St. John’s Lutheran Church
6 August 2023 + Lectionary 18a (10 Pentecost)
Matthew 14.13-21; Isaiah 55.1-5
Rev. Josh Evans
I’d like to think I know a thing or two about good food.
Within the first few months of moving across the country, I’ve already found my new go-to places for tacos, pizza, and bagels – three of the most important food groups, clearly. I’d kill for a good Italian beef sandwich, but I suppose I do still need my reasons for going back to visit Chicago from time to time.
Good food has an amazing power to entice and connect us. From church coffee hour to backyard summer barbecues to the family dinner table, our social lives center around food.
So it’s no surprise that our scriptures are filled with stories that also center around food. Our reading from Matthew – the feeding of the (at least) five thousand – is one of Jesus’s most well-known miracle stories, found in all four gospels.
With just five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds thousands of hungry people – and with leftovers! There is abundance in this story, and a reminder of a God who cares for us so deeply to fill us with good things.
Now: “Sometimes bread is just bread,” a seminary professor once said to me, in response to a sermon I had just preached in class about John’s version of this same story.
But with all due respect to the admittedly brilliant Dr. Barbara Rossing, sometimes bread, especially where Jesus is involved, is more than just bread.
It seems to me that there’s something more going on here: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples…”
Does that sound familiar?
Blessed … broke … gave … those are eucharistic words. These are the words that gather us around this table and this holy meal … words that connect simple bread to a profound promise.
Something similar is happening in Isaiah, too. The prophet begins with an enticing invitation: wine and milk without money and without price! And then the invitation shifts to covenant language – a reminder of God’s steadfast, sure love for the people.
It’s a stunning move: The ordinary stuff of life – bread, fish, water, milk – becomes a vehicle for divine promise. A promise of abundance and life.
And there’s even something else going on here, too – before the meal is ever served. Jesus has compassion on the people. In the Greek, it’s a word that carries with it connotations of an empathy and a solidarity that you feel in your gut, viscerally.
Jesus is physically moved to compassion, moved to action, moved to feed hungry people. To show them abundance in the midst of scarcity, to offer them hope in the midst of despair, to give them something to cling to in the midst of uncertainty.
Isn’t that the communion meal? A meal of good food, that offers us hope, that gives us something to cling to, that fills us until we are full.
Full of God’s steadfast, sure love for us. So full, in fact, that we are overflowing with abundance – an abundance that can’t help but spill out beyond this table and this gathering.
This meal of good food that we share is never for our own sake alone but for the sake of the community – that’s why we call it communion – for the building up of the body of Christ.
Nor does this meal end here. It fills us and sends us out. Jesus is moved to compassion – gut-wrenching compassion – and he calls his disciples to get swept up in that work, too: “You give them something to eat.”
But how? It’s a good thing that this meal doesn’t depend on the disciples’ scarcity mindset. “Only five loaves and two fish? It’s never going to work, Jesus.”
If we’re going to wait until we think we have enough, or until we have all the answers we need, or until all the details fall into place, we’re going to be waiting a long time: If only [this], then we can … what?
Jesus feeds the hungry crowds now. God fills us who hunger now.
What we need is here: bread, wine, grace, community. Good and rich food that satisfies.
We gather here to celebrate the feast, and we are sent out there to share the abundance and goodness that has filled us in order that others might be filled, too.
Jesus knew something about good food.
Real, good food for those who were physically hungry – because yes, sometimes bread is just bread.
But also more than that: good food that satisfies our deepest hunger and longing – for connection, for community, for belonging.
Come to this table. Delight in God’s richness and abundance. Remember and experience God’s love for you.