The reading from the gospel this morning is taken from the fourteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel. This chapter begins with the terrible news of the beheading of St. John the Baptist. This awful crime was not committed by criminals or thieves. Instead, it was committed by those whose duty it was to uphold peace and order in society. Namely, he was beheaded at the hands of Herod. Yet, to give him some credit, beheading John the Baptist, this voice in the wilderness, was not Herod’s idea. It was his wife’s idea. If we remember the Bible story, his wife was actually the wife of his brother Philip, whom he took as his own. It was because of this act that John the Baptist would rail about how improper this unlawful union was. Therefore, Herodias couldn’t stand John the Baptist and wanted him silenced. For good. And even though Herod had him thrown in jail we read in St. Mark’s gospel that “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And …. he heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20). In other words, Herod was a very tragic New Testament figure. On the one hand, he had John the Baptist thrown into jail but on the other hand he would go down to the dungeon and listen to him talk and, in the end, was afraid of actually hurting him. In fact, we read in the gospels that when he was to be beheaded Herod was “exceedingly sorry” (Mark 6: 26).
And so it is in this same chapter that we read how news of the beheading reached Jesus. Having heard this, St. Matthew writes that the Lord left the place He was at by boat and went to a deserted place. But all the people found out where He had gone and they followed Him. And out of His great compassion for this large multitude that sought Him out the gospel tells us that the Lord didn’t leave again to find another deserted place, but He “healed their sick”. There were five thousand of them, not counting women and children, which means there were over five thousand people. And as the evening approached the disciples begged the Lord to tell the people to go into town to get some food. But the Lord told them, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” When the disciples told Him that all they had was five loaves and two fish the Lord took that food and fed the multitude.
And so we have this morning’s gospel, the Bible story referred to as the feeding of the five thousand. It is another gospel account of a miracle which Jesus performed. But there’s a big difference between the miracle that we read this morning and those we’ve been hearing about the past few weeks. The difference is, nobody was sick. It was not sickness that the Lord healed but their hunger. Instead of sending them away somewhere to eat, He fed them Himself. In this morning’s gospel Jesus didn’t raise anyone from the dead nor did He give sight to the blind, all He did was feed the people. And yet there is so much theological significance in this act that it’s the only miracle performed by Jesus which is recorded in all four gospels. This is interesting to consider especially when we remember that the story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the tomb after he was dead for four days is only recorded in John’s gospel. Similarly, it is only in one gospel that we read how Jesus healed a man who was born blind even though it was explicitly stated in that gospel account that “since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind” (John 9:32).
But coming back to the beginning of this fourteenth chapter and the tragic event of the beheading of St. John and the person of Herod, who is perhaps even more tragic, we see that these two events have much in common. For while the Lord fed thousands and thousands we see that He still didn’t feed everyone, for not everyone came to Him. There are those who despise and hate Him like Herodias did and then there are those like Herod, blinded by wealth and power or whatever other thing of this world, who see and sense holiness in the person of Jesus but still reject Him and run from Him. Christ is the one who feeds us at every Divine Liturgy. However, we, like that multitude that sought Him out, are also called to seek Him, to follow Him even to that deserted place and, more importantly, stay with Him until it gets late. Amen.