Friday, August 04, 2023

Pentecost 10A

"This is a deserted place,
and the hour is now late."
Matthew 14:15
Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now 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. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

15 When 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." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."

19 Then 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.

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

Feeding Five Thousand+++

Every scriptural instance of water isn't about baptism; every reference to grain or grape isn't about the Lord's Supper, but gifts of creation always remind us of God's provision and God's call 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.

Mark 6:35-44

Luke 9:12-17

John 6:1-14

All of them end with 12 (twelve) baskets of leftovers!

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

We sometimes parallel Jesus and his disciples (verse 16, "you give them something to eat") feeding hungry people in this desolate, late in the day landscape with God feeding the Exodus desert wanderers.

The Old Testament makes abundant food the icon of the fullness of the Messianic time. As creatures who bear God's image, we recognize food as the primary symbol of hospitality as it responds to our needs for physical sustenance and social connection. Whatever person or group is the apparent end giver, food is a gift from heaven.

What Is More

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

This loaves and fishes event happened during the grain harvest, close to Passover. John's account says the loaves were barley, which likely was the case. Barley was the poor person's grain because the wealthy got most of the costlier wheat, but to its advantage, barley is ready for harvest earlier than wheat, and barley grows well in ground that's not as nutrient-rich as wheat requires. Barley also was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the Promised Land! Most of Jesus' disciples were fishers by trade; in that part of the world, fish was a food of the gods. In the initialism ichthys, letters of the Greek word for "fish" become the first letters of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

Similar to food insecurity worldwide and in our backyards, food scarcity was an indignity 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.

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

Current scholarship questions that loaves and fishes multiplied out of nowhere. We can assume those who had food with them would have wanted to hang on tightly to it and not share. Five loaves and two fish was all the disciples could see offhand through that large crowd. Many of the 5,000+ had no food, "So Jesus, send them away to buy food elsewhere" (that might or might not have been an option).

"At the very end of that day," there really was enough food to go around, and… twelve baskets of leftovers. We frequently hear there's enough food worldwide to feed everyone, but very few behave as if they believed it.

• How about you? How about me? Do we act in ways that show trust in "enough?"

• What does grace taste like?

Living with Others

The world has seen an unending series of imperial governments. Food production has assumed an imperial force of its own. Exactly like national and colonizing political regimes, Big Ag runs on greed and exploitation. Individuals and corporations who keep the profits externalize costs. Debt on every level downstream of the very top is the foundation of any imperial economy.

We are what we eat and literally embody everything we consume. We embody labor of people who grow, produce, transport, process, prepare, and serve our food. We embody actions that contribute to ruining the land and the environment. We embody the disease and death Big Ag has caused farmers, farmlands, and farmhands. With packaging, transportation, and distribution prices not necessarily lower, organic certification doesn't negate those costs.

• We can move away from imperial forms of production and distribution to covenantal methods sourced from our kinship and our common wealth. Or can we?

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

• Besides shopping at farmers markets, eating low on the food chain, and planting gardens, what can we do?

Living for Others

Matthew 14:19 Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

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. In Holy Communion, food no longer is an imperial commodity to be traded or sold, but a gift to be received. Formally and theologically, the sacrament is in the remembering, the blessing, the giving, and the receiving—in the relational interconnectedness. Apart from those "together" words and actions, bread is simply bread. Fruit of the vine? Simple wine. Reflecting this, the Methodist Book of Discipline tells us the concept of transubstantiation "overthroweth the nature of a sacrament."

We often feel the best communion bread is baked locally by confirmation students in the church kitchen, a member in their own bakery, as a intergenerational family project, but can our feasting around the Lord's table transform and redeem breads and vines from Big Ag? Maybe we purchased or bartered for ingredients or an already baked loaf, but what if "the buck stopped" there and as we gathered around God's Table, receiving them became the only required payment for the bread and the fruit of the vine? What if we extended that cost-free inclusion beyond the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament on a Sunday or feast day?

• How can we spread a table in the wilderness and provide nutritious food at the crossroads of empire and covenant? Or can we?

The sacraments form models for our interactions after "the church leaves the building." The Old Testament makes abundant food the touchstone of full redemption. Our Christian eucharistic feast is a foretaste of the New Creation … when the world won't need sacraments.

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

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

• In addition to life-giving ministries of prayer, community gardens, and food pantries, what can we do?
• What do we already have with us that we can share to help the worlds outside our doors?
• Do our votes for political leaders and ballot propositions really get counted? Do they actually help lead to change?

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

Everyone reading this could write or talk paragraphs of food-related experiences of disappointment, surprise, and redemption.

• What does exclusion feel like?
• What does grace taste like?
Ban mi sandwich with fish and crusty baguette
Original Banh mi picture by Alan Levine

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