Sermon Based on Mt. 14:13-21 for the Eight Sunday after Pentecost
Dear crowds looking to be fed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Let’s just talk about facts. Let’s talk real numbers. When we analyse a situation, isn’t that what we try to do? We focus on facts and make our calculations to analyse a situation. For example, we sit down and look at our budget and see if we can afford that vacation we could really use. We look at our savings and see if we can afford to retire. We calculate how many days we will be camping, how many people will be there, and thus determine how much food and beer we should bring along with us. We look at facts and make calculations.
That’s what the disciples were doing in our Gospel reading. They were looking at the cold hard facts of the situation, and they decided to share these facts with Jesus to let Him know what the situation was.
The disciples describe the situation not as difficult, but as impossible. The crowds had followed Jesus a great distance, but now the disciples want Him to dismiss them because of this impossible situation. They say Jesus should just send the crowds away.
The disciples start to list the facts to Jesus. This is a desolate place. We are in middle of nowhere. The day is over and night is here. The crowds are hungry. They’ve followed you here, but there’s no McDonalds here. There’s no Taco Time here. So send them away. Tell them to go elsewhere. Tell them to go to the surrounding villages and wish them luck in finding food.
In response, Jesus says to the disciples, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” Well, maybe Jesus just needs more facts. Maybe He’s just not understanding the situation, so the disciples give Him more facts. They want to explain that this is not just a difficult situation, it is an impossible situation. We’re out in the middle of nowhere with a hungry crowd. There are about 5000 men besides women and children. Figuring one woman for every man and two children for every couple – even though back then people had more children than we do today – that means that there were upwards of 20,000 people in the crowd. And all they have is five loaves of bread and two fish.
The apostle John records in his gospel that the disciples had done some additional calculating of facts. They told Jesus that two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to eat a little [Jn 6:7]. That’s 200 days wages! If you figure 4 ounces of fish per person and 3 ounces of bread, you need 5,000 pounds of fish and 3,750 pounds of bread. The median fish at the grocery store last week was around six dollars per pound, and the average bread was around one and a-half dollars per pound, so we’d be looking at 35,625 dollars to feed the whole crowd. Considering the median wage in Saskatchewan, that’s 257 days’ wages – pretty close to the disciples’ calculations in today’s dollars also.
Boring statistics, you might say, but that’s what the disciples did. They ran their numbers. They checked out what they have, which is 5 loaves and 2 fish, and they’ve done their cost calculations. There is nothing to conclude except – this ain’t gonna work – send the crowds away. Their calculations concluded that it was impossible to do what Jesus had told them to do – which was to give the crowds something to eat.
How often do we analyse situations in this way? We look at our human limitations and impose them on God! We look at the facts and make our calculations, and conclude that because something is impossible for us, it must be impossible for God.
We know the facts of our illness and our family’s medical history. We know the limited capabilities of doctors and medicine. We know the statistics for others who have our condition. We know our facts and we’ve done our calculations. We conclude from our facts that the situation is an impossible one for us and for God.
We may also do what the disciples did and want Jesus to send people away from Him. It is so much easier for us to see the sins of others than our own sins, so we may look at the sins of others and see an impossible situation. We calculate their sins and conclude that they are far too great. They’ve brought scandal and shame to their families and even the community. It is impossible for them to be restored to the church. Send them away.
Or, we may look at ourselves and our sins and think the same way. We may see that we have offended God yet again and broken His commandments. Maybe we should stay away from Him because we want to avoid His fierce anger. It is an impossible situation that I should be looked upon favourably by God after what I have done. I should be sent away. I know how much I need to be forgiven and how difficult it is for me to forgive. I know all the facts. I’ve done all the calculations.
But Jesus doesn’t go by the facts of impossible situations. If Jesus went by facts, He would have just given up. The situation was impossible: thousands upon thousands of hungry people in the wilderness and no money to buy food. And even if there was money, there was nowhere to go buy the food.
But Jesus does the impossible. He feeds the thousands upon thousands. Taking only five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed over 20,000 people, and there were twelve baskets of leftovers! Jesus satisfied the impossible needs of the crowds, and there was still more! He overflows in His giving and feeding even beyond the seemingly impossible needs.
Before Jesus fed the crowds, Matthew records that He healed the sick because He had compassion on them. It didn’t matter what their illness was. Their family’s medical history wasn’t important. The fact that doctors couldn’t help didn’t mean that Jesus couldn’t heal them. And heal them He did. He did the impossible despite the facts and the calculations of those who were sick.
Jesus doesn’t look at the facts as we do. He doesn’t do calculations as we do. If you want to talk about an impossible situation; if you want to talk about really impossible facts, don’t look at what is going on in your life, but look at your sinfulness. Look at your very nature and what that nature produces. There is no situation that is more impossible or unsolvable. All the facts and calculations show that we have fallen short of the glory of God and deserve punishment in this life and the life to come. The facts bury us in our sins and the calculations pile on and cover us.
If Jesus went by the facts, He would have stayed in heaven. If Jesus would have gone by our calculations, He would have concluded what we conclude – that we are hopeless. But Jesus did not stay in heaven. Instead, Jesus came from heaven and became man. He took on Himself all of our sins without calculating them. He just took them all. He didn’t conclude what we conclude about our hopelessness – He came to be our hope.
And He doesn’t want to send us away. He doesn’t want to send anyone away. He wants to do the impossible and give us what we need. He wants to give us the bread of heaven and feed us forever. He doesn’t calculate the greatness of our sins or our many transgressions. He simply forgives us and invites us to come to His eternal banquet.
So this we know is true also for our other needs. Jesus knows our needs. Compared to our need for forgiveness, our other needs are minor. Jesus isn’t bound by the facts and calculations that we make. Jesus isn’t bound by medicine, family history, or statistics. Jesus is the Lord over life and death. Jesus can heal us from our illnesses in this life. But if Jesus does not heal us, it is because He has something better in store for us. Though we bear the cross now, should our illness lead to our death, this is nothing more than a victory for us because Jesus did the impossible and wiped away our incalculable sins. Our death is a victory because the facts and calculations of our sins are zeroed out. Our sins are no more.
And Jesus has not stopped doing things that human calculations indicate to be impossible. He still provides miraculous food to us in His Supper. Whatever our calculations might indicate, when Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, it is as Jesus says. When Jesus says it is for the forgiveness of your sins, it is as Jesus says. So throw out your calculations and come and receive the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus will feed you, satisfying your impossible needs. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.