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Pentecost 10 2023, Proper 13
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 6, 2023
Isaiah 55:-, Romans 9:1-13, Matthew 14:13-21


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            Two kings throw dinner parties.  One is smaller, one is larger.  One is fancy with all the trimmings; one is simple, more of an improvised picnic. One is at a palace and has expensive appetizers and main dishes and desserts and abundant wine.  One is outside and has only fish and bread and not even any lemons or tartar sauce from Frisch’s.  One party has lots of trained servants scurrying around to serve the guests. One has 12 reluctant men distributing food to an overwhelming crowd.  One is the birthday party for a king; one is done in the wake of a tragic death.  Which king’s dinner would you rather be a part of; the fancy dinner at the palace, or the impromptu picnic outside?

            Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, is throwing a birthday party for himself at the frontier fortress/palace Macaerus overlooking the Dead Sea from the west.  It is likely a raucous event with lots of important people gathered to eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine.  The king is likely having a very good time and getting a little drunk himself when his step-daughter/niece Salome comes out to dance.  Her provocative dance so delights her tipsy step-father/uncle that he foolishly promises to give her whatever she might ask. 

            Salome does not ask for a pony, or a party, or a palace. Salome is shrewd, the daughter of politicians.  She is not going to waste her step-father’s overly generous promise so she consults with her mother, Herodias, and…  Matthew 14:8 (ESV) 8 Prompted by her mother, she [says], “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 

            Herodias sees an opportunity with Salome and she takes it.  She hates John the Baptist.  Who does that weird, desert prophet think he is to try to tell the queen what she can do with her life?  John is offensive.  John has the audacity to tell Herod that it is not right for him to be married to his brother’s wife.  Who does this religious fanatic John think he is?  Doesn’t he know who Herodias is?  She is rich and powerful.  Doesn’t John know that the rules for the little people do not apply to the rich and powerful? Herodias has had John arrested and now she has a chance to be done with him for good. 

            The dinner, a birthday celebration of Herod’s life, takes a dark, dreadful turn with Salome’s request -- the king is faced with a life or death decision. The boisterous, fun-filled party atmosphere evaporates and now it is deathly silent as all eyes are on Herod.  Will he honor his oath and have a man killed, or will he break his promise and find a way to wiggle his way out of a bad situation? 

            Herod knows it is wrong to kill John, but he made an oath to Salome.  The man who is sleeping with his brother’s wife, who is aroused by his step-daughter’s dancing, who generally does not care what others thinks, now chooses to stand on principal so the birthday party crowd will not think less of him.  Herod orders John to be beheaded. 

            Now the somber mood really takes a dark, grisly turn as John the Baptist is killed and his head is brought to the king’s birthday party on a platter.  At the palace fortress, Machaerus, the voice of one calling in the wilderness is silenced. Oddly, Machaerus means sword.  Jesus warned, Matthew 10:34 (ESV)  34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

            Dinner at sword palace seemed to have the most promise to be a great time, but it ends with death brought to the party on a platter.  Herodias scores a victory.  Her enemy is dead and John’s blood is on her husband Herod who is now haunted by the killing.  Herod believes the teacher Jesus is John risen from the dead. 

            The other King’s dinner begins in the shadow of John’s death. Jesus hears about John being killed and He retreats by boat to the wilderness to have some time alone to grieve. Jesus retreats from the people but the people do not retreat from Jesus.  They see Him leave in the boat and follow on shore and are waiting for Him when He lands.  It is a huge crowd of people needing healing.  Jesus has compassion on them.  His gut aches for them and He heals the sick and lame.  It is a huge crowd and it takes a long time to heal everyone and now the sun is setting and bellies are growling with hunger.  The disciples have a practical solution.  Matthew 14:15 (ESV) 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to [Jesus] and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 

            I sympathize with the disciples.  I like to be practical.  When I travel with a group I want to know where we are going to eat every meal.  The disciples have a good, common sense solution to a problem. 

            But Jesus is not all about common sense.  Jesus is king of creation as He just demonstrated by healing the huge crowd.  Matthew 14:16 (ESV) 16 …Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  The disciples look at each other hoping one of them knows something that the others do not.  Apparently Jesus wants to have a giant dinner here in this desolate place -- a sort of big pot luck except only one person brought any food and it is only five loaves of bread and two fish.  That is not enough to feed even Jesus and the 12 disciples let alone the thousands of people gathered.  Jesus does not have common sense. 

            Jesus asks for the food to be brought to Him.  He gives thanks, breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples who give it to the crowds.  Five loaves and two fish are now enough to feed 5,000 men plus women and children with abundant leftovers.  This is a miraculous, impromptu dinner party outdoors in the wilderness with the 12 reluctant disciples as the servers. 

It is an amazing event, but over this miraculous meal hangs the darkness of the news about John’s gruesome execution for speaking the truth.  Jesus provides in abundance, but He does not come to bring peace, but a sword.  Jesus’ ways are not our ways.

            The impromptu picnic dinner of fish and bread is a miraculous meal and along with the afternoon of healing it shows who King Jesus really is.  Jesus is not just another prophet, Jesus is God in flesh come to earth to serve His people and give Himself for them.

            Jesus does not act as one would expect.  This king does not have a fancy palace fortress. This king is not waited on by a stable of servants.  This king has the power of life and death, but uses the power not to kill, but to heal and raise people from the dead.  This king does not surround Himself with the rich and powerful, but rather with broken sinners who know that they need help; who know they need forgiveness.  This king speaks the truth in love and calls the powerful to repentance.  But the rich and powerful do not believe the rules apply to them, and just as King Herod kills John the Baptist, Herod’s counterpart in Jerusalem, Governor Pontius Pilate, permits Jesus to be crucified for all to see. 

            Who is Jesus and what did He come to do?  After this massive feeding of the people some look to Jesus as some kind of bread king who will provide them with endless food, but Jesus does not come to simply meet practical wants and desires.  Jesus is not the bread king, or the healing king.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

 This lesson is a good reminder that God’s ways are not the world’s ways.  What the world thinks is important is not what God values.  

In our day there is a lot of push to want to learn about how to be successful in life.  For many churches, if that is what people want, that is what people get.  So, instead of hearing sermons about sin and forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus, people at these churches learn about how to do better in order to be prosperous and effective in this life. 

            It is so easy in this life to become enchanted with the ways of the rich and powerful.  We see their lives and think how amazing it would be to a part of their world.  But then, far too often, when we get a glimpse behind the veneer of wealth we discover that many of the rich and powerful are evil, greedy, sexually immoral, hateful and selfish.  Like Herodias having John’s head brought to the party, the rich and powerful show how emptiness and evil go along with money and power.   

            This lesson is a good reminder that God’s ways are not the world’s ways.  What the world thinks is important is not what God values.  The fancy things of this world are not what life is all about.  The fancy party at the palace is dinner of death.  A simple picnic in the wilderness with Jesus is a meal of healing and life and abundance hosted by the Lamb of God who is offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice.

            It is an easy temptation to expect something extraordinary and miraculous from God to prove who He is, but that is not God’s promise.  The promise is that your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus.  The promise in the waters of baptism is that you are a beloved child of God.  Jesus is not impressed by the rich and powerful; Jesus comes for sinners who need forgiveness.  You have come here this morning to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness.  You have come to receive once again the gift of eternal life.  You have come to be refreshed knowing that you are one with the creator of the universe through Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit.  And you have come to be fed.  It is not fancy, but Jesus has commanded the church, “You give them something to eat,” and so we will.  We will have a meal together.  We will eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.  Nothing fancy, but it is a meal of abundant blessing forever hosted by the King Himself.  It is Jesus miraculous meal for you.  Amen.