Seven Baskets Full

The Bible, which is this collection of material written by people who are articulating their understanding of God in a particular time and place - this library shows how we humans have come to see God over time. It shows how we have changed our minds over time. How we have come to see a new vision of God in which God is not just for some but for all. God is not just for us but for all. God’s mercy is not limited to one group but God’s mercy is all encompassing. There are not exceptions to God’s love.

This passage is often titled “Jesus feeds the 4,000” but that’s not really what happens.

“The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Who actually feeds the crowds? The disciples do.

You see Jesus does not call the disciples to change their minds about the Gentiles, he doesn’t just want them to have a new way of seeing God, he wants them to see that God’s grace and mercy is for all.

Jesus wants the disciples to change their minds about their power and their responsibility to share the message of God’s love with everyone. He wants them to see that they are the ones to reach out to those they once considered outsiders, to those they once considered enemies and offer them bread and a place at the table.

Watch the video used in the sermon.


Read The Full Sermon

So there was no typo...you heard it right, in the passage that was read, Matthew 15, the number of people in the crowd is 4,000...the text says there were '4,000 men there that day not counting women and children,' give me a break by the way not counting women and children please, good thing we are totally over that now and count women the same as men and pay them the same, and…

Anyway, the number is 4,000...so maybe you are like me and the first time I heard this I was like: what? I thought Jesus fed 5,000, that's what I remember learning in Sunday school, Jesus feeds 5,000...so what's the deal with this 4,000 number. Our sermon series is “A Place at the Table”...exactly how many places where there at the table...Was it 5,000 or 4,000...was a preacher counting because if so it was probably recorded as 5,000 but it was actually 4,000…


Here’s the deal, it turns out it’s both. Jesus feeds 5,000 in Matthew 14 and 4,000 in Matthew 15...there are two nearly identical stories back to back, so why would the gospel writer include the same story back to back...was his editor out on vacation or something...?


The stories have the same set up: a lot of people have followed Jesus out of town, they are hungry...the same thing happens with Jesus in both stories: he is moved with compassion for the crowd...Jesus does the same thing in both: he takes what the disciples have; some bread and fish, and he blesses it and gives it back to the disciples and the same miracle happens in both: a small amount of bread and fish becomes enough to feed everybody…


I mean was Jesus just out of clever miracle ideas to do the same one again so soon...or what is really going on here.


So to understand why Matthew would include two nearly identical stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes one right after the other, we have to go back to the Old Testament...and we have to start with this very problematic thing in the Old Testament...there is a heck of a lot of violence in the Old Testament. 


And not only that...there is a heck of a lot of violence done by God...God is clearly on one side, with one group, and God inflicts violence on those who are on the other side, in the other group, there is clearly an ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the Old Testament and the message that is communicated through the text is that God is for ‘us’ and God destroys ‘them’ on our behalf...


There is some really brutal stuff in the Old Testament, like in Deuteronomy 7 where God commands Joshua to slaughter the seven Canaanite nations. It’s like God says: no mercy for them.


So what do we do with that? Now some folks who read the Bible literally will say well it’s in there and so it must be true that God favors one group over another and God blesses one group over another and even condones or commands violence in some cases.

But that doesn’t work for me, doesn’t work for my experience of God in the world, and it’s just flat out not morally acceptable today...so there’s this major point to be made here about the Bible.


The thing about the Bible is it teaches us a lot about what human beings who wrote the Bible thought about God at a certain time…


So we can clearly see through these texts that in the ancient world, many people sincerely believed that God takes sides and that God was on their side. 


We see that kind of thinking infused throughout the Bible...God is on our side...and let’s just say it right here, that kind of thinking still exists today…


We are so divided and the ideology on both sides is: we are right and they are wrong…so we can empathize, we can understand why the ancient writers wrote these texts in the way they did, in their thinking, God protected ‘us’ by harming ‘them’…but there is another way to see God, a better vision...


So follow me here, on the screen.



Deuteronomy 7. God commands Joshua to slaughter the 7 Canaanite nations.


Joshua is the leader of the Israelites; God is clearly on the side of the Israelites. God has no compassion for the Canaanites. God has no mercy for them. 


Matthew 14:13-33. The feeding of the 5,000 in Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee. 


The crowds gathered that day were all Israelites. This is the region they occupied, Jesus is moved with compassion to feed the Israelites...this is consistent, God is on the side of the Israelites so of course Jesus, God with us, would be moved with compassion for the Israelites and take care of their hunger. 


After the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus leaves that region and heads into Gentile territory...


Matthew 15: 21-28. A Canaanite woman asks Jesus for mercy for her daughter. 


Isn’t it interesting that Matthew identifies the woman to be a Canaanite woman...at the time there were no Canaanites left in the area, so Matthew is doing something really clever here, he is responding directly to the text from Deuteronomy 7...the way of thinking about God has changed since then and he wants to offer another vision of God...so:


Matthew 15: 21-28. A Canaanite woman asks Jesus for mercy for her daughter. Jesus says yes and the daughter is healed.


Jesus gives mercy to the Canaanite woman. What Matthew is saying is: God’s mercy knows no sides. God is on the side of mercy...the new way is mercy for all.


Jesus goes on to heal people from that area who are not members of his religion, they are not part of his tribe, he heals them all...the new way is mercy for all.


And then comes our text today.


Matthew 15:32-39. The feeding of the 4,000 in the region of the Gerasenes. 


The region of the Gerasenes is the region of them, they are the Gentiles, they are the outsiders...and Jesus is moved with compassion for them in the same way he is moved with compassion for his fellow Jews.


Jesus repeats the same miracle for all those who are considered outsiders. 


So you see why even though the disciples have already seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes once, they would have been shocked to see it again, to see Jesus offer it to the Gentiles too...up until this point, they thought Jesus’ mission was only for the Israelites, only for those who had the same religion and culture as they did...



They thought their work as Jesus’ disciples, their mission and message of God’s love was exclusive, that it was only for the people who were just like them...no...no, Jesus makes it clear: God’s mercy is for everybody. Everybody is welcome to the table. There is a place at the table for everybody.


You see, the disciples have to change their minds, they have to change their way of seeing God and their way of seeing their calling to serve God, they are to be servants of all, extending God’s love and mercy to all, welcoming all to the table.


So do you see how the Bible, which is this library, this collection of material written by people who are articulating their understanding of God in a particular time and place, how this library shows how we humans have come to see God over time…


How we have changed our minds over time...how we have come to see a new vision of God in which God is not just for some but for all, God is not just for us but for all, God’s mercy is not limited to one group but God’s mercy is all-encompassing...there are no exceptions to God’s love.


This passage is often titled “Jesus feeds the 4,000” but that’s not really what happens. Let’s take a look at verses 33 to 36:


“The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 


Who actually feeds the crowds? The disciples do. 


Jesus could have fed the crowds but he doesn’t do that. He could have said, “Give me those fish and that bread and I will feed them.” He could have said: I am the one who will feed the Gentiles, y’all can take five. I am the one who will show compassion and mercy, y’all don’t have to, I know it’s hard for you to change your minds about them. He could have said, I am the one who has the power, I got this.


No: Jesus gives the bread and fish back to the disciples and they feed the crowds. 


You see Jesus does not just call the disciples to change their minds about the Gentiles, he doesn’t just want them to have a new way of seeing God, to see that God’s grace and mercy is for all…


Jesus also wants the disciples to change their minds about their power and their responsibility to share the message of God’s love with everyone...he wants them to see they are the ones to reach out to those they once considered outsiders, to those they once considered enemies and offer them bread and a place at the table.


We have the power and the responsibility to share the message of God’s love with everyone...which may mean changing our minds about someone or whole groups of people and changing our actions, we are the ones to reach out and offer mercy to all in the name of Jesus the Christ, who gives mercy to all and calls us to do the same in his name.


Speaking of call, I want to share this video sponsored by Verizon, they worked with PFLAG to connect families who had not spoken in years…


What you are about to see is the feeding of the 4,000 today in which families change their minds about their LGBTQ+ child and reach out to offer them a place at the table again and welcome them back into the family.


Let’s watch:


https://vimeo.com/340500513?fbclid=IwAR1hDCy2WMrojar-yj2MESwxNCbMF1jWr1adEKjyYsX89THaCbOzSieHJ9Q


Did you hear what she said at the end? 


Speaking of her mom, she said with tears in her eyes: she just wanted to call and tell me she loved me and that she’s proud to have me as her daughter. 


If you haven’t heard that from a parent, I want you to hear it today from Jesus the Christ who says to each of us: I love you and I am proud to have you as my daughter; I love you and I am proud to have you as my son.


Now, who needs to hear that message through you today?


The disciples didn’t think the crowd that day was worthy of a place at the table but Jesus changes their minds about that. The disciples didn’t think they had anything to offer but Jesus changes their minds about that, too.


He took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 


Seven baskets full. Seven. Seven days of creation, the beginning when all was as it should be. Seven, the number that represents completeness.


We will not be complete until all are welcome at the table.  So may it ever be.