This is the rough gist of what I preached yesterday at Westcott. The text was Matthew 15.29-37.
There are many scriptural paradigms for what we do when we ‘do this’ in remembrance of Jesus, and each of them brings something distinct and valuable to the table, as it were. If we look only to the Last Supper, we miss out.
We can look at the parable banquets, with their slightly uneasy take on inclusion and exclusion; we can look to the barbeque on the beach and its focus on reconciliation and mission; we can look to the Emmaus Road and see the connection between understanding and recognition in the breaking open of the word and the breaking of bread; we can look to the other meals that Jesus shared – the hospitality of Martha and Mary, the prophetic action of the woman at the home of the Pharisee, the transformation of Zaccheus, and so many more that are not even recorded. Each of these stories brings something profound and vital to what we do when we share the bread and wine.
So what does this particular story – the feeding of the slightly less impressive four thousand – bring to this particular table, on this particular Wednesday evening, in this particular place?
Well, first it brings a connection between the sharing of bread and the ministry of healing – interestingly, there is no mention of Jesus telling any parables here, no teaching, no prophecy, exhortation, just a crowd of people who came with needs, and found those needs met in Jesus. And maybe, at this stage in term, this is precisely what this story brings to the table for you: that we may come to Jesus for healing and for sustenance, and sometimes it’s OK to leave the learning for a while.
It also brings the compassion of Jesus to the fore. There is no Johannine talk here of spiritual bread, but instead a concern for the wellbeing of those who have gathered. ‘We must feed them or they may faint as they journey home’. They came with needs, and had those needs met, and were given food for the journey. We might speculate about whether any of them were among the 3000 Pentecost converts, but we will never know.
And where are we in this story? Are we the 4000 random people who came once and went their way? Or are they the people we will go on to serve in ordinary parishes up and down the country, who come once and may never come again? Are we the 70 who were sent, or even the twelve? Either way, the story brings us one more crucial thing: Leftovers. It’s all about the leftovers.
Break a nice crusty loaf, and the crumbs get everywhere. That’s why you need a dog. Because if you are used to breaking bread, you’ll know that those crumbs have been destined for the dog since before the loaf was even baked. Those crumbs belong to the dog. Wouldn’t it be terrible if nothing ever fell from the table? If there were no scraps, no leftovers?
I would encourage you, then, to identify within yourself what it is you are receiving – healing, reconciliation, or whatever – and more importantly, what it is you have spare – your leftovers, once you have taken your fill. Because these are what you take with you when you leave here, these are the loaves that you continue to break and share. These are the loaves whose crumbs fall to the floor – crumbs which, in the purposes of God, already belong to someone and will be just the food they need.