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Feeding The 5,000

Preaching The Miracles Of Jesus
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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The feeding miracle, specifically the feeding of the 5,000, is the only miracle which is found in all four gospels. There is some discussion over the independence of the account of the feeding of the 4,000, which is reported only in Mark and Matthew. While the details of the occurrence are questioned by many people, the basic historicity of some sort of a feeding is beyond any serious question. It is the specific details of the feeding miracle which seem to confuse the commentators and cause discussions and arguments.

Since the time of Saint Augustine the tradition has been that the feeding of the 5,000 is for the Jews while the feeding of the 4,000 is for Gentiles. Thus, the message of Jesus (and the salvation he brings) is inclusive even from the time of his public ministry. While the tradition is possibly comforting, it is somewhat contrary to the comments of Jesus in Matthew 15:24 and 26. Almost certainly the identification of a Jewish and a Gentile feeding is only a later interpretation and not something identifiable within the text itself.

About The Text

This lesson is taken out of the flow of the gospel, but the context is obscured by the selection of the lectionary. Matthew 14:1--12, the first portion of the chapter, is not included in the lectionary. This is the story of the death of John the Baptizer, which is referred to at the beginning of this lesson. While the lectionary does not provide an inclusive reading of the gospel during the Pentecost season, it does provide for a sequential arrangement of what is selected. Filling in the remaining gaps in the story is left up to the preacher.


heard this - This refers to the news about John the Baptizer's death. In Matthew the death of John is the cause for the withdrawal, while in Mark 6:30--31, the withdrawal is to afford the disciples a rest after they return from their mission, recounted in Mark 5:5b--13.

deserted - The same Greek word is found in 14:15 (as well as of the wilderness in Exodus 16). The word actually means abandoned, or desolate. Traditionally translated as lonely, a characterization which hardly captures the sense of place found in the Greek. This term appears to refer more to the population of the area to which Jesus had retreated, not the vegetation which might have been found there, especially in light of the reference to "grass" in 14:19.

by himself - The construction indicates Jesus went off alone, which raises the question of where the disciples were at this time. Clearly, this comment represents a different approach than that of Mark. Did the disciples accompany Jesus on the boat, or did they arrive later, either on their own or with the crowds? The text provides no clue to the proper answer to these questions. The text of 14:15 is of no help in this regard, as it simply indicates the disciples came up to Jesus, likely for a private discussion, not that they arrived at that point.

followed - This word is often used in the sense of "followed as a disciple," but here it likely means merely "trailed after."

on foot - Why the crowds traveled by foot is unclear. It is possible that no other boats were available, or not enough were available, or perhaps no one else was willing to transport people across the lake. Perhaps the strongest possibility is that the crowds following Jesus were composed largely of poor people, and they were unable to hire a boat for the trip.

had compassion - The term here is, literally, entrails, viscera were stirred up. In the ancient world, this was the idiom for affection and sympathy, or compassion, sometimes even love. Emotions were equated with body parts, a tendency that hasn't changed even in the modern world (consider the bumper stickers which begin "I heart ..."). The difference is that modern conventions do not use the same body parts as in the ancient world did.

evening - This time of day is basically indeterminate, as it can be either immediately before or after sunset. The context here suggests before, to allow time for the people to get to the villages before dark.

If the desire was to allow the people to disperse before dark, the question of what happened to them after the feeding is somewhat unresolved. Matthew 14:22 begins with immediately, which is taken from the Marcan text. This is a favorite word of Mark's, and is more often used to indicate the commencement of a new story than the temporal sequence of events.

In Matthew 14:22--23, the crowds are dismissed, and the action moves on. The perception of an inconsistency here is based on the disciples' comments about sending the crowds away, assuming "evening" here is taken to refer to a time before dark.

came to - The Greek does not imply that the disciples arrived at this point, rather that the already--present disciples approached Jesus at this time. The likelihood is that the term indicates they drew him off to one side for a conversation.

you - The Greek behind this phrase involves both an intensifier pronoun and an imperative verb. Jesus is speaking to the disciples, and rather imperiously instructs them to feed the people themselves. At the least, this phrase should be italicized in English, perhaps in bold (even though such typographical embellishments are not often used in the biblical text).

five loaves and two fishes - These are the two elements of the basic diet for the poor in Galilee. A normal day's ration was three barley loaves (the barley is specified in John 6:9), hence this was approximately enough for two people for a day. The fish would have been either pickled or smoked, and were considered a delicacy when eaten as a relish with the bread.

sit down - The Greek is literally lie down, but modern diners are usually seated, hence the alteration to conform to modern practice.

grass - It sounds odd to find grass in the wilderness. We do not expect it, but Mark 6:39 has green grass, which would indicate spring as the time when this miracle took place. John 6:10 mentions a great deal of grass, which might also indicate a spring date, when the uninhabited area was growing grass that would soon be utilized for pasture. Further, John 6:4 mentions the nearness of Passover, which confirms a spring date for these events.

The place where Jesus went was most likely not a desert, but an uninhabited area considered a wilderness, land typically used for pasture when there was grass available, and largely abandoned the remainder of the year.

heaven - The Greek word can mean either sky or God's residence. Here the latter is the most likely understanding, but the former is a possibility as well. Jesus' actions here parallel both the actions of the head of a Jewish family at the beginning of a meal and of Christian leaders at the celebration of the eucharist.

blessed - This term may be taken to mean either thanked God for the loaves and fish, or asked God's blessing on the loaves and fish. Within Jewish tradition, the first meaning is precisely what the head of a family did before a meal, the second meaning is more of a modern imposition on the tradition. Hence, the first understanding is almost certainly what was intended here.

broke - The Greek word is used only for breaking bread in both the Septuagint and the New Testament. Proper etiquette required the father (head of the household) to break the bread to indicate the meal had begun. Similar to the point of etiquette in more polite times which required the person at the head of the table to place a fork on the side of the plate to indicate all at the table may begin to eat. The word was also used in breaking bread in Emmaus (Luke 24:30), and in Acts with eucharistic significance as well (Acts 2:42 and 20:7). In all four gospels there is a eucharistic significance to this miracle, indicated in large part by this word.

gave - Matthew intentionally loads the scene with eucharistic significance. Some early eucharists included both bread and fish (either in addition to the wine, or exclusive of the use of wine). In the early church the leader broke the bread, then the deacons distributed the broken pieces to the congregation.

were filled - The text here indicates a sense of gorged. This word is also used of the birds which gorge themselves on the flesh of slain men and animals in Revelation 19:21. The idea is of complete fullness, even from such humble beginnings as a day's food for two people. The word is also used in the beatitudes in Matthew 5:6. A modern parallel might be the feeling most people have after indulging in an all--you--can--eat buffet for lunch, or as a result of a typical, traditional Thanksgiving feast.

broken pieces - Not merely the scraps of leftover bread, but the pieces which were broken in 14:19. In other words, not only did everyone eat all they could hold, there were full portions for others remaining at the conclusion of the feeding.

five thousand men - The exact number of people is indeterminate, but at least 5,000 men were involved. Attempts to determine how many people might have been present are mostly guesswork and add little to the understanding of the event. John 6:10 reports the number of those fed as "about five thousand in all." Mark 6:44 and Luke 9:14 refer to "five thousand men," and leave the comment at that. Only in Matthew is the further detail "besides women and children" added (14:21).


There are parallel incidents of feeding 5,000 in Mark 6:30--44; Luke 9:10--17; and John 6:1--15. In addition, there are stories of feeding 4,000 in Mark 8:1--10 and the parallel in Matthew 15:32--39. Among these six stories of the feeding of thousands, there are a number of significant parallels and omissions. In addition to the parallels already noted, some of the most significant include the following.

The most detailed account of these feedings is found in Mark. One of the earliest details found in Mark, and a fair example of what is included, is the note in Mark 6:31 indicating the disciples hadn't even had time to eat because they were dealing with the crowds coming to see Jesus.

Ironically, the lectionary selection does not include the Marcan version of the feeding miracle (or the walking on water episode which follows immediately after it). Proper 11 includes the Marcan framework for these stories, but not the stories themselves. Propers 12--16 shift to John 6, and present the longer, more theologically based Johannine versions of these stories. Only with Proper 17, and Mark 7:1 does the lectionary turn back to the Marcan version.

Luke 9:10 provides a more specific location than the other evangelists, locating the events in the city of Bethsaida, on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. While Luke never mentions a departure from the city, the area around the city could fit the description in Matthew. The actual feeding certainly seems to have been in a location similar to that found in the other evangelists' accounts. Luke 9:12 mentions surrounding villages, which would seem to assume a rather desolate place.

Matthew is the only gospel which isolates Jesus from disciples when the action begins. In fact, this might be a significant staging on the part of Matthew, in that the crowds seem to approach Jesus without the intermediaries normally found, namely the disciples. In this instance they approach him directly, but the feeding is accomplished through the intermediaries.

Matthew states that Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed the sick, which is a significant editorial change from Mark's words. In Mark 6:34, Jesus has compassion, notes the crowd is like sheep without a shepherd, and teaches them. In Luke 9:11, Jesus sees the crowds and speaks to them before healing the sick. Ironically, in what has been characterized as the "Gospel of Compassion," Luke changes the Marcan wording and omits the reference to compassion at this point. Similarly, Luke and Matthew both omit the comment about sheep and shepherds. Luke does not use the comment, while Matthew has already used the comment in 9:36.

Matthew omits the Marcan reference to teaching, seemingly because in Matthew 13 Jesus has focused his teaching on the disciples. To a large extent, teaching in Matthew has, by this point, become an activity which is focused on the disciples almost exclusively, and is thus not appropriate for the large crowd at this point.

In John, when the crowd approaches, Jesus challenges the disciples to feed them with no other preliminaries. In the synoptics, a similar challenge is made but only after the preliminaries of either teaching or healing or both.

Precisely the same term (200 denarii) is used for the disciples' estimates of the cost to feed the crowd in both Mark and John. The NRSV obscures this parallel by changing the words in John, and relegating the exact wording of the Greek to a footnote. Matthew and Luke don't use precise money terms. Luke still couches the disciples' objection to the command to feed the crowds in financial (Luke 9:13) and logistical terms. Matthew simply reports the disciples' report of totally inadequate resources.

In many ways Matthew presents the most dramatic scenario. Rather than softening the disciples' actions and their reluctance to carry out Jesus' words with reasonable, quite human excuses, Matthew simply presents the disciples' human inability to comply with the demands of Jesus. Matthew presents the stark contrast between what the disciples are supposed to do, and what they are able to do, and the disciples come up woefully short, with no excuses possible.

After the disciples suggest sending the crowds away, Matthew adds Jesus' comment that they need not go away before he commands the disciples to feed them. Neither Mark nor Luke has any comment similar to this.

Mark, Matthew, and John agree that the feeding incident ended with a withdrawal by boat by the disciples. In all cases it is the disciples alone who depart in the boat, which sets the stage in these three gospels for the miraculous walking on water (which is next week's lesson). Luke has no account of the miraculous walking on water, and follows the feeding miracle with further teachings of the disciples, which Mark and Matthew also present, but only after some further activities.

As often happens, John places this event in a political context. John 6:14 indicates that the people want to make Jesus a bread messiah after the feeding. In other words, apparently because, or at least largely because of the huge amount of food which had been produced, the people declared that Jesus was the expected Messiah. The political aspects of Jesus' career, which are highlighted in the Johannine account of the feeding, are also brought up again at John 11:45--53; 12:9--11; and 18:36. Aside from the political details, John provides an immediate rationale for the departure of Jesus from both the crowds and the disciples. In John 6:22--40 this immediate rationale is expanded into a theological discussion between Jesus and the crowds in which Jesus expands the significance of the feeding by stating "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). This confession is both an interpretation of the recent events of the feeding and a basis for the Christian eucharistic celebrations of the time when the gospel was written.

In all three gospels, Jesus withdraws alone into the hills, in Mark and Matthew to pray.

The People

As Individuals
Jesus is obviously the most visible character, and in some ways his behavior might seem a little unexpected. There are a number of instances when Jesus, or Jesus and the disciples try to escape the crush of the crowds to have a little time for themselves. Mark makes the point that they have been so busy dealing with the people that they haven't even had a chance to grab a bite to eat (6:31). It is not a surprise that they developed a desire to escape the demands of the crowds.

When the crowds followed them, Jesus, as we might expect, was generous and welcomed them and taught them (Luke 9:11), or had compassion on them and taught them (Mark 6:34), or began to make arrangements to feed them (John 6:5), or had compassion and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). The unexpected part of his behavior begins when he confronts the disciples over the issue of how to feed the crowd. While John (6:6) offers an excuse for this comment, in the synoptics Jesus merely commands the disciples to feed the crowd.

In many ways this demand, with no apparent means available to fulfill the requirement, is contrary to what we expect of Jesus. This is no gentle, meek Savior with hands extended to comfort his people. This is an insistent, demanding leader who suddenly demands that his followers perform things they have just declared to be impossible. If the setting is accurate, the demands come at a time when everyone is probably hot, dusty (from traveling), hungry (no time to eat), cranky (from long hours), and possibly even a little jealous of the attention being lavished on the crowds when the disciples had expected to have some time alone with Jesus. Now comes an emphatic order from Jesus to feed the crowds. Over 5,000 people, and they are suddenly expected to provide an evening meal for them. The scene is not one full of the comforting images we might expect from stories about Jesus.

The disciples are almost certainly at a loss when confronted with Jesus' demands. It seems clear that there is no way to provide for the crowds from the resources at hand, and the disciples were acutely aware of the difficulties. Even if they had the resources to purchase enough food for the crowd, there was clearly no way to get the food to this remote location while there was still enough light to eat it.

When Jesus instructs them to have the crowd sit down (or recline), they finally have something to do which is within their abilities, and the situation improves when Jesus breaks the bread and tells them to distribute the pieces to the people. Aside from questions about what each disciple might have had to distribute, it is likely that the habits of a traditional Jewish mealtime took over and eliminated most questions or resentments at this time. Finally, when everyone has eaten all they want, the disciples are instructed to pick up the leftovers, and they collect twelve baskets full.

The disciples' reaction is not mentioned, nor is any reaction from the crowds (except in John, where the reaction is the attempt to declare Jesus the Messiah, which Jesus avoids). It seems likely that everyone was amazed, not only that everyone had been fed, but also at the amount of leftovers. While this had the potential to be quite a publicly--impressive miracle, it would seem that the event's timing diminished the crowd's reaction at the time, which allows the action to continue relatively unimpeded.

The crowds are favorite characters in the gospels, often used as a backdrop for the miraculous events in Jesus' public ministry. They are often, as here, the reason for certain actions, and the cause for other actions. Further, as here, the crowds are often essential participants in the action. Without them, there would, in effect, be no reason for the action. Aside from the dramatic necessities for the presence of the crowd, they are actually quite without character in this incident.

As Images And Signs
Bread, particularly barley loaves (John 6:9), were the meal of the poor. This is a clear suggestion that the followers of Jesus were generally poor. At the least, it would seem that much of the crowd following after Jesus was composed of the lowest, poorest strata of society. While this is not stated explicitly, it is likely that those who heard the story would recognize the significance of the bread which composed the bulk of the meal as a meal fit for the poorest of the folks.

An alternative understanding of bread comes from Matthew 16:5--12, where Jesus confronts the disciples who, once again, face a lack of bread, and he refers to his teaching (and that of the Sadducees and Pharisees) as bread. The bread of the Sadducees and Pharisees is contaminated by the yeast of their teaching.

Throughout the feeding story, Jesus is acting as the head of a Jewish family, both in his imperious order to provide for the crowds (an act of hospitality), and in his preparation and manner of distribution of the meal. This is an example of a ritual very familiar to those who made up the crowd, and those who initially heard the story, expanded to include an abnormally large number of individuals, but incorporating them into a familiar ritual.

As often happens, simple acts in the gospels are also signs with substantial significance. In this case, the simple act of providing food for thousands of people acts as a significant sign of larger things. To the Jews who were present, as well as those who later heard of the events, the meal was a significant messianic event. The basis for this seems to be that when the Messiah returned, there would be a parallel return to feeding the people as Moses had fed them in the wilderness (Exodus 16), a belief reflected (at a later time) in Revelation 2:17. Jesus rejects this understanding and withdraws from the crowd rather abruptly and alone (John 6:16).

The other understanding underlying the feeding is the eucharistic nature of the events. In the context of eating, a hint of the eucharist is only to be expected. Here, however, the significance is clearly intended. The blessing of the bread, the breaking and distribution not only recall the New Testament references to eucharistic meals, but also to Justin Martyr's description of the eucharist from the middle of the second century.

By the time of Justin the pickled fish had vanished from the eucharistic menu, but there is some evidence that fish was originally a part of the eucharist in some locations. This evidence includes not only the feeding miracles of the gospels, but also limited evidence in the written record, and representations scratched in the walls of the catacombs.

This eucharistic thread is present in all four gospels, even John, a Gospel which is historically misunderstood to eschew all reference to the eucharist. Even to the details of the distribution of the bread, the common practice of the early Christian church is followed in the feeding events. There is no mention of wine in any of these accounts, but it appears that not all early eucharistic celebrations used both elements.

The Action

In The Story
In the gospels the stories of miracles are typically presented with literary features which indicate the story is to be considered as an account of a miraculous happening. The stunning action of the story, and the inherently miraculous nature of the action notwithstanding, these stories are conspicuously lacking the typical literary details. The most significant omission is the failure to report any results of the miracle.

Typically the result of a miracle is the instigation of belief among at least some of the observers. Here, however, there is no astonishment at the actions, or even a hint of surprise. Even in John, where signs are accomplished precisely to bring people to faith (see, for example, John 2:11; 4:48; 7:31; 9:35--41; and 12:9--11) there is no mention of any such reaction. At the most, the reaction of the crowd is a rather self--serving one, to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, seemingly to ensure a steady supply of food without the need to work for it.

Even the disciples are not reported as surprised or astonished by these events. They gather the leftovers and are hustled out of the picture. Any reaction they might have had is obscured by this quick dismissal. Some commentators have used this very absence of astonishment as a demonstration, for them, of the essentially unmiraculous nature of these events.

Thus, the question arises of whether these events should even be considered as a miracle. There are many who have argued that the true miracle is connected to the source of the food which was distributed. One school of thought argues that Jesus had caused a large supply of bread to be hidden in a convenient cave. When he withdrew, he knew the crowds would follow him, so he went to the concealed entrance to the cave and waited with the disciples. When the crowds appeared, Jesus taught and then fed them, using some of the disciples to pass the bread up from the cave to the remaining disciples for distribution. This explanation reduces the feeding miracle to a trick played by Jesus on the crowds.

An alternative is the supposition that Jesus used the supplies of the disciples and distributed them to the crowds. The selfless sharing of his only sustenance so shamed the crowds that they snuck their own supplies out of the places where they were hidden and added to the food supply as it was passed before them. Thus, as the baskets were passed, the miracle wasn't the creation of bread and fish, but the softening of hard and flinty Galilean hearts and the sharing of the resources each had brought along with their neighbor. Even if everyone wasn't actually "full" of bread and fish, each was full of a feeling of satisfaction that today, at least, they had lived up to the divine command of hospitality and care for the poor.

While both of these "explanations" have been offered as rationalistic accounts of what actually took place, there is no evidence to support such speculation. The thought that everyone would have wanted to keep a souvenir of the bread created by Jesus assumes not only a relatively modern view of these events, but also that the crowds actually knew the source of the bread, something which is equally unsupported by the text. And, it is worth pointing out that even participants often have no idea of the significance of the events they participate in. For example, during the battles in Normandy after D--Day, American soldiers called in air support against a tank in the next field which had been carefully disguised as a haystack. A pilot finally came and blew up the haystack. It was only years later that the pilot, at a reunion where he was sharing his war stories, happened to mention his strangest mission, when he was sent out to explode an inoffensive haystack. Only when one of the participants, who had been in that infantry squad on that day, and happened to be in attendance, was able to thank him for his help and explain why he had attacked that haystack - thirty odd years after the event - did he understand.

It is not difficult to suspect that many of the people in the crowd, if not most of them, perhaps all of them, had little or no idea of where the bread they were offered had actually come from. It is possible to understand the lack of the astonishment, surprise, and belief which normally follow a miracle as a demonstration that this was a miracle no one really knew as a miracle until many years later, when the stories about Jesus began to circulate more widely. A part of this lack of surprise and belief might be the result of the hurried nature of the miracle. It began about dusk, and by the time all the people had been fed, it was likely full dark, so there was almost certainly little recognition that anything miraculous had taken place at the time of the miracle. Clearly this became a favorite story, as it appears at least four times (and perhaps six times) in the gospels, with the significance of the events becoming obvious only after the events had taken place and a time for reflection had occurred.

The crowd ate and was full. Actually a very simple action, one which is gradually coming to have somewhat negative moral implications in a nation filled with obese individuals, but a sensation which was not common in the time of Jesus. An observer once commented that the most significant problem with many Civil War reenactors was that the modern people are too well fed to properly fill in for the soldiers (who were often on short rations and quite hungry) of the Civil War. The point here is, of course, the sufficiency of Jesus and his teaching for the crowd. Not only physically, but also spiritually, Jesus was able to satisfy the hungers the crowd brought to him. In many ways this is the fulfillment of Matthew's comment that "he had compassion for them and healed their sick" (14:14). He healed the whole crowd, at least at the moment, from their sickness of hunger, both their physical hunger and their spiritual hungers.

The supply of food that was distributed was overwhelming. After at least 5,000 people had been fed, there were enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. It is likely the filled baskets indicate each of the disciples collected a basketful of leftovers, but another understanding has also been suggested. It is possible that the twelve baskets were a symbol of the refusal of Israel (and its twelve tribes) to accept the person and message of Jesus as the Messiah. Because they refused him, there were so many leftovers available for distribution to the Gentile believers who came next (see the dialog in Matthew 15:21--28).

The immense amount of food involved here would seem to underlie the eucharistic themes of the story as well. The eucharist is a table from which no one ever has to depart unfilled or unsatisfied. And, in fact, there are typically leftovers at local eucharists which derive from a traditionally strong desire to reinforce this image.

In The Hearers
The image of plenty which is a keynote of this lesson can have the effect of softening the hearts of the hearers as well as it might have softened the hearts of the participants in these events. Not only does Jesus provide healing for those who come to listen to him, he also provides bread for them. As has already been pointed out, this bread can be understood as both the physical sustenance for a day and the teaching which is specifically mentioned in Mark 6:34 and Luke 9:11. Thus, one result of hearing this story can be a softening of the hard hearts of those who hear it.

It is possible that this story also functioned as a stewardship message for the early church by reminding those who heard it of the ultimate generosity of Jesus, not merely in providing bread for those who listened to him, but in giving his life for those who believed, and in giving salvation to all who follow him. There are many who seem to assume that financial matters only began to afflict the church in the modern age. Certainly, at least according to many misconceptions, there was no need to emphasize the financial aspects of following Christ in the early church.

This misunderstanding ignores substantial portions of the New Testament, including the text of Acts and various portions of Paul's writings (at the least). In fact, from the beginning of the church there was an emphasis on the way in which the generosity of Christ should serve as both an inspiration and example for the stewardship of believers. Thus, this story serves as a text for strengthening the stewardship of those who hear it.

Even before the institution of the Lord's Supper, this incident has a heavy eucharistic message. The actions are heavily influenced by the practices of the early Christians in sharing bread with each other as they were commanded on Maundy Thursday. In examining this seeming contradiction of a eucharistic emphasis before such a thing as a eucharist exists, it is helpful to remember that this gospel was written long after the eucharist began to be celebrated. The events here were structured and based on the actions of the eucharist, and certainly aroused recollections of the eucharist in those who heard the story.

The Sermon


There was very little food for many hungry people.

Years ago, there was a terrible earthquake in Alaska which devastated the city of Anchorage. Many people wrote to the governor of Alaska, demanding that he do certain things. Generally they outlined the suffering they had endured and wanted the state to take responsibility. After the initial surge of activity, the governor appeared on television to report to the state. Among the other letters, the governor reported he had received a 3 x 5 card from a small boy. It had two nickels taped to it and a message: "Use this wherever it is needed. If you need more, let me know."

Jesus blessed the bread.

When people travel to places where another language is spoken, one of the first (and most useful) words or phrases they can learn is the equivalent of "thank you." In Germany it is danke schoen; to a Spanish--speaking location, gracias; in French--speaking places, merci; where Portugese is spoken, abrigado; in Japan it is spazibo; and in Greece it is eucharisto. It is absolutely amazing how many ways people have to say "thank you," how useful such a phrase can be, and how rarely we remember to use the word.

Even though he was seeking a retreat from the pressures of the crowd, when the crowd appeared, he seized the opportunity to heal their sick and feed them.

Henry Ford once wrote, "A generation ago there were a thousand men to every opportunity, while today there are a thousand opportunities to every man." Is this still an accurate perception, or have things changed substantially? Do we still see opportunities everywhere, or are we trying to avoid the crowds of problems which confront us?

What were the people doing when they tried to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah in John?

In China, during the years that there was a strong missionary presence in that country, there were many "stations" where missionaries gathered converts. Converts, but not the unconverted, were baptized and then provided with food and clothing while they lived at the station. The number of converts would often rise during the times when a famine came and the only place to find food was often at the nearest mission station.

These converts, who often left as soon as the famine was over and food was readily available in other locations, came to be known as Rice Christians. Rice Christians were those who joined the church in times of need to obtain rice, but without a true acceptance of the Christian faith.

Approaches To Preaching
Clearly one of the dominant themes found in this lesson is the fullness and generosity of Christ. A huge crowd appears and as the day grows older, they are hungry. The disciples can find no way to feed them other than sending them into the villages in the area so they can buy their own food. Jesus fulfills the obligations of hospitality by having the people sit (or recline) and then providing them with food.

Imagine the difficulties in getting 5,000 people to sit and prepare for a meal. Time is slipping away, it is already dusk, and the idea is to feed everyone before it is completely dark. By the time everyone is ready to eat, the shadows must have been quite long, and the evening chill, common on spring evenings, was likely in the air. Then the disciples began distributing bread and fish to those waiting for food.

It is the stunning abundance of bread which resulted that should be so surprising to us.

There are some changes in the text to update the images - bowels are changed to compassion, lie down becomes sit down. How do we update the biblical wording to fit modern understandings, while we continue to hold the message as immutable and unchanging? One answer is that we change some of the details which help the message relate to that time so that the message relates more accurately to this time. Which means the most important question becomes how do we decide what is a detail and what is the message?

This lesson includes a very strong eucharistic message. A young man was once listening to the preacher explain the eucharist and heard him speak of the "elephants" that would be brought down the aisle. He was entranced by the prospect of such great beasts coming down the aisle, wondered where they had been kept, and wondered how they would actually participate. Some months later, in another sermon focusing on the meaning of the eucharist, the young man heard the word more accurately, and realized it was the elements that would be brought down the aisle. While his understanding had deepened and grown, he had also lost something - the excitement of waiting for the elephants, the mystery of the details, and the joy of the image of elephants somehow taking part in the eucharist. This lesson is, in many ways, about elephants and the eucharist.

Jesus demanded the disciples should feed the crowd. In many ways this lesson turns on the disciples' inability to carry out Jesus' demand. So it is with us, as we confront the demands of the gospel and find ourselves are unable to carry out Jesus' words. The proper response to the generosity of Jesus is obviously our own generosity in giving to the church of Christ and the people of God. In the traditional formulation, the giving of our time, talents, and treasures.
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New & Featured This Week

The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Mary Austin
Ron Love
Christopher Keating
Thomas Willadsen
George Reed
Bethany Peerbolte
For August 9, 2020:
  • Bending Toward Justice by Dean Feldmeyer — The story of Joseph illustrates that while God does not always act in bold and dramatic ways, and the arc of the moral universe may be long, it nevertheless bends toward justice. A pertinent message for us, today.


Peter Andrew Smith
Luke stared at the stack of papers sitting in front of him. The last thing he wanted to do was close the Good Shepherd Ministry. He dreaded having to put out the press release saying that they were out of money and were no longer able to minister to the street people in the city. He knew that as soon as word got out all the people they had helped and the people in need would come looking for answers. He didn’t know what he was going to say to them. Truthfully, he didn’t know what to say.

“Hey neighbour,” Fran put a cup of coffee in front of him.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Wayne Brouwer
Once when Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, was traveling in Rome, he noticed a crowd of people gathered around a large red poster. They were talking rather excitedly among themselves about the message it announced, so he reached into his coat pocket for his eyeglasses. Only then did he realize that he’d left them back at his hotel.

So he turned to the fellow next to him. “Sir,” he said, “could you please tell me what that sign says? I’ve forgotten my glasses.”
Mark Ellingsen
Ron Love
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic monk who considered that the Church of Rome was corrupt. On October 31, 1517, he posted his famous 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, inviting a debate on the issues that concerned him. This led to the German Reformation, or better known to us as the Protestant Reformation.

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:
After he had been deep in prayer, Jesus was able to walk on the sea. In our worship today, let explore the relationship between prayer and God's response to us.

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes I dismiss prayer as not working, yet I know I've never really prayed as you prayed.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I can't believe in miracles, yet I know I've never really prayed as you prayed.
Christ, have mercy.


John E. Sumwalt
The call came on a Sunday after church just as we were sitting down to lunch. "Eric's vital signs are dropping. We think this may be it. You'd better come." It was the Palliative Care Nurse, one of the dozens of hospital and hospice staff people who supported Eric and his family over the five years he lived with bone cancer. She met me as I came in the door of the hospice where Eric had lived for five months -- a much longer stay than most of their patients who usually died within weeks.


Good morning, boys and girls. Do you know what a hard-boiled egg is? (Let them answer.) I brought two eggs with me this morning. One is hard-boiled. When I crack its shell I can eat it. The other is not hard-boiled. It's like Humpty-Dumpty. When I crack it, it will break. Sometimes your parents may give you a hard-boiled egg for lunch. When they do, you trust them that it is really hard-boiled. Your parents wouldn't give you an egg like Humpty-Dumpty, would they?

It is very important that you can trust your parents. When you

Special Occasion