Homily 8th Sunday after Pentecost: Matt. 14:14-22


In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.  Glory to Jesus Christ.  Glory Forever!

The feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness is a significant event in the life of Christ.  So significant, in fact, that it is one of the miracles that shows up in each of the four Gospels.  In some ways it is appears to be like one of the Old Testament stories…something akin to the feeding of Israel with the manna from heaven.  This miracle and the four accounts of it can be read on more than one level. 

The simplest level would be to look on it as a feeding of a large multitude and leave it at that.  That alone is a wonder to behold.  Left at this level, though, one would not progress past the Old Testament and into the New Covenant which Christ brought to all mankind.  If we are to progress beyond the physical the Church teaches us to read these passages with the spiritual intent as well.  If we left things merely on the sensible level then we could possibly fall into error.  St. John Chrysostom wrote of this when he preached:

Let us learn therefore ourselves also to wait upon Jesus; but not

for His bounty in things sensible, lest we be upbraided like the Jews.

For "ye seek me," saith He, "not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled."

Therefore neither doth He work this miracle continually, but a second

time only [there were two  feedings of multitudes by Christ] ; that they might be taught not to be slaves to their belly, but to cling incessantly to the things of the Spirit.

          Let us, then, take a look at this Gospel and the others so that we might learn what this miracle has to teach us today.

          The Disciples had just returned from their first missionary trip in which they cast out devils, anointed the sick and healed them, and preached the Gospel.  They also had just learned that St. John the Baptist had been executed.  They were strengthened by their successes, but tired and also grieving for John.  Jesus takes them to a deserted place.  The Gospel of Mark states explicitly that Jesus says to his disciples, “come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”  Christ knew that it is important to take oneself physically away from the things that weary us and distract us.  It is in a deserted place that one can find the stillness one needs.  As we remember, Elijah heard God’s voice in a gentle breeze in the wilderness.   So Christ took His disciples into a deserted place to find rest.  This is a lesson for us too to find a quiet place away from distractions.  There we can withdraw to pray and to listen for the voice of God.

The Disciples quiet this time did not last, though.  They were spotted by a multitude of 5000 men (not counting the women and children) who followed them and Christ to that place.

          Our Lord has pity and compassion on the multitude and heals their sicknesses.  Mark says that it is because they were like sheep without a shepherd that Christ had compassion on them.  This is an important image for us, especially for a mission Church.  St. Cyril of Alexandria states that many, if not most, of the people there were gentiles.  Most likely there was a good mix of both Jews and gentiles, but the point is that they are like those who are outside the Church, the New Israel.  Christ, the Good Shepherd, told Peter at the end of His earthly ministry to feed and tend His Sheep.  We who are the Church, therefore, are to be shepherds for those who have no shepherd.  We are all called to bring those lost sheep into the fold that is Christ’s; and we are to feed them the spiritual food, the Body and Blood of Christ. 

          The Disciples, concerned for the hunger of the people, ask Christ to send them away so that they might buy bread to feed themselves.  Christ, out of concern for the people’s spiritual hunger, tells the Disciples, “You feed them.”  The Disciples live in poverty.  They have but five loaves, barley loaves St. John’s Gospel tells us, the poorest of breads, and two fish.  Christ asks for the loaves.  They may have wondered what the Lord could do with such a small amount, but the Disciples give to Him gladly.  St. John Chrysostom points out that this giving up of their meager sustenance so gladly shows the Disciples disregard for things of the body.  The twelve of them had only five loaves and two fish… This is an indication of how much they clung to the spiritual life, in that they did not worry about the things of the body. 

          The Apostles gave everything that they had, though it was not much…but what they had, they gave.  They were not like the man in the parable who buried his talent in the ground, or Ananias and Sapphira in the Book of Acts, who held back their promised gift to the Lord.  In order to feed those outside the Church and to bring them into the Church, we too are called to give everything we have, because everything we have is a gift from God.  This does not mean that we have to impoverish ourselves materially to follow Christ, though there are many saints who have done just that.  What it means is that what we have we share with our whole heart…even if it is just a kind word, a cold cup of water, listening to someone’s troubles….or a couple of fish and some barley loaves.

          For we see that in this miracle is an image of the Church.  The Church gives what she has and becomes the shepherd to the shepherdless; The Lord blesses what she gives and she, through the Lord’s power, feeds those who thirst and hunger, not just physically but spiritually as well.  The poverty of the Apostles did not stop Our Lord from multiplying their tiny offering into something that could feed a multitude:  5000 men plus women and children…the number must have been around 10,000 or so that were fed…on what the poor Disciples were able to scrape together and give willingly without hesitation.  This is a wonderful image for us, who are in the mission fields.  We may feel our poverty keenly, we may be concerned for our lack of space, but remember this; we have the entire kingdom of Christ!  Here, today, right now, we are in the Kingdom of God.  God will take our tiny offerings and multiply them a hundred fold and we will also reap a multitude of blessings from this as well.  What did the Apostles collect after the feeding of the thousands?  They collected twelve baskets full of fragments and fish!  It is probably not necessary to point out the significance of the number 12 here.  There were twelve Disciples just as there were twelve tribes of Israel.  This great abundance is an image of the blessings heaped upon the New Israel.  Later on in the Gospel of Mattew, chapter 19, Our Lord tells the Rich Young Man to sell all and follow Him.  That was the commandment that would save that particular man.  But the man could not follow through with that commandment, though Peter and the other Apostles did.  Christ told His followers, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my Name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life….”  This does not mean, again, that one must impoverish himself for the sake of the Lord in order to gain eternal life.  Nor must one divorce wife, abandon children and run off to a monastery!  What it does mean is that one must not be attached, be passionate about the things of this world; even our attachments to family…if they separate us from Christ. 

What we give we receive back a hundred fold.  By this, I do not mean to sound like a preacher of some prosperity Gospel, but that by our sacrifices we gain freedom in the Lord, His rich blessings and eternal life.  We gain kinship with Christ.   We find our spiritual resources increased.  We receive treasures of spiritual love and blessings.  Where our heart is, there our treasure is. 

From today’s Gospel we learn to withdraw to a quiet place to be able to hear the Lord and His will for us, and then to give everything back to Him Who gives everything to us.  Remember this when you hear today, “Thine Own of Thine Own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”  What we offer to God is already God’s….But God is pleased to receive our offering and our thanks (that is the meaning of Eucharist)…and to give us back everything in return…Himself, completely.

          As St. John Chrysostom wrote concerning today’s Gospel:

To these then let us also cling, and let us seek the heavenly bread,

and having received it, let us cast away all worldly care. For if those

men left houses, and cities, and kinsmen, and all, and abode in the

wilderness, and when hunger was pressing, withdrew not; much more ought we, when approaching such a table, to show forth a more abundant self-command, and to set our love on the things of the Spirit, and to seek the things of sense as secondary to these.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory Forever!




© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos