Saturday, August 08, 2020

Pentecost 9A

These reflections on Matthew's loaves and fishes the lectionary appointed for Pentecost 9A (last Sunday) is for Sunday 09 August that's technically Pentecost 10A. Next Sunday we'll be back on track with the lectionary.

Matthew 14:13-21

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Justice is important, but food is essential.


The sixth month away from church campus! Our sixth month needing to be the best friends and neighbors possible by maintaining physical distance from non-household members and never going outside our own domain without a face covering! I'm not the only one who's angry and outraged at people who have increased the rate of spread and slowed the recovery process by ignoring government mandates and common sense.

Prayer from Psalm 145

All your works give thanks to you, O Lord; all your people bless you. All creation proclaims your glory and celebrates your power, revealing to the world your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your reign. You are a God faithful in all your words, gracious in all your deeds. You uphold all of us who fail and fall; you raise us up in our weariness. All eyes look to you, our Source; you sustain us with food as harvests happen.

You have met us as Lord of goodness and grace; you always have been slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and compassionate to all your creatures. You are with us even before we seek your presence. Our songs and actions praise you; all creation will bless you forever and ever.


Feeding 5,000+

Justice is important, but food is essential.

Every scriptural instance of water isn't about baptism; every reference to grain or grape isn't about the Lord's Supper, but these gifts of creation always remind us of God's physical provision and God's call to us to steward creation. Today's story of five loaves of bread and two fish is amazing on many counts—among them the fact all four gospels include it. For easy comparison I've pasted the other three at the end of this post.

We sometimes parallel Jesus feeding hungry people in this untamed setting with God feeding wanderers in the Exodus desert. The Old Testament consistently makes abundant food the icon of the completion of redemption of the Messianic Time. As creatures who bear God's image, we recognize food as the primary symbol of human hospitality. Everyone reading this could write or talk paragraphs of food-related experiences of disappointment, surprise, and redemption; I'll write a few, too.

Have you heard of or eaten Ezekiel 4:9 bread? In its scriptural context the bread is both ritual and nutrition, but for now, paraphrased from their website: Sprouting and combining these six grains and legumes creates a complete protein that parallels the protein in milk and eggs. The protein quality is about 85% as efficient as the highest recognized source of protein; this bread contains 18 amino acids.

Gathering 5,000 people was an act of sedition punishable by crucifixion; 5,000 formed a military battalion.

This particular feeding event happened during the grain harvest, close to Passover. Barley was the poor person's grain because the king and other rich people got most of the wheat, but to its advantage, barely is ready for harvest earlier than wheat, and barley grows well in ground that's less good than the high quality earth wheat requires. Barley also was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the Promised Land! Most of Jesus' disciples were fishers by trade; in the surrounding culture, fish was a food of the gods. Plus, we have the initialism ichthys where the letters of the Greek word for fish are the first letters of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

just as too many people worldwide and in our backyards are food insecure, food scarcity was one of many indignities of imperial Roman occupation. Equally indignant is the fact most metropolitan areas in this country have food deserts, with no healthy food available within a reasonably walkable radius.

You may have read interpretations that claim loaves and fishes suddenly multiplied out of nowhere, but God generally doesn't operate that way. In his Girardian lectionary commentary, Pastor Paul Nuechterlein says people would not have ventured into that isolated area without some snacks. He says (1)people probably were hoarding their food because they feared not having enough in the future. Given the rampant food scarcity then and there I'll suggest many of those 5,000 (men as well as women and children, making total count even higher) did not have any food with them, but I do agree people who'd brought some very very definitely wanted to hang on to what they had.

However, I hadn't considered:

(2)Nuechterlein brings up cultural and religious concerns about purity codes related to what you eat and who you eat with—remember how Jesus eating with outcasts and sinners sooooo was not supposed to be done?! Pastor Paul says the real miracle here was people getting over their fears of not enough and opening their table to their neighbors; he calls this the "Miracle of Opening the Human Heart to Abundance." There really was plenty of food to go around, and… twelve baskets of leftovers. The New Interpreters Bible says they were LARGE baskets! We frequently read or hear there's enough food worldwide to feed everyone, but not many behave as if they believed it.

At many points in Jesus' ministry we recognize his "Taking – Thanking – Breaking – Giving" as a eucharistic action that like our own, participates in the redemption of all creation. Food no longer is an imperial commodity to be traded or sold, but a covenantal gift to be received.

Living with Others

The world has seen an unfortunate series of imperial governments (Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Rome, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, USA, more?); beyond those, food production has assumed an imperial force of its own – sometimes called Big Ag – that mostly runs on greed and exploitative market forces. Making a comprehensive list is impossible, but realities of that system include: federal subsidies to farmers not to grow certain crops; costs of depleted farmland; the overall price of extracting petroleum and minerals to build and run farm equipment, along with trucks and trains that haul everything; health and related human costs to field workers… those who make the money externalize the costs to someone else. You can add to that short list. And organic certification doesn't always mean free from accretions of empire.

We are what we eat – we literally embody nutrients we consume, as well as the labor of people who grow, produce, transport, prepare the meal or the drink or the snack. We literally embody actions that contribute to ruining the land and the environment. We literally embody diseases and death Big Ag has caused farmers, farmlands, and farmhands. With costs of packaging, transportation, and distribution not necessarily being lower, organic certification doesn't always negate those costs.

We can move away from imperial forms of production and distribution to covenantal methods that emphasize our kinship and our common wealth.

• Besides shopping at farmers markets and planting gardens, what can we do?

Living for Others

Justice is important, but food is essential.

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?"

• What does grace taste like?

Food at the crossroads of empire and covenant

We often feel the best communion bread is baked locally from scratch: confirmation students in the church kitchen; a long-time member in his own bakery; a young couple as a family project with their kids. That feels fabulous, but can our feasting around the Lord's table transform and redeem breads and vines from Big Ag? We may have purchased it with legal tender or an item we bartered, but what if "the buck stopped" there and as we gather around God's Table as God's people, the only cost for the bread and the fruit of the vine is receiving them? What if we extended that cost-free inclusion beyond the community of faith formally gathered around Word and Sacrament on a Sunday or Feast Day? The sacraments form models for our behaviors outside the designated sanctuary, for acting in Jesus' name as God's hands when the church leaves the building.

Eating together nourishes spirits and relationships.
Eating together heals individual and social bodies.
Food is essential—community is equally so? An old transit station poster reminded travelers, "loneliness can kill people."

• What are some of your best memories and favorite examples of sharing food or something else you already had that someone else needed?

Into a Future

Humans often have a scarcity mentality and tend to stockpile for leaner times. Part of that is logical because of our own experiences and observations. Besides, it would be stupidly irresponsible not to set aside some of everything aside for that "rainy day" that's sure to arrive and stay a short while or a long one. We humans assume scarcity; we probably all have had times of not enough or at least needing to carefully ration what we have, but right now as pandemic stimulus packages for individuals and businesses run out, it has become frightening for many. Small and large restaurants, other businesses that provide goods and services have run out of money and out of time or will do so very soon. Every other day we hear about another long-established retailer filing for bankruptcy! Even setting aside financial considerations and not factoring in unhealthy amounts of social isolation, every one is metaphorically in a lonely, desert-like place of desolation.

The USA is the wealthiest country in history. Numbers shift all the time, but if it were a sovereign nation, California would be… Google just told me the world's fifth largest economy, "ahead of India and behind Germany." In the power of the Holy Spirit of resurrection, we need the miracle of opening our hearts to abundance and solidarity. We also need the miracle of electing and appointing governmental leaders who create life-giving budgets that redistribute "what we already have with us" to those in need in ways that will start to mitigate the seriously skewed current arrangement of assets. Debt on every level downstream of the very top is at the heart of any imperial economy.

Today's assigned gospel reading is about bread and fishes for 5,000 plus hungry people.

God calls us to follow the example of Jesus' first century-followers by sharing what we already have with us, not fearing future scarcity or the unknown of sitting down at the welcome table with strangers.

• In addition to life-giving ministries of prayer, what can we do?
• What do we already have with us that can help our neighbors in need?

Through the presence and work of his followers:

• Who is Jesus?
• Who are we?

Justice is important, but food is essential.

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this pandemic wilderness?

• What does grace taste like?

Mark 6:35-44

35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." 37But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" 38And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Luke 9:12-17

12The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to Jesus and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place." 13But he said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people." 14For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each." 15They did so and made them all sit down. 16And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

John 6:1-14

1After 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 toward 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."

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