Day Nineteen: Thursday, July 2nd, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 14:1-21
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
“He gave thanks and broke the loaves”
John the Baptist is beheaded and Jesus breaks bread and feeds the multitude. The death of the Baptist causes Jesus to withdraw by boat privately to a solitary place. In life Jesus and the John the Baptist were connected. Now in the death of the one who went before him, Jesus yet again has a connection with John.
The feeding of the 5,000 shows that Jesus is not only connected to John the Baptist, but also to two of the major prophets who stood tall in stature in the history of Israel. Elijah and Elisha were prominent prophets who both did miracles that involved food. During a time of famine Elijah caused the jar of flour belonging to the widow of Zarephath never to run out as day after day the flour in the jar was replenished. (I Kings 17:7-16). The miracles God did through Elisha included feeding one hundred men, and as with Jesus there was some left over. (II Kings 4:42-44)
By showing that Jesus was intimately connected to the powerful prophets who preceded him, Matthew most assuredly wants us to recognize the power and the authority of Jesus. But Matthew is also alerting us to the fate of the prophets of God. Often things ended badly for the prophets. Our reading yesterday found Jesus saying at the end of chapter 13 that a prophet is without honor in his own house. As Jesus entered the final week of his life he stood in the temple, in the house of the Lord, in his Father’s house. After overturning the tables of the money changers Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13, where Jesus weaves together words from Isaiah and Jeremiah to proclaim a dramatic judgment on the religious life of Israel) It was provocative statements like this, prophetic statements like this, that led the chief priests and the elders of the people to gather together to plot how to arrest Jesus in “some sly way and kill him.” (Matthew 26:4)
As we come to the miracle of the loaves and fish we have the report of the death of John the Baptist and words of Jesus about a prophet not being honored in his hometown ringing in our ears. Time to get away, which is just what Matthew tells us Jesus did, withdrawing to a solitary place. But in that solitary place, in that private place, we discover Jesus will not withdraw from his mission. Jesus will not retreat from the call he has been given. When Jesus saw the large crowd that had found him out, instead of sending them away he has compassion them. He heals their sick. He won’t even send them home hungry after a long day of ministry. Jesus takes bread. Jesus looks to heaven. Jesus gives thanks. Jesus breaks the bread. Jesus gives the bread to his disciples who in turn give it to the people who eat and who are satisfied.
While Matthew is connecting Jesus to the powerful prophets who preceded him, if we pay close attention to what Jesus does with that bread, we realize Matthew is also setting Jesus apart from all who went before him. Jesus is not only a prophet. Jesus is God’s chosen one, the Beloved Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world. Matthew tells us Jesus gives thanks and breaks bread. Jesus will do that again at the Passover we have come to know as the Last Supper. And it is the breaking of bread and the pouring of the cup, in remembrance of Jesus, that plays such a pivotal role, a sacramental role, in connecting us to the salvation God has given through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.
“In words and actions anticipating the Eucharistic scene, Jesus breaks the bread, and the disciples distribute it to the crowd, satisfying their hunger. The abundance of leftover fragments is not a moralizing lesson in conservation, but a documentation of the greatness of the miracle. It is a counterpicture of the Mosaic manna, which could not be preserved, and portrays the messianic times, when hunger will be replaced by extravagance. (Matthew: The New Interpreter’s Bible, M. Eugene Boring, 325)