Friday, January 02, 2004

Feeding of the Five Thousand

Reading. John 6:1-14

This is a Bible story which remains with me from my early Sunday School days at Christ Methodist Church. I remember how the role of the child was emphasized in the picture book which was a de facto midrash on the passage. I imagine every child who hears this story imagines herself as the child who shares his food.

Set against the homely picture of the child with his/her picnic is an "otherworldly" image of Christ. In this passage, for example, he comes from the mountain (a place set apart) and returns to the mountain. Jesus seems almost like a Zen master when he asks Philip a seemingly impossible question.

This miraculous feeding (and its parallel stories in the synoptic gospels) brings to mind the gift of manna in the desert during the Exodus. The fact that twelve baskets are left over is significant, as it echoes the twelve tribes of Israel. The psalmist tells us the children of Israel fed on the "bread of angels". The manna was also inexhaustable. This inexhaustable food supply also reminds me of Jesus' promise of "living water" (see Jn 4: 13ff).

So, a lot more is going on here than satisfying physical hunger. The crowd perceives this miraculous feeding as a sign that Jesus is the Prophet (i.e., Elijah), and wished to make him a king like David or Herod. The problem with a temporal leader, is their reign only lasts a season, and only affects the part of the world they rule. Jesus recognized that he was called to people of all times and places. To allow himself to become a leader of this people in first century Israel would have limited his influence, and would have only have a political influence.

Such an end would have only have fed a certain people for a limited time. By continuing on his path as itinerate preacher, Jesus was able to influence people of many times and cultures.

You prepare a banquet
at the seat of my heart;
You present bottomless platters
filled with the the bread of angels.
I give thanks.

In the early morning watches
you silently teach me;
Although the line between night & dawn is yet faint,
you train my ear for your Word.
I give thanks.

You are high on the mountain;
You are sitting across from me.
I give thanks.

You lead the Way;
You walk beside me.
I give thanks.

You place honey on my tongue
that your Word ever be sweet;
You fill my lungs with your Spirit
that I may sing.

And I sing.
I sing thanksgiving.
Let it be ever so.

How may I best feed my spirit this day? Where shall I find the bread of angels, to satisfy my heart?
What you are, that you are; neither by words can you be made greater than what you are in the sight of God.

If you consider what you are within, you will not care what men say of you.  Man looks at the contenance, but God on the heart (I Sam, 16:7).  Man considers the deeds, but God weighs the intentions.
Thomas a'Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book II, Chapter 6.

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