Saturday, August 06, 2011

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


The account of Jesus' feeding a multitude is read as the Gospel of the day three times during the liturgical year: on Lent IV, the Sunday Next Before Advent, and today. If that seems repetitious, it is remarkable that this is one of very few miracles which are related in all four Gospels. And for good measure, the very brief Gospel of Mark (which we read today) contains two very similar stories, a feeding of 5,000 in chapter 6 and another feeding of 4,000 in chapter 8, our Gospel lesson today.

Because these stories are so much alike, skeptical scholars have speculated that Mark was through forgetfulness just repeating himself. But on the other hand, Jesus repeated His miracles many times. For example, we have no fewer than three episodes in which He raised the dead to life. So there is no reason why a feeding miracle could not occur more than once.

It is interesting that every single instance of this miracle repeats the same four verbs, “He took, ... gave thanks, ... brake, ... and gave.” We find the identical formula in the account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Look on page 80 in the Prayer Book. There is more than one way of explaining how this miracle is related to the Sacrament of the Altar. Did the Eucharist shape the way the Gospels tell the story? Or did the miracle prepare for and point the way to the Eucharist itself?

But the main point of this miracle, the reason why it occurs over and over in the NT and in our liturgy, is the surprising abundance of God's grace in a totally unexpected place. Every single time this happens, the Evangelist (that is the technical term for a Gospel-writer) is at pains to tell us of how the left-overs were gathered up. A puritan interpretation would teach us that we should not waste food. But more likely, the point is the amplitude, bounty, and spendthrift generosity which God lavishes on His beloved people. “I have compassion on the multitude!” That compassion is never exhausted.

And we must not overlook the place where this miracle occurred. It is a wilderness miracle, reminiscent of the 40 years wandering of the people of Israel, who were blessed with bread from heaven. Jesus performed this miracle in a place not unlike the place in which he was tempted to make stones into bread to satisfy His own hunger. There were many poor and hungry people throughout the towns and villages of Galilee and Judaea; the entire area was often wracked by famine. But who were fed? Only those who go out to a hard place: to see, and to hear, and to be with Jesus, the One who is the bread of life. Only those who take that risk are the ones who will be fed.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” LKW

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another significant element in the second feeding is the thematic turning to the Gentiles. The first feeding, that of the 5000 (itself an approximate number, including the men present, but not the women and children), has connections to the number five (because of the Pentateuch a symbolic number for the Jews). This is highlighted by the other number connected to Israel being used in the twelve baskets left over, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Afterwards, we have the Bread of Life Discourse (only in John, of course) and the crowds leaving Him. But now we have a second feeding, with numbers associated, many of the Fathers suggest, with the Gentiles. The 4000 uses the number for the world, with its "four corners," "four winds," etc., and has seven baskets left over. While seven is, of course, the covenant number, it is also a number which can be connected to the 70 nations of Genesis 10, scattered, but now symbolically regathered. The theme of those being invited not coming, and the servants beings sent out to bring in the lame, halt, and blind to fill the Lord's banquet, seems to be reflected here. Christ is symbolically turning to the Gentiles after the Jews rejected Him. This is also connected to the New Exodus theme and the ingathering of the Gentiles through the conversion of the Gentiles, with whom the ten "lost tribes" of the old northern Kingdom are now found and brought back at the same time as the Gentiles with whom they have intermarried, so that God's pupose for Israel (to be the firstborn son/priest and lead the other nations back to God)is now fulfilled despite their failure.

One is also, of course,reminded of the connections with the gifts of the manna and Passover given to Israel being transformed for the Church into the greater New Testament meal, the Eucharist, in which Christ gives Himself to us as the Bread of Heaven, antidote against death, food of immortality, etc.- Christ inviting us to this banquet so that His life is planted in us so that we can live as the New Israel He has made us.

-Patrick Fodor