Feeding the Five Thousand

By Thabo Makgoba

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted 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 for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Meditation

Desmond Tutu likes to quote the great Archbishop of Canterbury of the 1940s, William Temple, when he describes Christianity as the most materialistic of the world’s great religions. We are “not dualists,” Archbishop Emeritus Tutu has said, “who believe that matter is intrinsically evil, and therefore all God’s created universe, material and spiritual, counts for us.”

Another Archbishop of Canterbury whose example resonates personally is Michael Ramsey. (Visiting South Africa for our Province’s 100th anniversary in 1970, he famously had a confrontation with the prime minister at the time, who was known as the mastermind of apartheid.) Archbishop Ramsey once said that “Modern Anglican theology owes many of its characteristics to the central place held within it by the Incarnation.”

The feeding of the five thousand vividly demonstrates that God is indeed concerned not only for our spiritual welfare but our material welfare also, and for me highlights the centrality of the doctrine of the Incarnation to my vocation. For how better than having Jesus feeding the multitude could God have shown his Son entering the everyday experience of our human lives, communicating to us that God is with us, alongside us, and — more than that — one of us to a degree we will probably never adequately understand this side of heaven?

In COVID-19 times, the long lines of those needing food during lockdown in South Africa revealed anew the scourge of inequality in our world and drove home the importance of Jesus’s call to demonstrate our faith in action. Please pray today for all those anywhere who are deprived of food as a result of losing their income in the pandemic, and pray too for those faithful Christians who are obeying God’s call to feed the hungry.

The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba is Archbishop of the Diocese of Capetown, South Africa; metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Southern Africa; and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.