Fr. Jim Elliott
Proper 13 Year A
July 31, 2011 – St. James’ Quitman
Last week, we heard Matthew’s gospel lesson about Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven. We heard that the kingdom of heaven is like everything from a mustard seed to yeast, among other things. And if you recall, our translation of the text tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that was “mixed in with” the flour. But both the Revised Standard Version and the King James Version of the Bible translate this Greek verb more accurately as “hid” so that we read that the woman “hid” the yeast in the flour.
And we learned that three measures of flour is about ten gallons! Three measures of flour would make an extravagant, banquet-sized portion of bread. And so, through that, and the other parables that we read, we increased our own understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven and where and how we find it and our place in it.
But today, we don’t have a parable or really even a sermon or a lesson or a teaching from Jesus. What we seem to have is more of a story or an account of some things that Jesus said and did. Our lesson from Matthew today is probably best described as a miracle story. It’s a miracle story that’s probably familiar to all of us. For those of us that grew up going to Sunday school and being taught children’s Bible stories, it’s something that we all know and understand. But let’s pressure test for a few minutes what we think we know about this miracle story that most of us know as “the story of the loaves and fishes” or “the story of the feeding of the five thousand”.
The story begins with Jesus withdrawing to be alone. He withdraws because he’s learned that John the Baptist has been murdered by King Herod. So he leaves Herod’s jurisdiction and goes away to be alone. But they follow him. They leave their homes and their towns and they follow him. They go into the wilderness looking and searching for him. They go into the wilderness not knowing what they will find. They go in search of him – tired and sick and hungry.
And Jesus responds to them. He responds to them with compassion. And he responds by healing the sick among them.
And isn’t that really enough? Isn’t it enough that he is compassionate? Isn’t it enough that he is their pastor and cares for them? Isn’t it enough that he heals them from their infirmities?
And after all of that, the disciples want to send them on their way. The disciples want to send them back to their towns.
The disciples want to send them back to their homes. The disciples want them to fend for themselves. The disciples want them to find their own way and their own food.
But Jesus doesn’t send them away. He doesn’t abandon them when they are hungry and in need. He doesn’t leave them to their own devices. And so, Jesus tells his disciples, “You give them something to eat. You feed them.” But the disciples don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to feed this great crowd.
All they have is 5 loaves and 2 fish. They can’t see how in the world they are going to feed this great multitude with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
So what does Jesus do? He shows them! And if you think about it, he shows us! Jesus takes the loaf of bread. Picture it in your own mind. He takes the loaf of bread and he looks up to heaven. He takes the bread and he blesses it. And he takes the bread that he has blessed and he breaks it. And he gives it to his disciples. He gives the bread that he has blessed and broken to his disciples. And his disciples feed the great throng. They feed the multitude! They feed all those who are hungry for and seek after Jesus
So what’s hidden in this miracle story? What’s hidden like the yeast in the flour in this miraculous feeding of the five thousand? What does this look like to you? Well, to me, it looks like communion? To me, it looks like the mass of the Christ. To me, it looks like Holy Eucharist.
This isn’t just a miracle about turning little into plenty. It’s not just a miracle about feeding a whole bunch of hungry people seemingly from nothing. My brothers and sisters, this is the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the bread of life.
This is the hidden yeast in the flour of the world that is Jesus – the Messiah – the Christ! This is God incarnate that feeds us and gives us our very lives. This is the testament with which Jesus calls us to this altar. This is the promise with which Jesus draws us to him and to this sacred space. It is here that God blesses and breaks the bread that we receive as the body of Christ. It is here that God transforms that bread into the bread of heaven. It is here at this altar that God transforms the wine into the blood of Christ. It is here that Jesus is present for us and with us and in us – in and through His Body and Blood.
And it is here, through the Holy food and drink of new and unending life that we are transformed. It is here where we are fed with the body and blood of Christ that we become the body of Christ. It is here that we become the hands and feet and the eyes and ears of Jesus Christ our Lord.
And so, it is from here that we are sent into the world as His disciples. It is from here that we go out there – into the world. It is from here that we go out there – to do the work He gives us to do. We go out there – into the world – not for ourselves – but for Him who feeds us and sustains us. But for Him who is present for us in these Holy Mysteries. But for Him who gives us our very lives!
Thanks be to God! AMEN!
Fr. Jim Elliott