A Change of Perspective!
Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Proper 13, A
One of the things that has stuck me the most over these past few weeks, is how a change of perspective can have a profound impact on the way we see (or see once again) those things which are familiar to us. The Divine Service is something we are well rehearsed in, but lead it for your new congregation, or hear it from your new pastor, and even though you may have done it hundreds of times before now all of a sudden it all seems somehow new and different. What once was so comfortable that you didn't often have to stop and think about is once again full of old and new things to rediscover. It can be a little nerve-wracking, but also very exciting!
The same holds true of those well-loved texts of the Bible. Even though we may be familiar with them since the days of our Sunday School training, by simply changing our perspective, even just a little, we can have a profound impact upon how we read and understand them again. Consider our Gospel Reading for today — the Feeding of the 5000.
See it from the viewpoint of the people gathered at the feet of Jesus. (13-14) Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Overwhelmed, over-stressed, burdened by the cares of the world, struggling with the frailties of the flesh these people took the invitation of Jesus and ran with it ... all the way round the shores of Galilee. Crowds of the curious, the needy, the lonely and the desperate cling to this Jesus hoping for the best but maybe expecting little or nothing. What do they find at the end of their journey? Long lectures full of incomprehensible lingo? Answers to questions they never asked? Another system of moral demands imposed upon their already demanding life?
No. They find a man. They find Jesus, full of compassion, ready to hear their cries for help. Ready to heal. Ready to give of himself to show them that the mattered. Did they understand the full greatness of who they had found? Again, no. In just a few short verses they misread the compassion of Jesus and try to twist it into something selfish and self-serving. Does it matter that they don't yet understand? No. All that matters is that for now they are where they should be. At the feet of Him who gives graciously of all good things to people just like them. And who are they? They are your friends and neighbours, co-workers, and team-mates, the people of Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Stayner, Thornbury, and all points around and between. They are people overwhelmed and over-stressed by the cares of life, and the worries of health and security. They are people in desperate need of what only Jesus can offer! Regardless of why they come, what will they find when they arrive here at Christ Our Hope on the shores of the Georgian Bay? Let them find their Hope in Jesus.
But now dear friends, let us look once again and see it now from the viewpoint of the Disciples. (15-18) Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to ma" Frustrated, frazzled, and forgetful, the closest followers of Jesus don't always seem to get it. Oh sure, they mean well. Their hearts are in the right place. Their motives are even pretty good. They see the need of the crowds and are trying to respond as best they could. Or so they believe. But are they going about it the right way? Do they see it the way they should? They identify the need, but then try to work out the solution by themselves! They tally the available resources five loaves and two fish. They compare that with the projected costs of feeding everyone - 5000 souls plus! And then they run a benefit analysis ... after bankrupting the coffers to feed them tonight, what will they do in the morning when everyone wants breakfast? The answer is clear — what Jesus is asking them to do is impossible. The needs are too great and their strength is too little.
But is it true? Have they calculated it all correctly or are they forgetting something? Perhaps it is better to ask if they have forgotten someone! Are these not the same 12 who saw the sick healed and the demons cast out? Have they not seen the blind given sight and the mute voicing God's praise? Were they not witness to the calming of the storm and the raising of the dead? Yet in their frustrations and fears how soon they forget the power of the one calling them into action. After all, who are they, that their Lord would entrust so many to their care? They are you and me dear friends. Faithful, fearful, forgetful disciples of the Lord. The needs of this world are so great, how can we possibly do what Christ has called us to? There are so many who need help and so few of us to give it. We don't have enough time, enough money, enough strength to possibly do it all! (handwritten note)
And it's true. If our perspective remains focused upon our limitations, there is no hope whatsoever, that we could even begin to do as Christ has called us. We are too few, too poor, too old, too sinful, too fearful. Focusing on what we can't give to God, or what we can't do for our Lord, leaves leaves us standing empty-handed in a field full of our neglected and starving neighbours. But then again, we aren't empty-handed are we. The disciples had their loaves and fish. We all have some small gifts of time, talents, and treasures. In our hands alone these things would remain meager ... but in the hands of our Lord, great things ... indeed miracles ... can be done with even the smallest offerings!
So let's change views one last time and now see this text from the only perspective of lasting benefit and that of final importance. Let's see it from our Lord's vantage point. (14) When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Jesus has tried to get away from it all for a while. He has just heard that John the Baptist has been killed. He is full of grief and has many emotions to work out in prayer and solitude. But the needy, the lonely, the hurting and the curious don't give him that luxury. Wherever he goes there they are waiting for him. Does He get upset? Is He frustrated, or frazzled? Does He throw his hands up in anger or irritation? Or drop His head with a sigh and think of quitting, because there is nothing left in him to give. No. Instead, He steps off the boat and seeing them — every last one of them with every single care and hurt and heartache — His only reaction is compassion. Their plight is literally "gut-wrenching" to Him, because not one of them was meant to suffer like this.
And so he gives them what they need. He meets them where they are ... right there out in the wilderness and He gives them Himself His time, His compassion, His mercies. He heals them. He gives them hope. He answers the heart-wrenching questions they are asking. And not just for a little while. Not just enough to get them off his back. But in a miracle so grand that every Gospel writer includes it, He shows His compassion for every soul in any need is overflowing and exceedingly gracious. (19-20) Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
For Jesus, this host of miraculous feasts, is the very overflowing grace of God in the flesh. He is compassion incarnate, come to be where the lost can be found. Come into our world to give and give until he must throw his hands up ... to be nailed upon the cross. To give and give until there is nothing left to give but himself ... with the drop of his head and a final sigh. For of all the hurts to be healed, and all the questions to be answered it is the hurt of sin, and the question of our salvation that to which all his life and miracles and teaching point. For it is this sin at the root of all other hurts. The greatest hunger he has come to satisfy is the hunger for righteousness, and it can only be sated by his body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.
And His perspective hasn't changed. As He viewed the crowds back then, so too does He view our world today. There is no need so small, no hurt so insignificant that He will not address in His boundless compassion. The needs of people both in body and soul are equally important to our God. But the ways in which He answers are still just as surprising. In the Word and the Sacraments. The reading and study of the Bible, the water of Holy Baptism, and the Bread and the wine of His Holy Supper are his never- ending feast to this hungry and hurting world. A cure for sin and a feast of righteousness. And you dear friends — the congregation of Christ Our Hope are the disciples that He will use to bring that feast to these crowds. Entrust Him with your gifts, no matter how insignificant you think they are ... and see what he won't do with them! Change your perspective — see things His way — it can be a little nerve- wracking, but also very exciting! In love and thankfulness for His compassion to you, be bold to share that compassion with others and watch the miracles continue to flow.