SYRIA, CEASEFIRE IN A DESERT
7 Herod the governor heard about all that was going on and was perplexed, because it was said by some that Yochanan had been raised from the dead, 8 by others that Eliyahu had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 Herod said, “I had Yochanan beheaded, so who is this about whom I keep hearing such things?” And he began trying to see him.
10 On their return, the emissaries detailed to Yeshua what they had done. Then, taking them with him, he withdrew by himself to a town called Beit-Tzaidah. 11 But the crowds found out and followed him. Welcoming them, he went on to speak to them about the Kingdom of God and to heal those who needed to be healed.
12 The day began to draw to a close. The Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they can go and get lodging and food in the towns and farms around here, because where we are is a remote place.” 13 But he said to them, “Give them something to eat, yourselves!” They said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish — unless we ourselves are supposed to go and buy food for all these people!” 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) He said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 They did what he told them and had them all sit down. 16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fish and, looking up toward heaven, made a blessing, broke the loaves and began giving them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. 17 Everyone ate as much as he wanted; and they took up what was left over, twelve baskets full of broken pieces.
All four gospels tell the story of the miraculous feeding. For them, writing 40 -60 years after the events, miracles of God’s goodness were to be expected from Jesus, whom they worshipped as son of God. For me, they are a witness to the lavish generosity of Jesus remembered in the first communities of belivers. I do not think that they happened as they are narrated, but miracle stories are a good way of pointing to the presence of God.
In the mind of the original storytellers and of the gospellers, there were other bible stories and texts. For Luke the story of the feeding of the exodus people with manna and quails in the desert was probably the most important, while Isaiah’s prophecy about a lavish banquet given by God ( Isaiah 25:6; 55:1,2) was doubtless in his mind. These passages share the theme of God’s goodness to his needy people.
Also in the minds of the gospellers was their faith in Jesus as the true king, the messiah of his people, who would host a victory banquet for his followers. He is contrasted with Herod, the false ruler who killed John the Baptist. They were also remembering the Eucharist, the supper of the Lord, celebrated in their assemblies, where the narrative of Jesus taking, blessing/ giving thanks, and giving bread to his disciples was repeated every week.
For these reasons, what may have begun as a simple story of a shared meal with a large crowd of followers in a desert place ( a risky political event) has a become in Luke a story about the identity of Jesus as the true messiah who feeds his followers with teaching and healing, before giving them “food from heaven” which is ultimately, as the gospel of John makes explicit, his own life. The true king acknowledges God as King, cares for his people and feeds them, in contrast to Herod who is arrogant, cares only for himself, and consumes his people ‘s wealth.
These meanings are only hinted in the story Luke tells, which is the climax of a series of stories about Jesus’ ministry to people who have been relegated to the margins of society. The miraculous food given to the 5000 stands for all the gifts God has given through Jesus’ ministry. The responsibility of disciples for continuing this ministry is made clear in Jesus’ command, “Give them something to eat yourselves!”. The great crowd is transformed into face to face communities by Jesus, because only in such groups can they share God’s goodness with each other. Doubtless Luke saw these groups as models of the Christian assemblies of his own day.
Drawn by Jesus into a place of no possessions, faithful people rediscover each other and the goodness of God, in a moment of communion. From this act of sharing there will be enough left over to feed all Israel ( 12 baskets for the 12 tribes).
For further discussion of communion I refer my readers to my last few blogs on my other sire, xtremejesus.co