A few preliminary reflections on Matthew 14 and feeding 5000 people:
Any busy, overwhelmed pastor and congregation can relate to this scripture passage. Like many pastors after Lent and Easter, the Lenten study series, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, the crowds and the energy output, Jesus tries to take a mini-vacation. He rents a boat, I imagine it was a little sailboat. Jesus spends a lot of time with fisherman boating around the Sea of Galilee, so he probably knew port from starboard. He gets out into the water, the wind fills his sails, and he starts to relax and ponder.
If Jesus was a modern-day pastor, he might have already consulted his ministry coach by phone call to define what issues he needs to discern. Based on Matthew 13, he has 3 big issues. Number one, he has a scale problem with his ministry. He has been teaching and preaching in several towns and the ministry is hitting a growth wall. Classic church growth theory says there are pastor sized churches under a 100 on Sunday, program sized churches between 120 and 200 members, and then you move into more corporate sized, multi-staff churches, multi-site mega-churches-and at each stage you need a new administrative model to handle the human need. Jesus has already moved from 12, to 100 to 5000 people. He has got scale issues, he needs help and more leadership.
Jesus has some personal issues. He was just preaching at his hometown in Nazareth, and people were not supportive. “Hey bigshot, we knew you when you Mary’s boy, when you were just a handyman. What makes you think you are all that, coming here telling us all these strange parables and radical thought?” That has got to hurt. Just when he is taking a big vocational leap, a little support would be nice. Jesus is finding out the basic human truth that when you reach for your best self, your true goals, many people will not be supportive. They find his dreams threatening, his goals too expansive, his ideas are too unconventional. To be true to himself, he must walk away from home, all the naysayers, and get his support elsewhere. As Jesus says, a prophet is without honor in his hometown.
Number three, his ministry is struck by political turmoil. The news cycle is devastating to the sermon writing process. Just when you think you are done, the health care repeal vote is in a dead heat, ICE agents arrest a man who has lived and worked in the community for years without trouble, more Russia collusion bombshells, North Korea. How do you preach in this news cycle? If you avoid it, you offend one group, take on the issues you offend a different group. Here is the real reason Jesus is in the boat. John the Baptist, his cousin, mentor, the man who baptized him, was just executed. The story out of the White House, uh…Herod’s Palace…sorry, conveys avarice, hubris and cruelty. At a big party, one of the dancing girls delights the crowd, and Herod says ask for whatever you want. She talks to Herod’s wife, who says, “Ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.” Vicious, cruel, callous. Herodias is angry that John the Baptist has criticized them, and he now pays the price. Herod is trapped into this unpopular move, because he can’t say “no” to his daughter. Trevor Noah and Rachel Maddow are mocking Herod, calling for resistance. People are in the streets, getting arrested.
Jesus has a lot to think about while he sails, and by the time he reaches shore, everyone is waiting for him. All 5000 people wondering what to do next. So, before we got to the action of the passage, let’s pause and acknowledge that even for Jesus, building a community happens amid many real-life challenges of administration, difficult relationships, and political strife. It’s not so simple as preaching good sermons and healing a few people and everything flows smoothly. What