Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the [one] with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes — promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit — come alive. The way in which the history of Israel and the history of Christ blend with that of the hungry and oppressed is quite different from the way in which they have often been linked with the history of the mighty and rich.
When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.
The first half of Matthew 14 is a tale of two meals. One is obvious; one is not. Let’s start with the obvious meal, the Feeding of the Multitude.
There are thousands of people in the wilderness. They have come to be where Jesus is. Perhaps we’re like those people, confused about things, wondering if everything will be ok, if we’re stuck in the wilderness, but — we’ve come to be where Jesus is.
Some of us saw the Judean wilderness last year. I wouldn’t like to be out there at night with nothing to eat. It’s not surprising that the disciples came to ask Jesus to send them away so they could find food.
What is surprising is Jesus’ answer: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’
They know what they’ve got. Five loaves, two fish. It’s not enough. They are living out of a sense of not having enough, a sense of insufficiency, a sense of not-enough-ness. Jesus wants to teach them — and us — to live out of a sense of being enough with Jesus.
Jesus made that small amount feed the multitude. People often get hung up on the ‘how’ question: Is this a creation miracle, did Jesus the living Word of God create enough bread and fish for the crowd? Is it a miracle of sharing, that people brought out the food they’d hidden from others in case they wouldn’t have enough? Is it more a parable in story form?
People come down in different places on the How questions, but these questions don’t matter as much as this: Jesus takes what little we have and multiplies it to feed many others, even to feed people we don’t know and will never meet.
Jesus takes our loving acts and uses them to touch others.
Jesus takes our encouragement of others and helps them to be channels of his peace to yet more people.
Jesus takes our gifts of money and brings life to those who are much closer to the forces of death than we may be.
The little we have is huge when it is given to Jesus. Sometimes, we are paralysed because we can’t solve the world’s problems. So we might do nothing, hoping that Jesus will ‘send them away’. But even if we can’t fix every single thing, we can do something. And that’s what Jesus asks of us.
There is another meal in Matthew 14, and it’s at the beginning of the chapter. This meal isn’t obvious. It isn’t even mentioned, but it’s there. It’s hiding behind the story of a party Herod has thrown, and he would have laid on a lavish table for his guests.
This was a meal for the rich, who had no regard for the poor in the Judean wilderness.
This was a meal for the rich and powerful, who thought that they ran things.
This was a meal that ended with the head of God’s prophet, John the Baptist, on a platter.
This was a sumptuous meal that brought death. The people at this meal would have scorned scraps of fish and bread. But no life and no health came through this meal.
Two meals, one in a palace, one in the desert.
Which meal would we rather be at?
Well, we say, we’d rather be at Jesus’ meal. But think about it just a minute. Jesus’ meal is only bread and fish. No lemon. No chips. No butter for the bread, no tomato sauce. Not even a cuppa tea to wash it down. Herod’s meal isn’t described, but surely there would have been wonderful meats and fruits and plenty of fine wine. And lots of interesting conversation with powerful people. (Not to mention the dancing.)
Which meal did you say you’d rather be at? You’d still rather have fish and bread with Jesus? Fair enough. You want to do that because you’re a disciple of Jesus. I get that.
But what you find when you eat with Jesus is this: you take on a responsibility. It’s there in the story, do you see what it is? — Jesus says to the disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’
You feed them. You do it. Share. And if you don’t feel like you’re enough for the task, Jesus says, ‘Remember. I’m here with you. And I. Am. Enough.’
To eat at the meal Jesus prepares is to be content with bread and fish from the Lord’s hand.
To eat at the meal Jesus prepares is to eat with the poor, not the powerful.
To eat at the meal Jesus prepares is to eat life, and to give life to others.
The Feeding of the Multitude is set against Herod’s feast. However, I must confess that there’s a part of me which still likes the idea of being at Herod’s feast. I do like good food and wine! But the Feeding of the Multitude also directly echoes other meals, and it helps me to be reminded of them. Perhaps it may help you too.
The Feeding of the Multitude echoes the feeding of the Israelites in the desert. Moses led them in the wilderness for forty years. They ate manna. Yet Jesus, a greater than Moses, has now come. (Won’t God also feed us in our wilderness times?)
The Feeding of the Multitude echoes the meals Jesus had with tax collectors and sinners. Whoever you were, Jesus would eat with you. He got a reputation as a glutton and a drinker. (Won’t he welcome you and me too? Won’t he still welcome anyone?)
The Feeding of the Multitude reflects the fish breakfast Jesus gave to Peter and the others after the Resurrection, by the shore of Galilee. In fact, the church that marks the traditional site of this breakfast is in Tabgha, just down the road from the traditional site of the Feeding of the 5000. This was when the crucified-risen Lord restored Peter by asking three times, ‘Do you love me?’ (Won’t Jesus still restore me even though I get it wrong so often?)
The Feeding of the Multitude echoes the vision of the Banquet of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem, where the Kingdom of God is pictured as a great feast in which people from every nation and tribe and race and tongue eat together. (Won’t I be part of that great gathering-in of the peoples?)
Finally, the Feeding of the Multitude echoes the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In this holy Meal where all the baptised are welcome, we share together in the life of our risen Lord. We are renewed in the covenant he has made with us, the covenant that says to us: ‘You give them something to eat.’ Here, we are the welcomed and we are the fed.
The Feeding of the Multitude calls us to share what we have with those in need, and shows us that in Christ our giving helps.
It’s what we do through things like Operation Christmas Child and Project: Love and Care.
It’s why we give regularly on Sundays, and why we generously support the second offering for particular mission projects.
It’s why the churches of Australia are united in their desire to see asylum seekers given a fair go, and not to give in to those who say — like the disciples said to Jesus — ‘Send them away.’
Two meals. One in a palace, one in the desert. One gives life, one kills.
Which meal would you rather be at?