Throughout the week I hope to publish several posts on the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 from Matthew 14:13-21. I believe this story has much to teach us about following Jesus as we live on mission with God. This story is told in all four Gospels (cf. Mk 6:30-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13) but I want to concentrate on Matthew’s account of this story.
It’s actually a misnomer to say that Jesus fed five-thousand here. According to v. 21, the number of people who were fed was “five thousand men, besides women and children.” It’s not an unreasonable to believe this crowd may have been as large as twenty-thousand which is a lot of mouths to feed. However, before we consider how so many people were fed from five loaves of bread and two fish and what sort of miracle has occurred (questions for two subsequent posts), we need to wrestle with the contrast between two “dinner” stories.
Before Matthew recounts this dinner that Jesus provided for the crowd of five-thousand plus peopler, he recounts to us a birthday dinner party hosted by King Herod (Matthew 14:1-12). The dinner hosted by Herod would have been a fancy dinner with choice food and fine wine, and perhaps guest list comprised of the “who’s who” in Jerusalem. Then there was this impromptu dinner hosted by Jesus off in the “back 40” where the peasants of society come because of Jesus.
What a juxtaposition between the two dinners. One dinner is where the political socialites party as the severed head of a prophet — John the Baptist — is put on display. The other dinner is one where the poor and sick gather to experience the kingdom of God in a beautiful, powerful, and real concrete way. Sometimes we might just need to venture into that cheap greasy-spoon cafe on the seedy side of town to experience how beautiful and real the kingdom of God is.
At least that was the experience for pastor and sociologist Tony Campolo one time during the wee hours of the morning in Honolulu (watch video):
What a great reminder of God’s kingdom, tangibly beautiful and powerful, breaking forth in unexpected places.
The Unexpected Kingdom
Between the juxtaposition found in Matthew 14 and the story of this birthday party thrown for Agnes, the prostitute, there’s a questions we must ask. Where do we expect to find the kingdom of God at hand in our own communities? Sometimes we just might have to follow Jesus into those unexpected places filled with the forgotten people of society to live on mission with God and see the Kingdom of God at work.