When You’re Down To Five Loaves And Two Fish – A Sermon On Matthew 14:13-21

Sermon, Matthew 14:13-21, Feeding the 500

Proper 13A – Matthew 14:13-21 

“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” That’s what the disciples say when Jesus tells them to “give [the great crowd] something to eat.” 

Five loaves and two fish. I know what that’s like and I’ll bet you do too. The day of my divorce was a five loaves and two fish kind of day. And so was the day my older son died and the years that followed. A couple of weeks ago one of my best friends called to give me the most recent report from his oncologist and I felt like I had nothing but five loaves and two fish. 

Another day of masks, social distancing, and watching the numbers feels like another five loaves and two fish day. The unemployment numbers, job losses, and the almost daily calls I now get at church asking for help remind me that many people are living a five loaves and two fish life. And I wonder if my five loaves and two fish can do anything to feed the hunger for justice and dignity of Black Americans, immigrants, and refugees. 

When have you felt like a five loaves and two fish kind of person? What events or circumstances have caused you to say, “There’s nothing here but five loaves and two fish?” What does it feel like? What thoughts run through your head on those days?

In the five loaves and two fish times of my life I feel overwhelmed, powerless, hopeless. I feel like more is being asked of me than I can give or handle. I don’t know what to do or say. I’m afraid, sad, exhausted. I’m lonely and in a deserted place. It’s getting dark and, just like the disciples, I want to “send the crowds away” to fend for themselves. It’s not just that I don’t think I have enough but I begin to believe that I am not enough. I am not enough to make a difference and I am not enough to handle what is before me. 

Does any of that sound or look familiar to you? You know what I’m talking about, right?

What are we to do in the five loaves and two fish times of life? 

Let me begin with what not to do. Let’s not sit around waiting for Jesus to magically give us more bread and fish. That’s probably not going to happen. Besides, the problem isn’t a lack of bread and fish. It’s a lack of vision for our lives, the great crowd, and the future. It’s a lack of imagination for what could be. It’s a lack of compassion for others and ourselves.

We need to learn to see in a new way. We need new eyes and new vision. That’s what Jesus is saying when he tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” He’s asking us to change the lens through which we see, gain a new vision, and see with new eyes. He sees and trusts that we already are and have enough to feed the great crowd. Maybe that’s what we need to see and trust about ourselves and each other. 

So I want us to look at today’s gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) a bit differently than we usually do. What if it’s more about eyes than stomachs? What if it’s more about seeing than feeding? What if it’s more about compassion than bread and fish?

Jesus and the disciples saw the same great crowd. But they responded very differently because they see differently. Jesus and the disciples represent two ways of seeing. “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves,” the disciples tell Jesus. And Jesus tells them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

The disciples see the crowd and focus on the resources outside of themselves. They’re trying to figure out how to feed more than 5000 empty stomachs with five loaves of bread and two fish. The math is not on their side. They’re right in saying, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” There is not enough. And there will probably never be enough as long as we’re doing the math. 

Jesus, however, focuses on the resources within himself. He sees the great crowd and has compassion. He experiences their need at a gut level. He feels their hunger as his own. He sees himself as one of them. His inward parts are stirring and turning over. It’s a visceral reaction like when we feel sick to our stomach or break down and weep at the pain, loss, or need of another. Compassion is always the lens through which Jesus sees.

His compassion lets him see the five loaves and two fish not as a limitation but as a possibility. He’s not calculating and doing the math, he’s imagining the possibility of the impossible. He has no need or desire to send the crowd away. Instead, he makes room for them. He’s seeing with the eyes of his heart and not just his physical eyes. 

I wonder, what keeps you and me from seeing and living like that? What if we began to see like that? What if we saw with the eyes of our hearts? What if compassion was the lens through which we saw ourselves and one another?

When we see the hunger, pain, or needs of another with eyes of compassion our priorities change, we imagine new possibilities, and resources are multiplied. Compassion calls us to speak up for and to reach out to another. It means saying yes even before we’ve counted our loaves and fish. That’s how I want to live, don’t you?

I want to trust that my five loaves and two fish are enough and that they will make a difference. I want to believe that I am enough and that I will make a difference. I want to see you, the world, and myself through the lens of compassion. And I want to act on that compassion, don’t you?

What is your compassionate vision for our country today? For refugees, immigrants, and Black Americans? For essential workers, healthcare providers, and first responders? For administrators, teachers, parents, and students beginning a new school year? For those making decisions when there is no good or right answer? What is your compassionate vision for those who have lost jobs and businesses? For the sick and dying? For those you love and those you’ll never know? For those who are just like you and those who are your opposite? For yourself and your needs?

What is compassion asking of you today? How will you act on it? To whom will you reach out and for whom will you speak up? Look with the eyes of your heart and you’ll see who that is. Imagine anew what our lives and our country might become and you’ll know what to do.

What can you and I do with our five loaves and two fish? We’ll never know until we start feeding the great crowd. And we might just be surprised at what we’re capable of. Let’s stop doing the math, and set the table. 

Look! Look around. Dinner’s ready. 


  1. Thank you, Mike. Today, I was thinking how Jesus might be seeing hunger differently, hope the people gathered might have a different kind of hunger, or a hunger for something different, something more and something less. But I couldn’t find a place to go with that. Your sermon is very helpful. – Debbie Dunham

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debbie, your hunger questions are insightful. That Jesus tells the disciples you give them something to eat makes me think he was looking at a different kind of hunger and a different kind of food.

      I hope you all are well. Take care.


  2. This passage has resonated with me for many years. As well as being a lay minister in the Church of England. I have worked for almost 12 years for The Trussell Trust which is the charity that sits behind many of the UK’s food banks. Just as in America, we are seeing yet another spike in food poverty which I suspect will start to increase now the safety net the government put in place to save jobs is being transferred gradually from the public purse to the employer’s own funds. Sadly there are probably many more redundancies to come. Over the years we have seen new crises and ever growing need, yet the two fish and five loaves seem to continue in abundance even if our 12 baskets don’t always look full!

    I’ve long wondered what actually happened that day. I’m absolutely sure Jesus did a miracle, but did boy’s generosity unlock additional generosity from within the crowd? – I don’t know but I’d like to think it did.

    We often see situations as hopeless which with God’s intervention turn to hopeful(l)


    1. Thank you Mark for your comment and wondering about what happened that day and especially about the whether the boy’s generosity unlocked additional generosity. That makes sense to me on a very practical level and it makes this story doable and relevant in our world today. I sometimes feel that the story can be so big (5 loaves and 2 fish feeding more than 5000 and lots of leftovers) that it can become magical and supernatural in a way that makes it distant to me and beyond what I can do.

      Blessing and peace be with you.


    1. Yes! I think about all the small of acts of generosity and love done toward me and how they have changed my life – a word of encouragement, silent listening, the gift of an hour, a teacher who invested in me, and the list goes on.

      Peace be with you,


  3. Seeing the crowds He had compassion on them… As a resident of the Gateway to Glacier National Park – our small town is being inundated with hordes of tourists – many from hot zones in this darned pandemic. Of course, my first response is “go away – go home- leave us alone.” Our once low virus numbers are spiking and now Montana is a red zone. Through the lens of compassion that you have presented here, I should see these people escaping from a scourge that has raked through their lives as much as mine if not far worse. I would like to think I could have compassion for them and welcome them to the natural sanctuary in which I live – but I still struggle. I see their intrusion as a selfish act during this time. I am a sinner seeking the heart of Jesus. I have a long way to go to have the compassion of our Lord and Savior. I’m about three loaves and 1000 fishes short in this department!
    Thank you for this thought provoker!


    1. Ericka, thanks so much for your honesty and naming the struggle. A couple things came to mind as I read your comment. First, compassion is not only for or towards others. There is needs to be a compassion for yourself. Second, the couple of verses after this text talk about Jesus dismissing the crowds and going up the mountains to be alone and pray. I think this might be part of his self-compassion, his recognition of what he needed and then acting on that. What would compassion for yourself in this time look like?

      I hope you are well. God’s peace be with you,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Father Mike: I am in formation to be a Deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, and for my homiletics course I’ve been assigned to preach a homily on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary to a hypothetical audience of Catholic nurses. Rest assured I won’t completely steal your sermon, but I will echo your excellent insights in turning to Our Lord and having compassion when I normally want to get away from whomever is causing me problems. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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