It’s the miracle which is perhaps the most famous of them all: the feeding of the 5,000. It’s found in all four Gospels. But we don’t always notice that in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, there is another miracle, which is very similar: the miracle of the feeding of the FOUR thousand. And that is our Gospel for today.
There is so much in this story, but as I read it again, slowly, two things in particular spoke to me.
First, I was struck again by Jesus’ wonderful compassion. “My heart is moved with pity,” one translation puts it, “because they are hungry.” We often remember all the spiritual things Jesus says in the Gospels, but we don’t always notice how he is not just interested in our spiritual selves, but our physical needs as well. They’re hungry; help them. Remember how after Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter, he says, “give her something to eat.” When the disciples return from mission, Jesus can see they are exhausted and says, “Come away by yourselves and rest.”
Those of you who are here on retreat: I believe Jesus has called you here to give you the gift of spiritual renewal, but also to offer you a place for rest for your bodies, and some really good food! Jesus loves all of us: body, mind, and spirit. And when one part of ourselves suffers, the other parts suffer, too.
Jesus’ wonderful compassion for us.
The second thing which struck me as I read today’s Gospel is how the feeding of the four thousand differs from the feeding of the five thousand. The first difference is where it takes place. Not in Jewish Galilee, but on the other side of the Sea of Galilee in the region call the Decapolis. Most of the people living there were not Jewish, but Gentiles, “outside the Promise.” To emphasize this, interestingly, there are two different Greek words used for the baskets which were used to collect the bread left over. In the Feeding of the 5,000, the word describes a particular kind of basket with a narrow top which was used by the Jews. In the feeding of the 4,000, the word used describes a different kind of basket, typically used by Gentiles.
So it seems very likely that the crowds Jesus fed in the feeding of the 5,000 were Jewish, and those he fed in the feeding of the 4,000 were Gentiles. How shocking! Surely the long awaited Messiah would come as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel.
But in our Gospel reading today, Jesus feeds 4,000 Gentiles. He has come to satisfy the hunger – both physical and spiritual – not just of the people of the Covenant, but of the whole world. Which is why this Gospel is dynamite. Which is why, 2,000 years later, we are here today. Each one of us very different from the other. The person sitting next to you probably from a very different background, a different city, maybe a different country. But however different, we, like those 4,000 sitting around Jesus, all share one thing: our hunger. Our deep hunger for the Bread of Life.
In your life right now, what do you most hunger for?
What do you most long for?
In a moment, we too will do as Jesus did. We will take a loaf of bread. We will give thanks, break it and give it – freely – that no one should be sent away empty. Whoever you are, Jesus welcomes you to the table, and longs to feed you, to satisfy your hunger, with his very self. So come to him with your hunger, and hear again those gracious words of compassion: “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry. And whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
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