Matthew 14: 13-21 – 2nd August 2020 – How to Read a Story?

Matthew 14: 13-21

Many of us, when we go on holiday, take with us something to read, usually a novel or two, occasionally a biography. Apart from reading books about railway history, I’m an avid reader of suspense, crime and murder mystery novels. I really like the police procedurals like Rebus from Ian Rankin, Alan Banks by Peter Robinson, Bob Skinner from Quintin Jardine and books by Rachel Lynch, Harlen Coben, James Patterson, … etc.

This isn’t really the time or place to chatter on about what I like to read. But I do want to ask you about the way in which you read a story or a novel. Who do you identify with most readily? Whose eyes are you looking through as the story unfolds? Is it the hero or the heroine, a bystander, or someone else who is involved in the plot?

I guess to some extent it depends on how the book is written, whether it is in the 1st person or the 3rd person, whether you are actually encouraged to identify with one character or another. Some of the most intriguing stories are those where the author encourages you to see things through the eyes of one character, to identify with them, only to find out that they are not the person you thought they were. The experience can be quite shocking!

It is usual for us, when we read a story or a novel, to identify with someone … to live the story through them.

So, I wonder, when we read stories in our bibles do we do the same? Or do we sort of stand detached, alongside events almost like spectators?

I think the bible authors had just the same kind of intentions as modern story-tellers do. They want to draw us into the story, to get us involved.

We are given an account of the feeding of the 5,000 in all of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All the accounts are different in their own way, all reflect the perspective or agenda of the particular Gospel writer. All help us to have different perspectives on the story! So Matthew and Mark place this story just after the death of John the Baptist – and in the context of the story that is clearly meant to be important. Luke suggests that the 12 have just arrived back from their mission as healers and preachers and that they are desperate to talk to Jesus about the things they have done and seen happen. John adds personal detail mentioning both Andrew and Philip, two of the disciples, by name – and mentioning that the five loaves and two fish came from the picnic box of a young boy. The same story told in four different ways.

Not only is the story told slightly differently by our four Gospel writers – highlighting different things in the story. We also have the opportunity to see the story through different people’s eyes. If we allow ourselves to imagine it, we can look out on the story through the eyes of the disciples, perhaps particularly Andrew or Philip, we can watch as members of the crowd, we could take the young boy’s perspective (although he does not appear in Matthew 14) or we could see things through Jesus’ eyes.

One thing I could ask you to try would be to choose a character from the story in Matthew 14 and listen again to the story trying to see things from their perspective and then perhaps share with others who have read the story but who have chosen other characters, what you saw. It would be a good way to broaden your understanding of a passage that you have read.

I’d like to highlight a couple of things that might come from doing just that as we read this story:

Jesus: The context of this story of the feeding of the 5,000 is set for us in each of our Gospels. Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he is in mourning. … The disciples have returned from the mission he has set them and they are full of excitement; clamouring and eager to talk to him about their impact on other people’s lives. … Our reading tells us that Jesus hearing about John’s death, withdrew by boat, privately to a solitary place. I guess he needed space to mourn. The other Gospels tell us that he withdrew with his disciples. In Mark we hear Jesus say these words to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

Jesus is exhausted, emotionally, spiritually and physically – he is done in and he needs space. His disciples similarly need space to rest and recuperate from their mission. I can imagine Jesus climbing up the slopes on the far side of Galilee – so grateful for the opportunity to rest, only minutes later to look up and see a large crowd gathering. Jesus was exasperated, grief-stricken, exhausted, ready for a break. … I guess, some of those feelings will be shared by parents and others here who have still to take their holiday, maybe even by those who have just had their holiday with children in tow.

In this instance, Jesus sets aside his own needs for the needs of the crowd. Even in the midst of his tiredness and grief he is willing to give himself to their demands for his attention. A while back, on our day off at 8.30 in the morning the doorbell rang. Still in my night clothes, I answered the door and there was a man of the road – can I have some breakfast. Come back later I said, we are still in bed. At 9.00 he was back, this time shouting through the letterbox, a few expletives about our laziness and unwillingness to serve him. He eventually got a piece of my mind and some days later came back to apologise. What does Jesus’ attitude in our Gospel reading say to me about my attitude to this man? Could I not have served him rather than place my own needs for rest first?

As Christians, all of us are here to be God’s hands and feet in society. Jesus challenges us, not just by his words, but by his actions, to be willing to go the extra mile in serving others! And only after having done so, here in this story, do the following verses tell us that he makes time again for solitude and rest!

The disciples: John and Mark have the disciples chuntering away before they come up with a very small amount of food. John has them ‘borrowing’ the food from a young lad. Both the disciples and the young lad had no idea what their paltry, tiny offering would make. They perhaps only made the offering to reinforce the fact that trying to provide for this host of people was a lost cause. ‘Lord, we just have to send them away – can’t you see that now?’

But Jesus takes their reluctant, tiny offering and turns it into the most sumptuous of banquets. … Like the disciples we so easily see what we have to offer as not enough. We are not gifted enough, our congregations are too small, we can’t possibly afford to meet Parish Share, we cannot meet the maintenance demands of our buildings – it is hopeless. … And it is so easy to think like that.

We are small and seemingly overwhelmed by the world around us, yet God is still working in our midst. We reminded ourselves last week that it is when we feel small  and helpless, then we are most like the Kingdom of God, for it is then that God can work through us. Things are fragile, they are certainly very dependent on the life of God’s Spirit. God is quietly at work in our midst and we have had a part to play in his work in our world.

Here in the characters of our story – seeing events through their eyes – we can be:

  • challenged and encouraged;
  • spurred on to service; and
  • reminded of God’s love and provision for us.

Prayers

Why not try what I have suggested for your prayers this week? Sit with this or another passage of Scripture for a little while. Try picking one of the characters in the story and see things from their perspective. Ask yourself: What do they notice? What do they do? Why, what motivates their actions? If you chose the passage from Matthew 14, you might find that you gain a different insight to the ones that I have suggested. …………..

Take time as well to pray for the work of the church, for those in authority in our world, for peace, for the needy, for those who are unwell and for those who are at rest with the Lord.

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