You Never Walk Alone

Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology and a popular speaker. Campolo has written many books about social justice. I have quoted him in a few times in previous sermons. He was once invited to a women’s conference where he was to give a major address. These women were being challenged to raise several thousand dollars for a mission project goal.


While Campolo was sitting on the dais, the chairperson turned to him and asked him if he would pray for God’s blessing as they considered their individual responses to the goal. Campolo stood and – to the utter amazement of everyone present – graciously said “no.”


He approached the microphone and said, “You already have all the resources necessary to complete this mission project right here within this room. It would be inappropriate to ask for God’s blessing, when in fact God has already blessed you with the abundance and the means to achieve this goal. The necessary gifts are in your hands. As soon as we take the offering and underwrite this mission project, we will thank God for freeing us to be the generous, responsible and accountable stewards that we’re called to be as Christian disciples.” And they did.


And so Jesus’ disciples had the means to meet the needs of the crowd. They didn’t know it until Jesus nudged them into believing that they could make a difference in the lives of the people gathered there. Jesus equips us to meet our own needs and empowers us to meet the needs of others even before we can ask.


Jesus feeds us because of his compassion for us by showing his love through the actions of others, by healing us of physical, emotional, and spiritual ills, and by his physical presence in us through our baptisms and the receiving of communion.


This gospel reading begins with action. Jesus had just heard that Herod Antipas had beheaded John the Baptist. This had to be shocking, but not totally unexpected news. It was shocking because of the method of John’s execution, though Jesus lived in very violent times. Even though it was believed that Herod respected John, John’s imprisonment would likely, at some point, end up with his execution. The resulting action of this is Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee by boat to go to a place and be alone.


You would think that being in a boat going toward a place where no one is at could be done with anonymity. Not in Jesus’ case. The “crowds,” presumably the people of the Galilee area and also implying very many people, somehow find out where Jesus is going to make land. They hoof it over to where Jesus is. We see this happening now. Whether it is rock stars or some other celebrity, there are some people who want to know where they are and make sure they are there, too. Some things never change. The scene really is Jesus Christ Superstar.


There was a crowd already there when Jesus’ boat makes it to shore. Jesus is heart-sick, wants to be left alone, but when he sees the crowd, he has pity. There are still sick people who have yet to be healed. Jesus took care of them.


With sunset not far away, the crowds remain. Think Woodstock. Jesus’ disciples offer advice, “This is a desolate place. Tell the crowd to go home – go to a village for dinner.” Jesus refused the advice. They can stay. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples to feed them.


They brought enough food for themselves. The point being there isn’t enough for everyone. Jesus asks for the food. Jesus told the crowd to sit on the grass, which means they were standing and probably standing for a long time. Jesus blesses the food, breaks the bread, and hands the bread to the disciples, who in turn give the food to the people. There are no more objections. The disciples do as they are told. We don’t know what they were thinking. Will there be a food riot among those who don’t get anything to eat? Then what will they do?


The leftovers were collected. The point being that the leftovers exceeded the amount of food given to the people. Five thousand men ate. The number of women and children didn’t count. This can be translated in different ways. One translation is that only the men ate and the other is that everyone ate and the count of people was much more than five thousand. My best literal translation is: the eaters were about 5,000 adults, but not marriageable women and pre-pubescent children. In Jesus’ day, puberty was adulthood and a woman only had identity after she was married.


When we hear the words, “(Jesus) blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds,” we remember the Last Supper. We remember Jesus’ command at the Last Supper. We remember the breaking of bread and the sharing every time we have communion. Maybe this is why Jesus commands us to remember. We do! When we gather here or in other places where there is communion, we are teleported back in time and we are at the Last Supper. We remember.


We remember Jesus’ words. We remember Jesus’ presence. We re-connect with Jesus. We remember that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is Jesus’ blood. We remember.


When early Christians heard again the story of the Feeding of the 5,000, they, too, remembered the Last Supper. Scholars have also noticed these similar words in this story and the Last Supper. There is much speculation about this and there are many theories. You may have heard some of those. But my suggestion to you is to keep this story as it is. Add no more to it. Subtract nothing away. Just as the disciples could feed thousands with very little, so too can Jesus feed us when we gather at the table here. We gather because we remember. We are fed because we remember. Jesus is made real again because we remember.


“The significance of this miracle was intended primarily for the disciples. Jesus was illustrating the kind of ministry they would have after His departure. They would be involved in feeding people, but with spiritual food. The source for their feeding would be the Lord Himself. When their supply ran out, as with the bread and fish, they would need to return to the Lord for more. He would supply them, but the feeding would be done through them. “[1]


“For disciples who think they have ‘nothing,’ the possibilities are necessarily small. What might have happened if one of the disciples had ‘looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves’? Of course we will not know. The more daunting question is, how many times have we heard our Lord say, ‘Give them something to eat,’ and because of our sense of powerlessness turned away? If we think our baskets contain ‘nothing,’ when in fact we have a few loaves and fish, then Jesus has ‘nothing’ with which to feed the hungry.”[2]


Jesus feeds us because of his compassion for us by showing his love through the actions of others, by healing us of physical, emotional, and spiritual ills, and by his physical presence in us through our baptisms and the receiving of communion.


We can turn to Jesus in prayer and Jesus will hear us. That doesn’t mean that Jesus will punch every ticket we give him. Jesus will give us compassion and will give us strength to help us in time of need. Our separation from God was taken away on the cross. Our sins were washed away at our baptisms. We are re-strengthened and renewed when we receive communion.


Human needs are great in the world. They seem overwhelming. But the disciples also felt overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of feeding so many with so little.


We participate in the Upper Room giving a hot meal to anyone who wants one. Just that concept is a miracle in itself. We sponsor children in poor countries, giving them not just a chance to live to adulthood, but to give them a chance to improve their lives with health and education. There is now a growing famine in North Africa.


The cliché is true, “When we lift up all boats, we lift up ourselves.” The only thing stopping us is the will to make a difference.


Text: Matthew 14:13–21 (NRSV)

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. [3]

[1] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (Mt 14:13–21). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Hollingsworth, Dock. (2011). Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[3]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 14:13–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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