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August 6, 2017

  

  
8.6.17                                 Pentecost 9                - Matthew 14:13-21 ESV
 
13When Jesus heard {of John the Baptist’s death}, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
 
BETTER THAN A FREE LUNCH
 
“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  You’ve heard the expression.  No one is sure exactly where it started, but the sign, “Free Lunch,” was seen on saloons centuries ago.  The catch was, buy a beer and they’d serve you some food, usually very salty so you’d want to buy another.  “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” has actually become an acronym – TANSTAAFL a little long for texting these days.
 
Milton Friedman, the famous economist, wrote a book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” featuring that saying (without the double negative, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”).  Of course he explained it this way:  "You can only get something for nothing if you have previously gotten nothing for something.  If one individual or group gets something at no cost, somebody else ends up paying for it. . . . someone has to pay the cost of producing these benefits.”  That may be a lesson our country needs to learn again – or at least those who favor socialism as the solution to our economic woes. 
 
But here in our text today we find an exception to the rule.  There is such a thing as a free lunch with Jesus.  And the lessons we learn go beyond food. This is way BETTER THAN A FREE LUNCH.  With Jesus it’s not impersonal; it’s not insignificant; it’s not impossible.   
 
The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle that is reported in all four gospels (other than the resurrection).  Clearly it made an impact on the disciples.  Each gospel writer adds some detail.  For example, Matthew ties it to an incident that had just happened: John the Baptist had been executed.  Herod Antipas, the ruler who had John beheaded, was hearing about the miraculous signs Jesus was doing and he feared that John had come back to life.  Perhaps to avoid a premature clash with a decadent despot, Jesus decided to leave that territory discreetly and go across the Sea of Galilee to a “desolate place,” we read.  Sparsely populated, it was a get-away where Jesus and the disciples could regroup and recharge.  Sort of like a retreat, we might say. 
 
No chance – when they came ashore, a crowd of people was waiting for them.  They had walked several miles to get there because they wanted Jesus to heal their sick.  Thinking “no rest for the weary,” Jesus could have ignored them and gone further into the hills, perhaps, but instead, “He had compassion on them,” we’re told not surprisingly.  Jesus could not pass by on the other side when He saw a human need.  His heart went out to these hurting souls.  His ministry was not an impersonal welfare program like so many government agencies tend to become – just a numbers game, fighting for funding.  Or goods are sent to impoverished nations only to be intercepted by the warlords who impoverish them.  No, Jesus saw real, live, human beings who needed what He had to offer, and He responded personally, freely. 
 
I would like to think that His Church would still do the same, offer personal assistance.  It is the love of Christ for us that moves us to love others.  The personal touch can be given individually as you see a need and fill it.  I know many of you take care of family members that way.  And you help your neighbors too. Community based homeless shelters are in short supply.   Some are able to go the extra mile to get involved on site in national even international relief programs.  This is not to say that anonymous gifts of charity are not appreciated – even they can be contributed personally when you put a face and a place on the disaster victims the media show us today.  America is the most generous nation on earth, because the Christian influence, I believe, is still here.  Freely given gifts can be more personal because the private sector tends to be more hands-on than the public sector..
 
And with Jesus, no gift is insignificant.  That’s the memorable feature of this story.  A boy carried a lunch for his family, we read in the gospel account of John, five hard rolls and two dried fish.  That’s what the disciples were able to scrounge up when Jesus told them to feed the multitude which numbered over five thousand counting women and children, it says.  This was a test for the disciples, and a lesson for us.  It was getting late, the people were getting hungry, but there were no fast food drive-ins around.  The disciples just assumed everyone was on their own.  Go to the villages and buy some food on the way home.  (Footnote: Notice the assumption that these were not destitute starving people; they had money to buy food; it could have been good for the local economy, albeit overwhelming for a ma and pa store.)   But this was a teachable moment.  Jesus wanted them and us to learn that we can trust the Lord to provide everything we need.  You would think the disciples should have known that already, since Jesus had been healing people that day.  But sometimes we are oblivious to the obvious. 
 
I’ve told this joke before but it fits.  A man had a special dog.  He was walking his dog along the beach when he met another guy.  So he said, “Watch this!” as he tossed a stick into the lake.  The dog ran on top of the water to fetch the stick and bring it back.  The guy shook his head in disbelief, so the dog owner did it again.  Once more the dog ran on the surface of the water and grabbed the stick in his mouth and came back.  “So, did you notice anything unusual about my dog?” he asked.  “Yeah,” the guy answered.  “Your dog can’t swim.”
 
Sometimes we may be so oblivious to the obvious that the Lord is providing for us miraculously, freely, all the time.  We’re so used to buying groceries at the store or picking produce from the garden and preparing meals at home or buying them at restaurants that we forget where it all comes from.   God’s providential powers are all around – sun, rain, soil, seed, combining to grow plants for food, to feed animals for food, a vast variety of food from a bountiful God.  That’s why we pray before meals, like Jesus did, as a reminder to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” 
 
And in gratitude we contribute a little lunch so that together we can feed the multitudes with our bounty.  No gift is too small as Jesus demonstrates here.  He can multiply gifts.  We’ve seen that a few times working with “Jesus Food” locally, packing bags of nutritious soy/rice mixture each making several meals for hungry families in faraway places.  There are many other programs, Echo Food Shelf is one we support locally.  Hunger is a problem that can be solved as we strive to make a world of difference in a world of need.  The Lord can do a lot with a little. 
 
If Jesus can multiply a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a multitude, surely He can care for the mass of humanity who depend on Him.  For with Jesus, nothing is impossible.  That’s another lesson we learn from this story about a free lunch. 
 
Again, an obvious, miraculous result was that, after thousands had enough to eat, there were more leftovers than what they started with.  Twelve baskets (or side pouches) for twelve disciples to learn an unmistakable object lesson – you get more than you give.  As Jesus said on another occasion: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  “Cast your bread on the waters and it comes back sandwiches,” a biblical allusion states.  But the implications go way beyond food, if you think about it.  Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 8: “What shall separate us from the love of Christ . . . tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword?”  No, he answers emphatically, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And he states the reason he’s so sure: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” 
 
There’s the promise that should instill confidence and contentment in us.  Jesus was given for us, not just as a miracle-worker to gratify our earthly wants, but as a substitute-savior to satisfy our eternal needs.  Isaiah foresaw that already in the Old Testament lesson:  “Come, buy and eat. . without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy.  Listen to me, and eat what is good . .  come to me, hear, that your soul may live.”  There’s the free lunch theme, again, but this time it’s the Bread of Life, as Jesus described Himself, who came from heaven to give us eternal life.  We remember that gift again today in the Lord’s Supper.    
 
This is the impossible mission that no human being can accomplish.  We can help our neighbor in need, and we should as Christians.  But food perishes.  Money is spent.  Lunches are eaten.  So all these gifts are temporal.  However, they can remind us of the eternal gift Jesus brings us as well: redemption, salvation, transformation, resurrection.  Christians want to bundle the temporal, physical gifts with the eternal, spiritual gifts.  In our charitable giving, humanitarian aid can build bridges for evangelism and open doors for the gospel.  Samaritan’s Purse is a good example of that axiom.   
 
You see, we must never forget that if we keep someone alive a little longer or help someone live a little better, we really haven’t done that person a favor unless we have also shared the good news of Jesus with him or her.  It’s more than the adage: “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” (assuming the fish are biting).  Knowing Jesus as your Savior, which was the point of His miracles, is the most precious thing we can get for ourselves, and the most beneficial thing we can give to others.  It’s not just a hand out; it truly is a hand up. 
 
And that’s why it’s way better than a free lunch.    Amen.