When we read the story of the “Feeding of the 5,000,” we often imagine that Jesus went out into the wilderness for some “quiet time,” to pray and get regenerated for his work. We imagine that the crowd heard that Jesus was in the wilderness and they all went out there because they wanted to hear him teach. So, we imagine that feeding story itself is a logistical miracle or maybe a physical representation of how Jesus was ‘feeding’ them spiritually. But, we think that because we’re not paying attention to how Matthew is telling the story. What precedes this story is one of the most tragic events in Jesus’ life. Herod, the ruler of the occupying army in Judea, had just put John the Baptist to death. It was one of the most egregious executions imaginable. John had been arrested because he called Herod to task for committing adultery, when Herod took his brother’s wife into his palace for political gain. But, Herod would not touch John’s life because John was very popular with the people and Herod feared how they might react. Then, one night, Herod made a vow in public that resulted in him having to follow through by beheading John. It was a senseless death that is representative of how ruthless people with power can and will do anything to maintain their power. The greatest prophet that the people of Israel had known in years was put to death by a foolish king who made a foolish vow out of a moment of drunken, incestuous lust.
Can you imagine what the church of Jesus Christ would look like if they learned to say, “They have no need to go away. All they need is here.” What would it be like if the church of Jesus Christ learned to meet desperate, dispirited people and say, “You have no need to go away. All you need is here.” I wonder how many of the folks who showed up in Murietta and shouted “Go away. We don’t have money, or jobs, or space for you here” turned around the next Sunday and praised Jesus in church. Every time we break the bread and share it, we are witnessing that the hungry, the dispirited, those who seek justice, those who have run into shut door after shut door, those who have nowhere else to turn, need not go away because where Christ is present, everything they need is here.