In the 1965 musical, “Man of LaMancha,” Don Quixote adores the beggar, prostitute named Aldonsa. He calls her his ‘Dulcinea,’ which means ‘sweetheart,’ and treats her as his princess. And this bothers Aldonsa because she can’t understand him. She’s never met anyone like him and she can’t figure out his motives, not only with regard to her but with everything he does. She sings one of the most poignant songs in the musical – “Why does he do the things he does? Why does He do these things?” And for Aldonsa, the big question is, “What does he want from me? What does he want from me?”
Why do you do the things that you do? Why do you think the things that you think, and say the things you say?
I read a pretty convincing article recently that said that the number one motive that moves people to do what they do and to make the decisions that they make, especially younger people,– is ‘success’ and the recognition that comes with success. People will forsake relationships and marriage and having children all for the sake of ‘success.’
As the curtain opens on our Gospel for today, St. Matthew gives us a rare glimpse into the heart of Jesus and WHAT MOVES HIM to do the things that He does. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is the only account other than the passion of our Lord that is included in all four gospels which tells us how important and central it is to the life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In Matthew’s gospel, the account is coupled to the death of John the Baptist. Herod’s egotistical pride and refusal to be humiliated before his peers was stronger than his motive to do justice for John. It’s why he beheaded John.
In stark contrast to Herod, the opening scene of our text today is of a “great crowd” that has gathered and that has been waiting for Jesus to emerge from the “desolate place” where He had been resting with His disciples. And Matthew writes, “…he saw a great crowd and he HAD COMPASSION on them and healed their sick.”
St. Mark puts it this way. “HE HAD COMPASSION on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:6:34).
“Jesus, why do you do the things you do? Why do you do these things?” “Why do you go to the cross and lay down your life for us?” “Why do you say the things you say to us – like, ‘I forgive you all of your sins – beggar, prostitutes that we are?’” Why do you call us your “Dulcinea,” when there is nothing sweet about our heart at all? We don’t understand you.”
“He had compassion on them…” “Splagnizomai.” – that visceral, physical, ache in the gut that comes in seeing the one whom you love in need or suffering and that casts aside every thought of ‘self’ and wants only to deliver them.
That’s what moves Him to do the things that He does and say the things that He says. Not pride or popularity or recognition or even acceptance. “Compassion.”
None of us are THAT HEARTLESS that we haven’t felt ‘compassion’ for someone – a total stranger who is homeless, a co-worker going through a divorce, a friend whose child has died, a child or spouse who is ill. Our gut aches for them and we’d do anything to relieve their suffering. But all too often the best we can do is to ‘be there’ or ‘send a card’ or pray for them.
But when Jesus has “compassion” – we need to buckle up and get ready for a whole lot more than just ‘sympathy.’
He had been healing their sicknesses and teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven – and before they knew it, the sun started to set. In their ‘compassion,’ His disciples are concerned that the crowds are going to develop an ‘ache in the gut’ that is not from ‘compassion’ but from hunger. If Jesus doesn’t dismiss them soon, they’re never going to be able to find their way home in the dark and get something to eat.
Their answer to the problem is for Jesus to “JUST MAKE IT GO AWAY.” “…Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
How often do we sound just like these Disciples in our prayers? “Lord, here’s the problem. Just make it go away.”
I don’t mean to be irreverent at all, but it is as though our Lord’s reply is, ‘well what fun would that be? How much of My joy would I be able to share with you if I just made the problem go away. Let’s have some fun.”
If there’s one thing that becomes more and more obvious as you read the Scriptures, it’s that God enjoys feeding His people. It’s been like this from the very beginning. The very first thing He shows Adam in the Garden of Eden is all the food He’s created for him to eat. In His excitement He says, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29).
And in the background, you can almost hear the angels in heaven singing, “mange, mange.”
He’s like a mother who puts more food on the table than the family can possible eat. And not just people, but all creation. “The eyes of ALL wait upon You, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of EVERY LIVING THING.” (Ps.145:15-16).
When Jacob couldn’t feed his family because of a famine, God put Joseph in charge of the food supply in Egypt. And Joseph stockpiled enough food to feed his family and the whole world.
As the children get bigger they need more to eat. 70 people went down to Egypt with Jacob and 2 million people left Egypt to return to the Promised Land – which the Lord described in edible terms as “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Along the way they get hungry. It takes a lot of food to satisfy 2 million people with an appetite – WHO ARE IN THE “WILDERNESS” – especially the teenagers. The children complain. And God hears their growling bellies and HAS COMPASSION ON THEM. And He feeds them with bread from heaven.
THE GOD IN HEAVEN OPENS HIS HAND AND SATISFIES EVERY LIVING THING.
And not just ‘bread’ – although that would have been enough. BUT WITH GOD THERE’S ALWAYS MORE THAN ENOUGH. Quail falls from the sky. Just gather them up, light the bar-b-que and enjoy. Bread and meat – all you can eat – every day – all for free.
And why does He do it? BECAUSE HE DELIGHTS IN IT. The God in heaven laughs and says, ‘THAT WAS FUN! I SHOULD DO THAT AGAIN SOME TIME.”
“And when the time had fully come…” “he ordered the people to sit down on the grass…” John writes, “now there was MUCH grass in the place.” Mark writes that “he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the GREEN GRASS.” The Good Shepherd has His flock “lie down in green pastures.”
AND THE GOD ON EARTH OPENS HIS HAND AND SATISFIES EVERY LIVING THING.
Five loaves and two fish is nothing for such a crowd as this. But He knows how to create EVERYTHING from NOTHING.
“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. And they all ate and were [stuffed]. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.”
They all ate all that they could eat. AND THERE WAS MORE LEFTOVER THAN BEFORE THE MEAL BEGAN. Because with God, THERE’S ALWAYS AN ABUNDANCE.
And the Father’s laughter and delight fills all of heaven as He says, “BOY, I HAVEN’T HAD THAT MUCH FUN SINCE YESTERDAY WHEN I FED THE WHOLE WORLD.”
It may seem a bit strange to us that with all of the huge issues that God has to deal with – like keeping the stars and the planets in their place and make sure that the seas come no further than they should and directing the governments and ruling power of this world – that He would should be so INVOLVED with something so mundane as our ‘daily bread.’
When Jesus teaches us how to pray, rather than directing us to pray for all of the ‘BIG ISSUES’ of our day, he says, “when you pray say… Our Father in heaven… give us this day our daily bread.”
But then again, how would we ever learn to trust in Him to provide for us in all of the BIG ISSUES of our day if we haven’t first learned to trust Him for the MOST BASIC NECESSITIES such as our ‘daily bread’?
And if He satisfies our hungry bodies in such abundant measure, how will he not satisfy our hungry heart? “Blessed are you who HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, for you shall be [stuffed].”
The same Lord who hears the growling of hungry bellies and satisfies them, hears the growling of hungry hearts and satisfies them. “He TOOK the bread, and after BLESSING IT, he BROKE IT, and GAVE IT to them saying, ‘Take and eat – this is my body… And He TOOK a cup, and when he HAD GIVEN THANKS he GAVE IT to them, saying, ‘drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…” (Mat. 26:26-28).
There will come a day when all hunger and thirst will be gone for the children of God forever. St. John sees the end that awaits us in his Revelation. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.” (Rev. 7:16).
So if we’ve been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that the vision of heaven we’re given to expect is that of the whole company of saints seated around a BANQUETING TABLE overloaded with the choicest meats and the finest of wines that continue to be multiplied from the hand of the Lord through all eternity.
But until then, how do we worship and glorify our God? Which is Aldonsa’s question. “What does He want from me?” Again, if we’ve been paying attention, we come to His house and we stuff ourselves on His Word and then we come back again and say, ‘more.’ We ‘lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.’ And say, ‘more.’ ‘I want more.’
For the Lord delights in feeding us.