FEEDING OF THE 5,000 2019
Matthew 14: 14-22
The Gospel this morning tells us that Jesus and his disciples were eager to get out of Bethsaida and head back to Capernaum. Why was that? Because Herod had just had John the Baptist beheaded, and the disciples were afraid that Herod would send troops to arrest Jesus along with themselves! So, they got into a boat and headed back toward their home base in Capernaum, to Peter’s house. But what happened? They stopped half way, and pulled into a place called, in Greek, “Epta Piga” or Seven Springs. Why did they do that? Because the crowds that been in Bethsaida were walking on foot, along the shore, trying to catch up to Jesus. Jesus was moved deeply at their willingness to suffer such hardships in order to be with Him. That’s what it says, He was “moved with compassion.” In other words, He rewarded their dedication and labor by stopping for them, teaching them, and healing those who were sick among them.
First of all this teaches us that the Lord Jesus is a true human being. He is God, too, but He is also fully human. He feels what we feel and He responds to things like we respond to things. He does not have sinful reactions, though, like we do. He does not flash with passions like we do. Even when He chased the money-changers out of the temple, it was righteous indignation, not passionate anger, that inspired Him to do so.
In today’s Gospel Jesus shows His deep love and deep compassion for those precious human sheep that were so desperate to follow their Good Shepherd.
Why do we call Jesus “the Good Shepherd?” Because He says it Himself: “I am the good shepherd” (Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός) “the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). A good shepherd cares about his sheep. He tends to them. He makes sure that they are safe. He makes sure that they have enough to eat and enough to drink. That’s what was happening in today’s reading. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, is more about love than it is about food. The truth is, nobody loves us more than Jesus does. That’s just a fact. The Lord said in another place, “No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Didn’t Jesus do exactly that? Didn’t He die on the Cross so that we might live? Now, I want us to look at something else here. The English word “friends” is a little flat. The Greek word is φίλων. In another place Jesus says to His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants...But I have called you friends” (φίλους; John 15:15). Philous, Philon, what does it mean? Well, what does Phil-adelphia mean? It means Brotherly Love, the City of Brotherly Love. Philous, philon, means dear ones, loved ones. It’s much deeper than mere friends. When we speak of our “loved ones” who do we mean? Right, our closest family members. By calling His disciples “friends,” He’s really calling them treasured ones, cherished ones, people whom He loves, family, not merely disciples, or students, or pupils, or acquaintances.
At every Divine Liturgy, at the First Antiphon, we sing, “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering, and full of great goodness.” This is Psalm 102 in the Septuagint, verse 8. That’s who Jesus is to us. He is our loving God and He has called us beloved family members.
St. Paul, in Ephesians, writes that God, before the foundation of the world, determined that we would be adopted as His own children. He says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Eph. 1: 3-6). And how is it that we receive this adoption? How do we become the “loved ones” of Christ? By faith and by holy baptism. In John chapter 3 Nicodemus is talking to Jesus and Jesus tells him: “I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Again, in Mark 16:16 Jesus says, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” And St. Peter, on Pentecost, preached: ““Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2: 38-39).
We’re going to have a baptism today. A young man who stands among us will soon be grafted into the family of Christ, which is the Church. The Lord loves him, and in fact, has always loved him, even before the foundation of the world. He has repented, he has believed, and today he will be baptized. He will officially become one of the pet lambs in Christ’s pasture. (See Canon of St Andrew of Crete, Thursday of the First Week). Today he will become one of Christ’s “loved ones,” a member of the family of God. And like those crowds who worked so hard to follow Christ, to be with Christ, he will walk together with them, and with us. Patriarch Kirill recently said: “Following Christ means doing it with all your heart and living by his commandments. Following Christ often means going against the current, to be misunderstood by most inquirers…as it always has been in the 2000-year history of the Church.” May God grant us all the grace to follow hard after Christ, to be loved by Him, to be fed by Him, and to be healed by Him. Amen.