1. The story we ready for today is Jesus' miracle of feeding the great crowd with five [loaves of] bread and two fish. It may seem a pretty fantastic story to the modern reader. The details differ but this story is given in all four gospel accounts. In addition, the five loaves and two fish that we find in this story have been used as symbolic marks for Christianity in the early church. You may have seen them in [archaeological] remains in mosaic images. With all that then, this event has been seen as being of the utmost importance for the church. I would like for us to read today's passage as [an important] story [like they felt it was] and for us to listen carefully to the voice of the Lord as he speaks through this passage [unto us].
The Lord Felt Commpassion And Had Mercy
2. Well, just before this passage, the Bible has how that John the Baptizer was murdered by Herod by having his head cruelly lobbed off. Then, news of it was delivered to Jesus. "Upon hearing of it, Jesus got on a boat, left there, and withdrew to a secluded place alone," (verse thirteen). As he felt deep sorrow and pain, the Lord got by himself and separated himself from others to pray alone. But, when the crowd heard that the Lord boarded a boat and left, they walked around the shore, chased after Jesus, and waited for him up ahead. Then, "Jesus got up out of the boat and seeing the great crowd he felt deep mercy for them and healed the sick among them," (verse fourteen).
3. A merciful look of the Lord. You could say that that permeates today's entire passage of scripture. Counting the males alone, the great multitude was more than five thousand people. In seeing them, the Lord felt deep compassion for them. Many of them were sick, or they were discriminated against or oppressed people. They were the people who were rejected by society as sinners. Those engulfed with much pain were always surrounding around Jesus. But, Jesus didn't have compassion on them just because he saw their ailments and troubles. According to The Gospel Of Mark, in a similar scene with the one in today's passage, the following is recorded in the text: "Jesus got up out of the boat and seeing the great multitude, he felt deeply moved over their condition as sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them on different things," (Mark 6:34). In chapter nine and verse thirty-six of this gospel as well, it has that "Again, in seeing that the crowd was so very weak as sheep with no shepherd and that it was so distraught, he felt deep compassion and mercy on them," (9:36). It was their condition, above all else, of being "like sheep with no shepherd" upon which the Lord had thus felt compassion.
4. David once sung it like this, "The Lord is my shepherd, I will not be destitute in anything. The Lord causes me to lie down in green pasture and he brings me to the water's edge for rest. The Lord enlivens my soul, and he leads me to righteous paths for his name," (Psalm 23:1-3, Good News Bible)*. In it is sung the blessedness of the person who takes the Lord God as his or her shepherd. But, what caught Christ's eye was the figure of these people who could not sing of this blessedness right now. They lost sight of their true shepherd, they didn't know whom they should trust or whom they should obey; therefore, they had lost true wealth and life. Sickness may certainly bring misery. Being rejected by society must have been miserable. But, losing one's true shepherd is the rock bottom misery. For that reason the Lord felt deep compassion and mercy on the multitude in their condition. The phrase "[he] felt deep compassion" comes from the root word "intestines, bowels," and it means to feel pain like having your stomach shredded. The Lord wasn't feeling sorrow for them as though looking down on them from a higher point. He was looking face to face at the people who had lost their shepherd and he felt deep pain with them.
5. Then, he healed the sick among them. Of course, he probably didn't heal every sick person in the bulging crowd of five thousand, but a number of the sick were healed, which was a sign that God their true shepherd could truly give them life and that he had visited them with his bounty. It was truly a sign that the kingdom of God was near. It was a sign showing that the true shepherd compassionately cared for them and he was beckoning them unto himself. Next, the Lord was about to give them another mighty sign.
You Give Them!
6. While Jesus hung out with the mass of people, it had already turned towards evening. The disciples came to Jesus and said, "Here in this secluded place, the time has already run out. Please dismiss the crowd. If you do, they might go and buy some food for themselves in the village," (verse fifteen). The disciples' proposal was quite reasonable. But, the Lord answered them with "I will never send them away. You give them something to eat," (verse sixteen). Oh, it was terrible. Until now, for the most part it was Jesus who had been face to face with the crowd. It was also only Jesus who had directed a sincere and loyal glance at the condition of the crowd. It was only Jesus who had healed the sick and who had felt their pain with them such that his stomach was torn up over their condition. But, now the disciples themselves, not somebody else, were forced out into facing the people directly. He [ordered the disciples], "You give them something to eat."
7. Then they helplessly have to come face to face with their own poverty for the first time. So far they had stuck out their chests, high on cloud nine, and said, "I am a disciple of Jesus." These twelve disciples were thinking stuff like, "We're the chosen twelve. Among his disciples, we're the ones placed especially close [to the Lord], right by the Lord's side." But, in being made to face the crowd, what they themselves had in their possession is made to face up to the real world, a desperate reality of helplessness. They can't help but cry out, "We've only got five breads and two fish here."
8. As long as the church only thinks within itself, we barely think of how poor we are, and things won't be much of a problem. But, we immediately can't help but come face to face with our poverty as soon as we start to sense that the church exists smack dab in this ol' world, and that it exists dead in the middle of a wretched world, a dark world which has lost its true shepherd, and that it is sent to specific individual people living in it. We realize that all we have on hand are five breads and two fish. Then, the people of the world also come to note the poverty of the church. "What, is that all the church has is but five breads and two fish?! The church doesn't meet any of my tangible needs, does it?! It doesn't have the power to move the world or solve different problems, does it?!" You got it. As a matter of fact, we're poor. We truly know inside that we're poor.
9. Yet, please look at this passage. Jesus is standing there with his disciples who are perplexed at the five loaves and 2 fish in their hands. The Lord is well aware of that from the start. He knew they had practically nothing. So, the Lord said to them, "Bring it 'here' [to me]," (verse eighteen). Then the Lord took "the five loaves and the two fish," looked up to heaven, recited a prayer of praise, broke the bread and passed it back to the disciples. The disciples received that same 'bread' from the hand of the Lord, and gave it to the multitude. Then, based on what the Bible tells us, it says, "all the people ate and were satisfied. Then, when they collected up the pieces of bread left over, it filled twelve baskets."
10. Whoa, did that really ever go like that - almost unbelievable?! How could that even happen? I wouldn't be surprised if anybody felt like that. We actually don't know exactly what did happen. But, in this story there is one thing that is clear. It is obvious that the crowd was satisfied not because of anything that might have come from the disciples; for, the disciples had practically nothing at all. The crowd was satisfied because of what came from Christ. The disciples only carried it. In other words, it was the abundance that came from Jesus, the bounty from heaven that the people had experienced there.
[Give] Christ To The People
11. So then, it said in the scripture that "Looking up to heaven, he recited a prayer of praise, broke the bread, and passed it to the disciples." Actually, we read on further in this gospel, and there once again we will find a scene which is illustrated with these words. It is the scene of the last supper that we see in chapter twenty-six. "When the group took a meal, as Jesus took the bread, recited a prayer of praise, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, he said, 'Take and eat. This is my body.' Then, he took a cup, recited a prayer of thanksgiving, passed it to them and said, 'Everyone, drink from this cup. This is the blood of the covenant, my blood which is shed on behalf of many.'," (Matthew 26:26-28).
12. Jesus, who once before had broken bread and passed it on the Galilean grass, was once again breaking bread, passing it and saying to his disciples, "This is my body." According to those words, Jesus did not just break bread but was breaking his very self and passing himself out. -- The very next day, the Lord was crucified and he died. His body was torn by banged in nails, his precious blood was shed from his spear pierced ribs. His shed blood, as the Lord stated, was shed for many people so that their sins would be forgiven. Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins. [He died] that we might live with God as forgiven persons. [He died] that those who have lived in their miserable condition like sheep without a shepherd might live with their true shepherd. [He died] that we might be able to say once again that "The Lord is my shepherd; I will not ever be destitute."
13. The Christ, who once on the Galilean grass had broken the bread and passed it to his disciples, is [still] today breaking bread, sharing the cup and passing it to his church. That is the event happening during this morning's communion service. It is Christ himself which is being shared at this time, the Christ who atoned for our sins upon the cross. Christ has [indeed] shared himself with us. Just as the disciples carried the bread which Christ had broken and given them and they distributed it going around the people, we too are commanded to deliver [his Bread] to the people.
Translator: The original quote is from a Japanese version of the Bible, called The Good News Bible, but I am giving my own translation here.