This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
<!– 8 –>
Feeding the Four Thousand
8In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them,2‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.3If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’4His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’5He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’6Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd.7They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed.8They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.9Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.10And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.*
If we force the biblical authors to tell us only historical stories, we fail to reach the meaning of their work. Often they tell stories which are of symbolic importance only. In this case, if we take the story of feeding 4000 people as history, we simply note that for some reason Jesus decided to repeat what he’d done with the 5000, only 1000 failed to turn up. Whereas if we seek for symbolic meaning, we realise immediately that the author is trying to tell us something using numbers. If the 12 baskets left over indicate the Jesus is the true king of the 12 tribes of Israel, whom he feeds with his word, then the seven baskets left over remind us of the traditional 7 nations of Gentiles and the story tells us that Jesus is also their king. The stories leading up to this one have taken Jesus amongst Gentiles, like the woman whose daughter he healed, so Mark has prepared the reader for his quiet announcement of Jesus’ universal kingship.
The idea that all biblical narative is factual and historical is a mere prejudice of the impatient modern reader who has lost touch with the art of bible storytelling, which includes everything from history to theological fantasy, often without any warning to the reader. Doubtless Jesus did host a “messianic meal” in the wilderness with a crowd of followers, but the use made of this by the four gospellers is very varied. John, for example, sees it as pointing back to the manna of Moses’ time as well as to the revelation of Jesus as the bread of life- which is picked up by the author of the hymn “Guide me O Thou great Jehovah” in the refrain, “Bread of heaven, feed me till me want is o’er”. The desire for “facts” is often the enemy of of the message of the Bible. No bible “facts” will prove to a sceptical person that Jesus is the Son of God; rather the Biblical authors are witness to their faith in Jesus as the Son of God; and their stories show us what they meant by that title. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it; the truth of Jesus as God’s Son is in the present enrichment of the lives of believers.
The facts about Jesus are such as can be agreed by most professional historians who have engaged with the biblical material. That’s how we establish facts: by investigation, argument and agreement. The facts certainly include the fact that Jesus was a Jew, who learned from the faith -tradition of his people. The racist thugs who killed Jewish adults and children in France yesterday, dishonour the Christian culture from which they have sprung.