dead. And so on. So when we look at these stories of miraculous feedings, we get a glimpse of the way that in the kingdom of God, the hungry will be fed. And there are other things going on here, as well – other things that add some details to that preview of the kingdom of God.

For instance, you might notice that this story includes the healing of many who were “the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others.” And there’s a sense in which this feeding resembled a big banquet, and one of the metaphors that’s used for the fulfillment of the kingdom is that it will be “the wedding feast of the lamb.” So this miraculous meal can be seen as a preview of that “wedding feast.”

And it seems significant that when all these thousands of people had eaten their fill, the disciples are able to gather up seven basketsful of leftovers. That seems like a sign that in the kingdom of God, those who struggled to meet their material needs in this world will be abundantly blessed.

And the part we mentioned earlier about people being so engrossed in the teachings of Jesus that they didn’t think about food and shelter – we might be meant to see that as a sign of the kingdom of God, too. It seems meant to communicate that in that heavenly kingdom, the concerns of this world will be forgotten. It might even be the case that we’re meant to see that even in the present world, when we’re genuinely absorbed in the things of the kingdom – in worship and study and service – then our obsession with the stuff of this world will be forgotten. This might have some connection with the story of Mary of Bethany being absorbed into the teachings of Jesus while her sister Martha was busy entertaining. If you remember, Jesus said Mary had chosen the better part.

There are a couple of other significant details in this story:

For one thing, the story begins with Jesus going up on a mountainside. If you remember, it’s traditionally been on mountaintops that the people of Israel had their ‘close encounters’ with God. Moses heard God speak from a burning bush on a mountain – and then he got the law on a mountain. Elijah heard God speak out of silence on a mountain. Later, Jesus would be transfigured on a mountain. So it seems like by leading them up on a mountain, Jesus was signaling that the people were about to have an encounter with the holy.

And finally, we’re told that as Jesus healed the lame and the crippled, as he gave sight to the blind, and gave voice to the mute, his miraculous healings called forth worship from all those who were there to see it. It seems to me that worship will be the main activity – maybe the only activity – of the kingdom of God.

So just look at all the things this passage suggests to us about the kingdom of God. That the kingdom is a place of holiness, a place where the sick will be healed and the lame will walk and the blind will see. The kingdom is a place where the power of God will call forth praise from his people, and where the people will be completely absorbed in the presence of God. The kingdom is a place where those who are hungry in this world will be filled. And the kingdom is a place of abundant blessing – where God will provide more richly than we could ever claim to need.

It seems to me that no other miracle story gives us such a rich and complex picture of what the kingdom of God will be like. And for the sick and the blind and the crippled and the poor and the hungry – for all of us who are hungry for God’s abundant blessing – that’s the kind of kingdom we can look forward to with great hope.

For us, as followers of Jesus, when we do the things God commanded us to do through Jesus, when we feed the hungry and heal the sick and welcome the stranger and encourage the imprisoned, we are helping to bring his kingdom to fulfillment, and we are proclaiming to our world what God is up to in salvation history.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the promise of rich blessing that you brought into the world in the form of Jesus. Help us to live in such a way that our service to you brings the kingdom more and more to fulfillment in our world. Amen.

Grace and Peace,