Who do you say I am?

The Text: Matthew 16:13-20

Stories that feature a person with an unknown identity seem to be quite popular.  We might think of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger.  The other characters in those stories are left to wonder, ‘Who is that masked man?’

Even though Jesus didn’t wear a mask, his identity was often in question. For example, when Jesus was arrested and put on trial, one of the problems for his accusers was to try and work out who Jesus was. Herod, Pilate and the religious leaders all knew that Jesus was the man called Jesus of Nazareth, who went around teaching and healing. But who was he really? They saw him as a threat, a blasphemer, a law-breaker, a pretend king.

As we heard in the gospel lesson, at one time Jesus himself had asked his disciples what people were saying about him. ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ he asked them. There were a lot of answers to that question. The disciples reported that people were saying that he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. It seems that the people noticed that Jesus was some kind of godly person.

Then Jesus made the question personal. It was no longer about what others might think. He said to his disciples, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ As we heard, Peter answered with his confession, answering for them all, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Peter answered for all Christians really. The church believes and teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. However, the question is also personal for each one of us. ‘Who do you yourself believe and say that he is?’

This question about who Jesus is can never really go unanswered. Even if people avoid answering or refuse to answer, then that is also in fact an answer to the question. People might want to leave their options open or offer a variety of different alternatives, but ultimately the question comes down to this: Is Jesus the Son of God or not? That’s a decisive question for the Christian faith. Is Jesus my Lord or not?

The world has no shortage of different ideas about who Jesus is. Some might only see Jesus as a godly man, a good man, a good teacher, a good guide for a morally upstanding life. For them, Jesus existed in the past to show people the way they should live. This is a weakness with the ‘What would Jesus do?’ approach to life choices. In that approach Jesus can be regarded as an example in the past, rather than known as the Lord who lives with us now and calls us to trust him and follow him. A Jesus who is left in the past can’t bring us into a living relationship with God, where we are forgiven and set free to serve. Then the Christian faith stops being life and salvation, and becomes another moralistic way of living, coloured by guilt or pride. 

Who do you say that I am? asks Jesus.

Another fairly popular idea is to see Jesus as the supplier of our needs. He becomes the supplier of perceived needs, someone who will keep us comfortable and our stomachs full. When Jesus fed the crowds, they wanted to make him king. They saw Jesus as someone who would solve their problems, perhaps freeing them from the Romans, feeding them and keeping them happy. Today, some people see Jesus in a similar way. They turn to him with their wants. They think that his main role is to keep them happy and comfortable, supplying the new house they want, or the new job which would let them know that they enjoy God’s favour. That’s not a living faith, a living relationship with God, and is really an outpouring of selfish human whims and desires.

Who do you say that I am? asks Jesus. There is indeed no shortage of wrong answers to that question.

It was Peter who answered for the other disciples, for the church and for us. We say, with Peter, Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus told Peter that his answer was the work of God. God the Father had revealed the true nature of Jesus to him. It always was and is God’s work to create faith. This is what God continually does in the church. God brings us to faith in Jesus, letting us trust him and confess him as God’s Son, the Saviour he has sent us.

The name Peter means rock. This was the name Jesus gave to Simon, the son of John. Jesus cleverly used that name for emphasis. Jesus declared that he would build his church on the God given faith articulated by Peter. This God given faith is a solid foundation. Not even death will stand against the church. That’s because the church isn’t built on a fallible human, like rocky Peter. No, the church is built on the One whom Peter confessed. There is one foundation upon which the church is built by God. That foundation is the Crucified Jesus, God’s Son, who lovingly gave His life away so that the world might be drawn from death into life with God forever.

Jesus promised to build his church solidly and securely. Jesus promised Peter that he would be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was promising that the doors of heaven and hell would be unlocked and thrown open for people through the proclamation of Jesus the Saviour. We live in that promise. We can all declare Christ’s forgiving presence to each other, showing one another the open doors of heaven. The presence of the living Lord Jesus forgives sin and throws open the doors of heaven. 

We are invited to live in Jesus’ promises, and his question is in the present tense for us: “Who do you say that I am?”

God’s Spirit has shown us that Jesus is God’s Son, our Saviour. God’s Spirit moves us to joyfully declare to one another that Jesus is with us, that he forgives sin, that he has smashed open the prison of death and that he has thrown open the gates of heaven. Yet the disciples were sternly ordered not to tell anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. That might confuse us at first. 

The difference, between us now and the disciples then, is that Jesus has died and risen again. The danger then was that if the disciples said that Jesus was the Messiah, then the people would want him to be the Messiah of their expectations.  It finally became clear what sort of Messiah Jesus is when he willingly allowed himself to be killed in order to save the world. Once sin and death had been defeated, then Jesus sent the disciples out with the promise of his eternal presence.

Who do you say Jesus is? Luther gives us a good simple answer in the Small Catechism. “I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord. He is truly God – he has always been the Son of the Father. He is also a real human being, the Virgin Mary’s son.  Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death. He set me free from all my sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life. Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me. Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king. I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules forever. This is certainly true.”(Second part of the Apostles’ Creed.)

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Made clean

The Text: Matthew 15:10-28


Have you heard the saying: “cleanliness is next to godliness”?

I don’t know about today, but in the past this saying was used by parents to encourage their children to wash well in the bath or shower. The saying implied that a clean body somehow brought us closer to God.

Like most sayings, there’s a grain of truth in that. When it comes to matters of God, cleanliness is important, although not necessarily whether have dirt behind our ears or not. It has more to do with spiritual or moral cleanliness.

You may not have had much teaching on cleanliness. In part, I think, it’s because “cleanliness” is seen as an Old Testament concept. Since Christians no longer need to obey all the Old Testament purity laws (found, for example, in Leviticus), many think cleanliness is redundant or has been superseded. This understanding, however, would be like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Spiritual cleanliness is still at the heart of how we relate to God, and today’s gospel reading gives us the opportunity to explore its implications.

Before we can talk about cleanliness, we need to understand the concept of “holiness”. Holiness is a property of God. It is His good, creative, life-giving power. Holiness is often likened to the sun which gives out light and heat to sustain life on earth.

Diametrically opposed to God’s holiness is evil, including sin, death and demonic powers. These are naturally likened to darkness. The two cannot coexist: God’s holiness will always destroy evil just as light will banish the dark. Darkness cannot exist where light shines.

In between these two realms (of light & dark, holiness & evil) is the natural realm, which we inhabit. In this realm we can be “clean” or “unclean”. People who are clean need not fear God’s holiness. They can approach Him and, in so doing, become holy themselves.

The opposite is also true: clean or holy people who come in contact with evil become unclean; they become defiled. Unclean people can no longer approach God; His holiness would destroy them just as it destroys all evil.

In the Old Testament, God gave the people of Israel a “purity code” to help them remain clean. He taught them to avoid things that would defile them. For example, certain foods, contact with death or disease, and sinful actions – we read this in Leviticus 5:2-3 “‘If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt; or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt.

He gave them ways to restore their cleanliness if it was lost, through ritual washings and sacrifices.

God did this because He loved His people and wanted a relationship with them. He wanted to meet with them in person without destroying them with His holiness; first in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. He wanted them to be holy too.

For this reason, God also gave the people of Israel the land of Canaan where they could live in purity and build a permanent dwelling place for God to meet with all peoples. This meant it was necessary to displace the people there, including the Canaanites, who were involved in worshipping false gods and in evil practices such as child sacrifice.

God also forbade the Israelites to intermarry with the Canaanites, in case they succumb to their idolatry and so become unclean (read more in Exodus 23:23-33). It’s important to note that God didn’t do this because Israel was a particularly worthy people; already clean and holy. Rather, God chose to make a covenant with Israel. God made the people clean and holy, and their responsibility was simply to keep on living in ways God knew was good for them. It was a relationship based on trust. The Israelites were to trust that God would care for them as He had promised, and that His commands were good.

Sadly, the people of Israel failed to trust God fully. They failed to obey God’s commandments. They were unable to remain clean and holy. They intermarried with the Canaanites and other tribes opposed to God, and defiled themselves and the land with their practices. And so, God allowed Israel to be taken into exile for a time.

Upon return to the land new challenges arose against God’s plans for Israel. Groups such as the Pharisees were formed. By all accounts the Pharisees had an honest desire to obey God’s commands and follow His plan to keep themselves and the land pure. But rather than just trusting that God’s commands were sufficient, they added layers of tradition to “help” people.

This is what was behind Jesus’ scathing criticism of the Pharisees. They had come to Jesus asking why His disciples didn’t observe their tradition of ritual handwashing before the meal. The Pharisees claimed that by not washing, the disciples were making themselves unclean.

Jesus responded with the words we read at the start of the sermon. Firstly, He rejected the Pharisees’ rituals as merely human traditions and not commands from God. Secondly, Jesus explained that even God-ordained rituals didn’t make people clean in and of themselves, but that the reason for which the rituals were done was critical. It wouldn’t matter that everything on the outside was observed perfectly if the heart inside was rotten. For it is out of the heart that uncleanness truly comes: evil thoughts lead to evil speech and actions, and all three defile a person.

On the other hand, a heart which is clean will make the whole person clean before God. How do we get a heart like that? A truly clean heart is purely a gift from God, received in faith. And, what’s more, God extended this promise not only to Israel, but to all peoples who trust in Him – as we heard in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 56.

Finally, God has delivered on His promise through Jesus Christ, as we saw in the story about the Canaanite woman when He cleansed her daughter of an unclean spirit. In Jesus, who is the “new temple”, God has come close to all people; not just to the people of Israel in Jerusalem. In Jesus, God brings cleansing to both Jew and Gentile, so that none of us need fear that His holiness will destroy us. In Jesus, we can all become clean and holy so that we can enter into God’s presence.

How does this happen in practice today? How does Jesus continue to make us clean? The main way He does this is here in worship, particularly when enacted through the liturgy of worship. Although liturgy is seen by some Christians as a redundant “tradition”, it has been carefully shaped by the church, based on God’s Word, over millennia, to help us receive God’s life-giving gifts.

Our liturgy is not the only way to worship, but it’s a good way. It leads us through an encounter with God so we can approach Him as clean people who want to be made holy by His presence. We start the service in the Name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the name into which we were baptised. This “invocation” reminds us that in baptism we were washed clean and made members of God’s holy people. In baptism, Jesus took our sin on himself and gave us His holiness in exchange, and He also gave us His Holy Spirit to start changing our hearts to trust in His promises.

Next we have a time of confession and forgiveness. We need this because we are not yet fully holy. We still make ourselves unclean in thought, word and deed. We still murder and commit adultery in our hearts, we still steal, and we still lie and slander others with our mouths. And so, before we can approach God, we need to be cleansed again, lest His holiness destroy us.

Confession and forgiveness is also an opportunity to give up to God sins that others have committed against us and that make us unclean through no fault of our own. At this time in the service we can forgive other people and ask God to forgive them. Forgiveness in itself is a real blessing, as God takes away our emotional and spiritual dirt, leaving us clean and pure. But He wants to give us even more in worship. Once made clean, we can then enjoy time with God. We can pray to Him and praise Him, thank Him for the good gifts He has already given us and ask for anything else we might need.

Throughout the service, we also listen to God. In the liturgy itself and in the readings, hymns and sermon we hear God speaking to us. As we receive God’s Word we continue to be made clean and holy. The prayer used at the start of the sermon is not a “magical formula” or pious wish. It is an echo of Jesus’ own prayer in John 17:17 that God the Father would sanctify His disciples (make them holy) through His Word.

The high point of the service with Holy Communion comes when we celebrate a feast with God. At the Lord’s Table Jesus Himself serves us with His holy and precious body and blood. For those who are properly prepared – members of God’s people, made clean through His Word – this meal further blesses us by ushering us into the Holy of Holies; into the presence of God the Father Himself.

But those who are not yet members of God’s family, or do not repent of their sins, are asked to refrain from eating at this table. We do this not because we want to be exclusive, or because we think we are better than them, but because we want to protect them. We understand the danger of an unclean person coming into the presence of a holy God, and have responsibility to warn them of the danger.

Finally, we are sent out by God with His blessing. Like the people of Israel, God doesn’t make us clean and holy just for our own sakes, but for the sake of other people – all of them. We are to be examples to the world, and heralds of God’s goodness so that all people may come to know Him and share in His holiness.

To do so we are to speak up against human “traditions” that continue to make people “unclean” today, even though doing so is unpopular. For example, we speak up for the right-to-life of the unborn, and against calls that the aged or sick have a right-to-death. We speak up for the goodness of marriage between man and woman, and the blessings of reserving sex for the marital relationship. We speak against the trend towards fake news and call it out for what it is: lying. We encourage people to instead speak the truth, for the building up of others. We reject hate speech, particularly based on race or gender. We are to accept people who are different from us, and love them as Jesus loved and accepted all people, including the Canaanite woman; including us Gentiles.

But note that love and acceptance don’t mean we have to agree with people on everything. Love is not contingent on affirming attitudes or actions which are harmful and make people unclean before God. Cleanliness is not arbitrary or negotiable, the church hasn’t simply made up its rituals on a whim, and so sometimes we will offend people when God’s Word clashes with human “traditions”.

But as we speak these truths, we need to do so carefully, remembering that outward actions do not make for a clean heart. We all need Christ to make us clean on the inside, so that we can also be clean on the outside. Only Jesus’ transformation of our hearts allows us to speak and act cleanly too. And we can only ever receive this cleanliness as a gift. As the Canaanite woman herself testified, we are no more deserving than dogs who feed off their master’s crumbs.

Yet the wonderful news, for us and for all people, is that God’s “crumbs” are more than enough. Even the leftovers of God’s generosity can make us clean and holy and give us eternal life with Him. But the best news of all is that God hasn’t contented Himself with leaving us as dirty dogs and feeding us crumbs. Instead, through Jesus, He has made us clean and made us part of His family. God calls us His children and feeds us not with scraps, but with the bread of life.

What a wonderful gift for us to enjoy, and to share with anyone who will listen!


A helping hand.

The Text: Matthew 14:22-33

Has someone ever offered you a helping hand when you needed it most? The writer of this sermon relates this story: I was mountain-climbing with a couple of friends when I developed a cramp. We were near the top of the mountain, and my friends said it would be easier to help me to the summit, rather than go down the way we came. Why? Because they knew that the slope on the other side of the mountain was very gentle and gradual. I have experienced our Lord’s protecting hand on many occasions. On our farm, it was a miracle I escaped being savaged by our bull. In Melbourne, I was involved in a car accident in which I felt our Saviour’s protecting hand guarding me from serious injury.

Don’t we sometimes go on our way, confident that we can meet any kind of danger? What really throw us are the unexpected dangers that we never anticipated. There are people who, when they fear for their life, cry out to God for help. God, for them, is like a fire extinguisher: “FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY”. Our Lord wants to be our first resource in any and every difficult situation in daily life, rather than our last resort when all else fails. Jesus isn’t simply an optional extra for those with time on their hands. The busier we are, the more we need to seek His blessing on what we do well, as well as seeking His help when things go wrong. When dangers loom, we sometimes feel we’re left to our own devices. We can be too overwhelmed by fear to even remember to pray. A good prayer to pray each day is, “Lord, if I should forget you today, remember me.”

In last week’s Gospel, our Lord had shown immense concern and care for 5,000 hungry people by feeding them. After this extraordinary act of kindness, witnessed by His disciples, Jesus sends the twelve on a boat trip across the lake while He goes elsewhere to pray. When a storm threatens the twelve apostles’ lives, they panic, thinking that Jesus has abandoned them. Overwhelmed by fear, they fail to realise that Jesus was near. In fact, while they were battling the wind and the waves, Jesus had been praying for them.

Just when we think we’re all alone, our Saviour’s prayers for us may be surrounding us with His guiding hand, though we may not be able to see it at the time. For us Christians, things are never quite what they seem. The main concern for many of us is not to be able to “walk on water”, but simply to keep our head above water. “

We don’t always recognize Jesus when He comes to our aid. The twelve apostles, too, imagined Jesus as an apparition that would only make their perilous situation worse, rather than shouting for joy at the sight of Him actually walking on the water to come to their aid. Haven’t we sometimes felt the same? When Jesus approaches us with His help through an illness, setback or greater responsibility, we fail to recognise Him, and instead of being certain that He hears our prayers, we panic.

Only Christ’s word of comfort can give us assurance of His presence and silence our fears. “Be of good cheer, have no fear, it is I”, Jesus says. Jesus’ disciples needed nothing more than our Lord’s reassuring voice. Full of joy, Peter now acts on impulse, as he so often does, and asks if he too can walk on water. And all goes well at first, while Peter stays focussed on Jesus. It is remarkable, isn’t it, what we can do when we forget our problems and dangers, and place our whole trust in Christ alone. Peter had faith strong enough to get him out of the boat, but not strong enough to cope with the storm. Peter’s faith bounces back when he realises he cannot manage on his own, but that everything now depends on Jesus. “Lord, save me”, Peter cries out. Jesus let this happen so that Peter could experience our Saviour’s protecting hand.

As we go about our daily duties, we sometimes see examples of our Saviour’s protecting hand, sparing His people from what could have been very dangerous car accidents. In heaven, we’ll all learn how often Jesus protected us from harm and danger from day to day, when we were least aware of it.
A man involved in a terrible train accident told a friend how he thanked God that he emerged unscathed. His friend asked: “How often have you travelled safely along that train line?”
“At least 50 times” was the reply.
“Have you thought of thanking God for all those times you travelled safely?” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer found that God gives us the help we need when He sees it is best, and not before. Bonhoeffer writes: “I believe that God will give us the staying power we need in each situation, not before, in order that we rely not on ourselves, but Him. With such faith must we overcome all fear of the future.” We may not know what the future will bring, but we do know Him who holds the future in His hands, and we can trust Him to care for us.

Our Saviour sometimes seems to abandon us. He does this so that we cling all the more firmly to Him. Jesus can use our fears and anxieties to draw us closer to Him. Nothing can separate us from His almighty love. Faith means realising that our Saviour’s protecting hand hangs onto us when we can no longer hang onto Him. Divine grace is more like a mother cat grabbing its kitten by the scruff of its neck, rather than like a baby monkey which clings to its mother. We stake our lives on the Lord’s promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you … underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Some 366 times, God says to us in the Bible: “Fear not.” That’s enough times for every day of the year, including leap year. We haven’t been promised a life of ease and comfort, or a trouble free existence. Maturity in faith and love develops as we face life’s discomforts and troubles with God, who has promised to be “a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).”

Troubles are the tools God uses to shape us for better things.

We’re safer in a storm with Christ, than anywhere else without Him. The boat in our Gospel reading represents Christ’s Church. I would rather face life’s challenges with Christ and fellow Christians, than to be on the outside trying to cope with the storms and stresses of daily living on my own. When the pressures of daily life get too much for us to cope with on our own, Jesus gives us fellow Church members to lean on, to uphold us, and to pray for us. Our Saviour extends His protective hand to us through His Church. His Church is His protecting and sheltering hand over our faith, guarding it from doubt and despair. Through His Word and sacraments, Jesus continues to strengthen our faith from all the attacks it faces week by week.
 God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform;
 He plants His footsteps in the sea / And rides upon the storm.
 Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; / The clouds ye so much dread
 Are big with mercy, and shall break / In blessing on your head.  

Hymn 414, v.1 and 3


What do you have

The Text: Matthew 14:13-21                                                   

What do you have? Do you have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear and food to eat? Do you have a car or have access to some form of transportation? Do you have a bank account and does it have any money in it? What luxury items do you have and what other odds and ends are lying around your place? Could you pack all of your possessions into a suitcase or would you need a removalist van to make a shift?

In 1964 Donald Horne, a Sydney journalist, referred to Australia as the ‘lucky country’. This phrase stuck and has since been used to describe everything from our weather and wide-open spaces to our overall quality of life. Many don’t realise Horne’s quote has been taken out of context. He actually said: Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck’.

You may sometimes think the people running our country are still second rate, but most of us would agree that we are blessed to live here. Australia consistently ranks in the top countries in the world in terms of our quality of life. It has always been seen as a land of opportunity, a desirable destination for migrants and refugees alike who are seeking to start a new life.

But there are still the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in our society. The gap between the richest people in the land and the poorest is significant. Where do we see ourselves on the wealth spectrum? Is it easier for us to focus on what we have or on what we do not have?

Our Gospel reading deals with the very well-known incident in the life of Jesus where he miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. It features in all four Gospel accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which is why it is very familiar to us.

Jesus had just heard news of the death of John the Baptist so he had withdrawn to a remote place to regroup and grieve. But the crowds came from the surrounding towns and followed him out there. Despite his grief, Jesus had compassion on them and still set about healing their sick. The day passed and evening came. Jesus had met their needs and it was time for the people to go home and get some dinner. But Jesus said they didn’t have to go away and he instructed his disciples to feed them.

The disciples didn’t have the resources to feed this large crowd – 5,000 men, with the women and children to be added to this number. In addition to this, it wasn’t actually required. You could see this as an ‘unnecessary miracle’. This wasn’t a life or death situation of poverty-related hunger. The people could easily go and get their own food.

No one asked to be fed. No one expected to be fed. There was no need.

But Jesus insisted. He took the food they had – five loaves of bread and two fish – and miraculously turned it into a meal that fed all of the crowd of thousands. There were more leftovers than what they had to begin with. So what is the moral of the story?

Is it a call for us to meet the needs of our hungry world – ‘you give them something to eat’? When you think of what we do have here in Australia then it is easy to see this miracle as an encouragement to share what we have with those less fortunate than us.  

It is easy to use this account to focus on what we have, to be reminded of how richly blessed we are in comparison to elsewhere in the world. The moral then becomes one of counting your blessings and sharing your blessings. No one is going to arc up about such a conclusion. It’s only fair and reasonable to expect us to give from what we have, whatever that is.

Only…that’s not our text! It is not how the story played out.

What did the disciples have? They had nothing really – only five loaves of bread and two fish. And in John’s account we hear that even this meagre amount wasn’t what they had at all. It belonged to a boy (John 6:8-9). This miracle is not about getting us to give from what we have. There is nothing especially miraculous about that. We do that all the time to varying degrees: depending on our generosity and on the perceived need.

Most of us are moved to give from what we have when we hear about an urgent need: a severe famine in Africa; a child requiring life-saving surgery; a natural disaster that devastates a community. We respond to these crises and so we should! But again that’s not what our text is on about.

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings (17:7f) we hear of how the prophet Elijah miraculously provided oil and flour for the widow at Zarephath [pronounced Zar-eh-fath]. On that occasion, the life of the widow and her son were at stake. With the feeding miracle in our Gospel account there was no such crisis; no life was at stake. There was nothing urgent or special about the situation.

As the disciples said: the crowd ‘can go to the villages and buy themselves some food’. It is because the miracle is so unnecessary that you start to wonder why Jesus did it and what is he trying to teach through it.

The natural order of things is that we take care of ourselves. We try and get ourselves to the point of self-sufficiency; to the point where we have enough. If we have more than enough for ourselves then we can share. But this mindset and natural order of things is such a limiting one really. It is limited not only by what we have but also by what we are willing to release, to let go of what we have. And we are notoriously bad at doing that.

This miraculous feeding occurred once the disciples realised what they didn’t have; that they had nothing to offer. In Matthew’s Gospel account, we see the greatest miracles occur when people bring with them the least. It isn’t what we have that makes us effective disciples in God’s kingdom.

Earlier the religious leaders presented their credentials to John the Baptist by saying: ‘we have Abraham as our father’ (Matthew 3:9). But John wasn’t overly impressed with that, telling them that God could produce children from stones. It isn’t about what we have but about what God can do with what we don’t have.    

We see this throughout Jesus’ ministry. He was brought those who had diseases, those who had severe pain, those who had demon possession, those who had seizures, those who had blindness and those who had paralysis (Matthew 4:24; 15:30). It is not the greatest list of attributes to bring to the table; and yet Jesus healed them all.

For, what did Jesus have? In the world’s terms he didn’t seem to have much at all. He told his followers: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). So he didn’t have a roof over his head. And when he came to Jerusalem to claim his throne as king all he had was a borrowed donkey (Matthew 21:3).

But he did have authority: he had the authority to teach the truths of God’s kingdom (Matthew 7:29) and he had the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). And in the lead up to this latest miracle we see that he had compassion on the large crowd that had come out to see him (Matthew 14:14). We have a God who loves us and cares for us. We have a God who wants to give us each day our daily bread. We have a God who wants to heal our hurts and bring us life and make us whole. It turns out that he doesn’t need a whole lot or even anything from us in order to make these things happen.     

So what do we need to have? We need to have ‘ears that hear’ (Matt.13:43); that is, the ability to perceive that God’s kingdom follows a different pattern to that of the world. And we need to have ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ (Matt.17:20). And God has provided even these to us because we don’t have them naturally. For even when we have so little (or nothing at all) God can still move mountains. God can use us to feed the hungry and heal the broken through what he provides, rather than through what we have. God will see to it that his kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.