Eating Scraps

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 2, 2020
9th Sunday After Pentecost/18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture readings – Matthew 14: 13-21

When I was a poor college student, back in the 70’s, I lived in the same town as my beloved grandparents.  I was often in need of a good meal, so my grandmother made sure I was “properly fed” at least once a week.  I never minded this…I loved my grandparents and I enjoyed spending time with them.  My grandmother was a wonderful cook, who took some pride in making sure good food was served in her house.  One of the things she used to say when she invited me over was that “this time, all I have are scraps.”  I knew that meant a special sort of meal was going to be served, and I always hurried a little extra to get to their house for supper!

“Scraps” meant the same thing as “leftovers” to my grandparents.  Because both of them were young parents during the Great Depression, there was a certain wickedness involved in wasting food.  So, with the invention of the microwave oven and Tupperware, small containers of various leftovers were placed on the counter – sort of like an unusual buffet – and my grandparents and I would go down the counter and would fill our plates from the various bowls of scraps.

No one cared if the various parts didn’t fit together in a coherent meal.  It was good food and we were hungry.  We didn’t care that the main course was long gone; we were more than fed from the scraps.

Which leads me to the main meal for today: Jesus miraculously fed the 5000 using only a few fish and barley loaves.  That’s the main course.  But let’s look for the scraps that continue to feed us well from this story.

First of all, let’s look at what happened just prior to this story. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had just been told of the death of John the Baptist, his cousin and the man who set the stage for his appearance.  This was a horrible, wicked deed done by King Herod, and it must have affected Jesus greatly.  Scripture tells us, “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.”  Jesus was tired and sad and in need of some space.  Yet, when the people followed him anyway, what did Jesus do?  Did he insist on being left alone?  Did he become angry or frustrated?  “Can’t these people leave me alone for just a minute?”  

No, Jesus saw the problem of so many people who were hungry, and he acted out of compassion and love, of course.  So there’s our first scrap for today.

Our second scrap involves the nature of the bread itself.  When the ancient Hebrews were in the desert with Moses, they began to complain hard and loudly when they became hungry.  It would seem that they had plenty of time to pack up animals, gold and silver, clothing, and their various carts – but they forgot to pack a lunch!  So when they arrived in the desert, and it was supper time, they actually began to question why they had been brought to the desert when at least they had food to eat back in good ol’ Egypt.  So God set aside his irritation and frustration at their behavior and sent them manna from Heaven.  This small, bread-like substance was on the ground every morning and had to be gathered.  It could only be eaten that day or the next – it didn’t last.  Apparently, it just appeared out of thin air from the power of God.

Jesus took a slightly different approach.  The people were once again in a deserted place, and there seemed to be no food.  However, in this case, we get no mention anywhere that the people expected Jesus to feed them.  They came to hear him preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God – and most of them also forgot to pack a lunch.  When the Apostles pointed out that there was a problem, namely all those hungry people, Jesus responded in a stunning manner: “You give them something to eat.”  Not exactly what God’s reaction was to the hungry Hebrews in the desert with Moses.

Yet, here we have Jesus sort of imitating a previous miracle done by Elisha.  In the 2nd Book of Kings, Elisha fed 100 men using 20 small barley loaves; an excellent miracle, to be sure, but Jesus had 5000 men in front of him, plus the women and children!  What is significant here is that we have hungry people fed – not necessarily changed forever for the work of the Lord on earth; just fed for the day out of the compassion of the Lord who loved them.  And in feeding them, the Lord demonstrated that when He feels compassion, it comes with the power to save.

That’s a pretty important scrap…

Next, let’s remember something I told you a week or two ago, and something I have mentioned before.  Why did Jesus come to earth?  Most experts believe he came for three reasons:

  1. To heal the sick and even raise the dead;
  2. To cast out demons;
  3. To preach the Good News.

So, in the story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, where does this particular miracle fit?

The answer is all three of them!

Jesus healed the sick by feeding those people.  In his day, it was a common, everyday occurrence for people to starve to death in the streets of Jerusalem.  This was despite the power of the Roman Empire, despite the various Jewish laws that called for caring for the poor, and despite basic human decency which is supposed to exist in all places and in all times in some measure at least!  Yet, people died in Jesus’ times because they didn’t eat. 

So, by feeding the people that day, Jesus actually healed the sick or those who would have been. Don’t miss the detail toward the end of the passage: “They all ate and were filled.”  This was no snack, no meager mouthful; no, these folks ate until they were full…a meal that would rival the ones my own grandmother did for me, even when she was serving scraps.

Jesus didn’t cast out any demons that day, so I guess we should skip that one…except…

Consider how wicked it would have been to watch people you love, your own family members, especially your own children, slowly starve to death because you couldn’t feed them.  Picture what kind of desperation that would have created in you.  Would you be willing to do anything to keep that from happening?  Perhaps even something…wicked?

That aspect of demons exists in all of us, if we are in the right situation.  Let’s set aside the idea of literal demonic possession, which is frightening enough.  Jesus prevented something wicked from taking over the hearts and souls of the people that day because everyone had plenty to eat.

Finally, Jesus came to preach the Good News.  This one is pretty clearly simple: it is certainly easier to speak and teach the Good News to a receptive audience that is not distracted by the constant growling of their stomachs.  Any preacher who talks past noon on Sunday knows this lesson!

So, we have the scrap of why Jesus came to earth addressed for today in this miracle.

Next, there is something curious about this particular miracle that I don’t want anyone to miss…because I certainly missed it at first.  You know how I have often said to all of you we need to pay attention when all four Gospels tell the same story?  

I say this whenever we read about the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert, preparing the way for the appearance of Jesus.

I say this whenever we read the next part, when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

I say this whenever we read the story of Palm Sunday when Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem.

And I certainly say this when we read any of the four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, the arrest and conviction of Jesus, his crucifixion and death on the cross.  

Those accounts are all important, and all four Gospels tell them.  

Jesus performed at least 35 miracles that are described in the Bible.  Of those 35, only the feeding of the 5000 is mentioned in all four Gospels.  Only this miracle…that makes it significant.

And there’s another scrap for today.

Our final scrap that I’m going to describe is actually from the Old Testament reading that I didn’t include today.  It is the story of Jacob running from his brother, Esau.  Jacob sent his family and servants on to safety, and he is alone – and a man came and wrestled with him all night.  After this “man” touched Jacob’s hip and caused the joint to let go, Jacob realized who his opponent had been all night.  He called that place “Peniel” because it meant “a place where he met God face-to-face.”

I think that spot where Jesus fed the 5000 was another Peniel.  While those people were there listening to the Son of God, he felt compassion for them and he fed them.  They met him and saw him face-to-face.  Sounds like a Peniel to me.  

Wonder if there are another other Peniels in our own lives… places where we experience God face-to-face.

In conclusion, the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 from just a few fish and barley loaves is an astonishing miracle, and one worthy of remembering in the Christian community.  

But the scraps from that story also feed God’s people – if our hearts, eyes, and minds are open to their wisdom.  

In fact, we are well fed from those scraps too.