In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 0And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
In Jesus’ own day, three cultures converged. One was the culture of the Roman Empire, with incredible economic and military power, and with a pantheon of gods… which were increasingly bankrupt. It was almost like the experience of the Wizard of Oz. Behind the roar, beyond the promises of spiritual power of the Roman gods, there was a diminishing return, one of the reasons Jesus’ (and his disciples’) own deeds of power had such authority and drew so much attention. That was Rome. Another culture that converged was Greece, which also traded in goods and might; however Greece also had cultural, intellectual and spiritual prowess. Spiritual knowledge, gnosis, was quite literally of the highest value, residing on a higher plane than temporal knowledge – knowledge about the here-and-now. Much to be sought was esoteric spiritual knowledge, which was granted to only some people: a higher knowledge for superior people. That was Greece. And then there were the Jews, Jesus’ own people. For the Jewish people there was no separation between what is here on earth and what is there in heaven. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God called it all “good.” And God was to be known, loved, served, worshipped not by escaping this earth, nor by being seduced by earthly power, but in the normal comings and goings of life.
Jesus reveals his own Jewish formation as he teaches and as he serves. And I’ll say something rather radical. Jesus doesn’t show much interest in people’s spiritual lives. I might even say, Jesus doesn’t show any interest in people’s spiritual lives. (The adjective ‘spiritual’ isn’t necessary for Jesus to use.) Jesus interest in people’s lives. Their whole lives: body, mind, and spirit. It’s all one. It’s all meant to be one. And so, as we hear in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching a crowd of people. And the crowd is hungry. Clearly the crowed is “spiritually” hungry, but we hear in today’s gospel lesson that they are also “physically” hungry. (We all probably understand this. We come here this morning gathered around the altar, the Lord’s table, to be fed by Jesus’ body and blood. But I imagine that most all of us are also hoping for a meal that will follow.)
Jesus does not live in a spiritual cocoon. He does not just speak of “things above” while ignoring the “things below,” that is, people’s hunger for food, people’s need for healing, people’s deserving of justice. He continues in the tradition of the prophets who preceded him, who decried, “how can these people say they are followers of God, lovers of God, faithful to God and meanwhile ignore the needs of poor who surround them.” And Jesus sets a stage for his followers to follow. But he goes even a step further than the prophets. We’re called not just to serve the poor and needy, we are invited to actually see Jesus in the poor and needy. We hear Jesus say:
“…Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” i
Jesus lives into his own Jewish heritage – not dividing earth from heaven by saying and showing that it meant it all to be one. And we’re called to participate in that, in both prayerful and practical ways. Otherwise, to paraphrase the Epistle of James, our “faith without works is dead.”ii
Momentarily we will join in praying the Lord’s Prayer, where we pray, “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We all play a role in that, a prayerful and practical role in the coming of that kingdom. What are we being called to do, both collectively and individually? We who claim the name of Jesus as our Lord, how are we being called to serve Jesus among the least and last and lost of our world?
ii James 2:26
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