To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. As well as a green cloth for the current church season, find something that inspires your imagination, like a cross or an icon. This week, you may also like to include a plate with some bread on it to help you reflect on today’s theme.
(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.35)
wherever you went,
the crowds followed,
because they knew that you would feed them
in body, mind, and spirit.
May we gather with friends too
because we are known to be kind and generous.
We remember also that you found
it difficult to have time on your own.
May we always have space
to recharge when we are tired.
Help us, Lord Jesus, just like you did,
to always see possibility and potential in others,
and to enhance their gifts.
Encourage us to share what we have
and to be glad of all that others bring.
May we continue to love and serve you in all things.
Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV) Feeding the five thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Reflecting on the Word
“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Over the last few weeks we have been reading parables the Kingdom of Heaven. This week, we come to the feeding of the five thousand, a well-known and loved story. But between the parables and the story of people being fed, we have the account of Herod’s execution of John the Baptist.
On hearing the news, Jesus retreats from the crowds to grieve and pray in a deserted place. No doubt John’s death would have brought his own ministry and its potential ending sharply into focus.
But Matthew is telling us more than this. By placing the ministries of Jesus and John side by side with Herod’s decadent and murderous birthday feast, Matthew compares the hospitable and the healing Jesus with the power and authority of Herod and Rome.
The birthday feast of Herod also contrasts with the hungry masses who have followed Jesus into the wilderness and need food. We see a lavish over-supply compared with a simple feast of just enough.
After a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven, here we have an enacted parable. Jesus’ priority for the sick, the poor, and the hungry is made real as Jesus heals the sick amongst the crowd and then proceeds to feed them. The kingdom of heaven becomes real for those people in that time and place. The kingdom of heaven stands as a the just alternative to seduction, revenge, greed, power and injustice of Herod’s palace.
The two stories also contrast the simple and the lavish. I rather suspect we think of feasting more in Herodian terms than a simple meal of bread and fish. It is hard to think of the amount of food we waste in Australia and the money we spend on restaurants and take away food without thinking our society values excess over enough. It is hard to read about the disciples gathering up the leftovers without being reminded of the huge food wastage we generate. Maybe Jesus’ question for us today is how we place our understanding of justice and enough food for all against the abundance most of us enjoy in our Western society?
Reflecting on the passage
What can we learn from this story?
Try and find the time this week to have lunch or a tea break outside. Think about the outdoor meal Jesus shared with others in the story from our text.
Re-imagine what was on the crowd’s mind after the terrible incident of John losing his life and the need for people to find comfort and assurance. Recall how they found strength and sustenance in Jesus’ presence. Now remember how this gift of Jesus’ presence is there for us too when we need it.
We are never alone and God’s love and grace is always with us.
Prayer for ourselves and others
(from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
when we are frightened, give us courage;
when we are disturbed, bring us calm;
when we sit in darkness, show us the beginnings of dawn;
when we want to retreat and be quiet, nudge us back to bring life to others;
when we are tempted to hoard what we have, open our hands to share.
God, again and again remind us that we have power:
power to heal the earth and its people.
May we use that power in love and service as Christ showed us.
Lord, surprise us with glimpses of you at work around us, making all things new.
May we yearn to be a part of that, working alongside you,
to heal creation with you, God of the universe.
(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
Lord, you bless us with your presence.
When life leaves us parched or hungry,
anxious or weary, direct us to you—
the source of nurture and life.
You are the giver of all that we need.
We are grateful for the blessings you provide,
made available for all to share.
You meet our spiritual needs through the giving of yourself.
With the knowledge of such love and generosity,
We can go into the world restored and renewed.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine