This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’18And Abraham said to God, ‘O that Ishmael might live in your sight!’19God said, ‘No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac.* I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.’22And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
Feeding the Five Thousand
6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.* 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,9‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’10Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they* sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
We’re presented with impossible things in thse stories: a aged woman with an aged husband is to conceive his child; and 5000 people are fed with five loaves and two fish. What is the storytellers’ point in recounting miracles, since after all, faith is not a matter of just believing anything we’re told? In both cases, the reader is invited to see that trust in One who is beyond all understanding, is fruitful here and now within history. Abraham and Sarah have shown this trust by leaving their own land on a journey to a new home. They have remained fruitful as a individuals and as a couple, and almost against their own wills are prepared to trust in the humanly laughable idea of having a child, who will be called “laughter” (Isaac). The miracle is an expression of God’s “beyondness” in their lives.
The same is true of the feeding of the 5000. The reader is warned that what Jesus will do is in some way a replacement for the Passover, the feast of liberation. Jesus trusts that the people will be nourished by what his disciples have been given by a child. The people are drawn to Jesus by their trust that he is their true king or shepherd. The insistence on the importance of grass is a hint that the 23rd Psalam is to be remembered. “The Lord is ny shepherd, I shall not want. he makes me lie down in green pastures….. he has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies…” Through the leadership of Jesus and the trust of the crowd, God’s “beyondness” enters their lives and they are all fed. But they misplace their trust, thinking that Jesus is a Messiah to be installed by violence, instead of recognising God’s rule which cannot be co-opted for political programmes.
Of course in another sense these miracles are quite ordinary: giving birth and feeding people are common enough occurrences. The Bible encourages us to experience the miraculous in ordinary events; to know in our trust and in our doubting where the beyondness of God has been present to us. We can never prove such experiences to others nor should we use them for any worldly advantage: they are tokens of God’s companionship (*companion, from the Latin, literally, “One who shares bread”).