13 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. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
A couple of years ago, on the front page of a local newspaper was an article about a national hot dog eating contest. There on the top half of the front page was a picture of Takeru Kobayashi, stuffing his mouth full of hot dogs. He won the competition that year by eating something like 53 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
But that was just the top half of the front page. When you opened the paper up, letting it unfold, on the bottom of the front page was another picture. Only this picture had on it the bulging eyes and distended belly and gaunt body of child who was starving to death.
Same front page. Two stories. One about an American eating contest; one about starving children. And the photos said it all. The two stories stood in such ridiculously stark contrast of one another you couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for the editor. Or for our culture. It only emphasized how blind and deaf and numb we can be to the reality of our world and the world that other’s live in.
I offer this image because something similar is happening in our gospel reading for today. The newspaper, per se, is the gospel of Matthew. And side by side are two stories that are in such contrast of one another that it is almost embarrassing.
But that’s the point. By placing these two stories together, Matthew is trying to tell us something. What the kingdom of heaven looks like. And what it doesn’t look like. What God is like. And what God is not like.
The two stories are really about two parties. Two banquets. And much like the first stories I shared, food is once again at the center.
The first story comes right before our gospel reading. King Herod is having a party. And you can imagine the kind of party that it is – restricted, celebrity guest list, only the rich and famous. Food, food, and more food. The wine flows like water. No expense is spared. It is all about power and money. Even Herod’s niece was put on display as a dancer for the other men in the room. And as if that is not sleazy enough, Herod is so turned on by her that he grants her any wish. And her wish is John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Her wish was his command and so John the Baptist was killed.
That’s the first story. And then immediately after this, comes the second story, the one we heard read. And in this story, Jesus is having a party. But it is not in a palace. It is in a deserted land. And there is no restricted guest list. But rather the text says that crowds – hoards and hoards of people gathered around him. All kinds of people were invited to this party. The sick and poor and the outcast. And it says that Jesus had compassion on them. King Herod flaunts power and money at his party; Jesus flaunts care and compassion.
But then evening comes. It’s late. It is a deserted land. There is nothing there. Nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. And the thousands upon thousands of people are all hungry. And the disciples, tired and defeated, tell Jesus, “You know, just send everyone home. There’s nothing here to give them.”
Could there be more of a contrast between these two parties? Herod’s vs. Jesus’? The contrast of these story stories side-by-side one another is just embarrassing. A small party for a select few with anything and everything. And then a huge party for all kinds of people and there is nothing to eat.
But then things start to change. After the disciples want to give up and give in, Jesus says, “Don’t send the people away; you give them something to eat.” And all they have are 5 loaves of bread and two fish. Herod’s party has pounds of caviar and swordfish coming out their ears, but all the disciples have some bread loaves and a couple of trout. But then Jesus has all the people sit down on the grass. Then he blessed the food, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and the disciples gave it to the crowd. And all ate. Until they were full. And not only that but there were baskets and baskets of leftovers that they gathered up.
And here’s the thing, so often we make this story all about Jesus doing a miracle. That he turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough for thousands and thousands of people. And that’s why we think Jesus is the Son of God, because he could do miracles. But there were plenty of people back then who were said to be miracle workers. In fact, there were other people that claimed to be the Son of God. But what if it’s not about the miracle? What if we are not supposed to be amazed at what Jesus could do, or wonder how he pulled such a sleight of hand trick like that. Rather, what if we are supposed to be amazed by is what it teaches us about who God is and what kind of kingdom this God wants to bring to earth.
What if it is not about the miracle, but instead is about the contrast between the kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of Heaven.
You see, the kingdom of Herod is one filled with fear. Fear of others. King Herod feared John the Baptist. He feared having his power threatened. And fearful leaders are loveless leaders. And when you are a loveless leader, chances are high that people will be killed. Just like John was. But the kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, is one that is filled with compassion. Compassion for the sick and the poor and the outcast.
In the kingdom of Herod, even having everything is not enough. You know that at King Herod’s party, no one was in need of anything. And yet even having everything she needed was not enough for Herod’s niece. She still needed that one wish for John the Baptist’s head. But in the kingdom of heaven, even the tiniest bit, when shared among one another, is enough for all.
In the kingdom of Herod, only some are invited to the party. Only those who are good enough, rich, powerful enough. But in the kingdom of Heaven, there is room for thousands and thousands and thousands of all kinds of people. Not the powerful, but the weak. Not the rich, but the poor. Not the good enough, but the not good enough. And remember at the kingdom of Heaven’s banquet, there were 12 baskets of food left over, which means they were ready for more. More people. There is always room for more people in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of Herod, when only some are included and resources are restricted to the rich and powerful, brings death to life. People die. We see this in John the Baptist. But the kingdom of Heaven brings life out of death. Did you notice that Jesus’ party is held in a deserted place. Literally, a desert place. A dry and sandy place where there is no food and no life. Even the disciples say, “Let’s get out of here! Nothing good could come of this.” But then Jesus tells them to stay, and he tells the crowd to sit down. On the grass. On the grass! Where did the grass come from? At Jesus’ party, where all are welcome…where food is given to those who are hungry, not just those who can afford it, where people are told to care for one another, where compassion is foundational, that is the place where life grows. Like grass beneath your feet. In the kingdom of heaven even the deserted and dead places come to life.
What if it is not about the miracle, but instead is about the contrast between the kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the truth is, the kingdom of Herod is alive and well in many places of our lives, isn’t it? Where only some are welcome. Where resources are hoarded. Where power is more valued than compassion.
And what we so often forget is that Jesus uses his disciples to help him with this miracle. Jesus uses his disciples to bring about the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took those five loaves, blessed them and broke them, and gave them to the disciples so that the disciples could hand out the bread. This is a story about 1. the kingdom of heaven, and 2. discipleship.
Just how Jesus took the bread in the story, blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples, we will hear again in a couple of minutes about another piece of bread that Jesus blessed and broke and gave to his disciples. You and me. At the communion rail. And this communion thing….it is dangerous business.
Some years ago, a Roman Catholic priest serving in the Philippines, was arrested and imprisoned for advocating in favor of the oppressed and poor people. His role, according to the local authorities, was to preach the gospel and not to get involved in politics. Father Edmond Delatorio requested bread and wine to celebrate the Eucharist in his prison cell. Soon thereafter he was asking for more bread and wine since his fellow cell mate was also partaking in the sacrament. The request by Father Delatorio for more bread and wine increased daily. The whole cell block was celebrating the feast of victory of our Lord. As the elements were consecrated, they were passed from cell to cell. Everybody participated in this community of the equal people of God regardless of origin, race, political, or even religious preferences. When the warden was made aware of the situation, he issued an order forbidding Father Delatorio from using bread and wine. In his order, he wrote, “Bread and wine in the hands of this priest becomes a revolutionary weapon.”
This is dangerous business. The meal about to be served at this table is a revolutionary weapon because this is the place where we get to practice living the kingdom of Heaven. So that we can go out there and bring it with us. We go out into the world with kingdom of Heaven eyes. And we start seeing things differently. What does the Kingdom of Heaven call for the situation with immigrant children and our border crisis? What does the Kingdom of Heaven call for with our rampant gun violence in this country? What does the kingdom of Heaven call for when it comes to helping the sick, the widow, the orphan? When we start participating and bring about the kingdom of Heaven that threatens the kingdoms of Herod that are still out there.
So what do you think? Are you up for that call to discipleship? This story about the feeding of the 5000… is this just a nice story that we remember or is it something that tells us about God, that changes us, and challenges us in the path towards the kingdom of Heaven?
 Rafael Malpica-Padilla, http://day1.org/712-the_christians_place_in_the_world/comments