bible blog 1195

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Save the Children,Philippines: the need so great the resources so smallPHILIPPINES_HEADER

Matthew 15:29-39

New English Translation (NET)

Healing Many Others

29 When he left there, Jesus went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up a mountain, where he sat down. 30 Then large crowds came to him bringing with them the lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them. 31 As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing, and they praised the God of Israel.

The Feeding of the Four Thousand

32 Then Jesus called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where can we get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy so great a crowd?” 34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven—and a few small fish.” 35 After instructing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and after giving thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples, who then gave them to the crowds. 37 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 38 Not counting children and women, there were four thousand men who ate. 39 After sending away the crowd, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

4th century loaves and fishes

4th century loaves and fishes

Following his main source, the Gospel of Mark, Matthew gives the reader two versions of this story, respectively involving 5000 and here, 4000 people. This seems odd to the modern reader, but it’s perfectly sensible: if one version of a story doesn’t give the whole truth, why not tell it twice? We’re not to imagine it happening twice but rather as the one event recorded in two overlapping but not identical movies.

The basic thrust of both narratives is that Jesus is the true Moses who feeds his people with his healing goodness. The bread is a symbol of Jesus the healer. But the numbers are different: 5000 people and 12 baskets of leftovers; 4000 people and 7 baskets. I confess I don’t really know the meaning of the numbers that were fed, except they probably mean “the whole people”, but I think that the 12 baskets mean that Jesus can feed the 12 tribes of Israel; and the 7 baskets that he can feed the traditional 7 nations of the gentiles. The crucial detail is that in both cases the attraction is the compassion of Jesus.

Both Jews and Gentiles are called to receive as food the compassion of Jesus, which he shares in this world through faith, and at the Messiah’s banquet in the world to come. Scholars suggest a reference to the Christian Eucharist and that must be true, but perhaps another reference is Jesus’ habit of eating with outcasts and sinners. The nature of the miracle is carefully delineated. There are no worldly resources to feed the crowd; in his compassion , Jesus will not send them away; the disciples have inadequate resources; “taken, blessed and broken” by Jesus, that is, united with Him,  these are nevertheless more than enough for the 4000 and will be enough for all the Gentiles.  

food distribution in Philippines

food distribution in Philippines

The motif of the Messiah’s banquet, which originally was seen as a kind of victory party for his conquest of evil, becomes in Matthew the daily bread of compassion, distributed by his disciples, that sustains men and women in this world and in the world to come draws the scattered children of God round the one table. The bread, the compassion, the disciples and the table are, always and forever, the one Jesus.

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