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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

31st July 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity X

It is always a challenge putting on a lunch for a large group of people. Even when people say they will come there will always be those who turn up unexpectedly. Then it is difficult to get the quantities right. You want enough to have enough to feed everybody with just a little left over. You don't want to run out or have a lot left over. With most people erring on the side of generosity things usually work out.

Most of us are unlikely to face the catering challenge faced by Jesus in today's Gospel; how to feed over 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. Today's Gospel, the most famous miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, describes just that. The story has much to teach us about the Christian life. Here are four things.

  1. Consequence & Context. To proclaim a message of repentance, to speak of the kingdom has a consequence. It also has as its context the social and political realities of a given time. For John the Baptist the context was the corrupt lifestyle of Herod. When he spoke out against it Herod beheaded him. For Jesus the context was the interplay of Roman rule and Jewish religion. The consequence of his ministry was the cross. Our faith is lived out in an increasingly secular context. The consequences for us result from living with indifference and ridicule.
  2. Withdrawal. Jesus on hearing the news of John's beheading 'withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself'. No doubt he was shaken and grief stricken by the news and also wanted to reflect on the implications for himself. All this he offered to his father in prayer. Unlike us Jesus always begins with prayerful reflection. Think of his time in the wilderness. And he always gets the balance right between doing and being, between the active life and the contemplative life.
  3. Compassion. Jesus found it impossible to be alone for long. The crowds always followed him. But his time of retreat fed him so that he could have compassion for the crowd and heal them. Compassion means to 'suffer with'. We can only share in the sufferings of others in God's strength otherwise we become burnt out and ineffective. Prayerfulness, withdrawal is the essential root of Christian compassion and of the ministry of healing.
  4. Being broken and given away. Now we come to the heart of the story, the feeding of the 5,000 with its Eucharistic overtones. Spiritual needs met in the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus are important. So are the material needs of the body. After a long day in the company of Jesus the crowd was hungry and far from the sources of food. When the disciples reported this to Jesus he tested them by telling them to feed them. All they had was 'five loaves and two fishes'. That was enough giving the willingness to share and to give. (The stewardship principle that I mentioned last week.) Now there are Eucharistic echoes. '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 crowd.' In the Eucharist we take, bless, break and give away; men, women and children we share with Jesus and the disciples in the feast. Being broken and given away describes the ministry of Jesus as well as that of all Christians. The result is not the nothingness and emptiness of death, but the excessive generosity of the divine economy. 'All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over, twelve baskets full.'

As Christian people our faith and ministry is always lived out in our own particular context with the consequences that entails. It begins with the prayerful withdrawal that enables compassionate ministry. In the breaking and giving away of the Eucharist we receive plenty. All our Christian meals, be they the Eucharist or a social, echo the wonderful occasion that was the feeding of the 5,000.


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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at Last updated 01/08/2005 17:30 Author: David Shepherd