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Pentecost 23B
Lord’s Prayer #4: “Bread and… fish?… and the Lord’s Prayer”
Mark 6:32-46 (Matthew 6:9-13)

© The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

In the Gospel of Luke, barely noticed in the middle of a confrontation between Jesus and his critics, Jesus exclaims in frustration,
“John the Baptist came neither eating bread, nor drinking wine, and you dismissed him, saying “He has a demon.” (He’s possessed, way off base). Then I come, eating bread and drinking wine, and you ridicule me, calling me a drunkard and a glutton…!” (Luke 7:23)

You know, it’s true! (Not the glutton, drunkard bit, the eating and drinking part); read all 4 Gospels and it soon becomes apparent that when he wasn’t teaching, or praying, or healing, Jesus was eating and drinking.

Perhaps that seems normal to us, we who are surrounded by 1000s of restaurants, markets, and myriad ways of eating and drinking, for sustenance and pleasure. But we have to remind ourselves that Jesus’ 1st century Galilean homeland, while fertile, was a place of frequent food shortage, exorbitant food taxation that rendered all but the wealthiest subject to a meagre, fragile, subsistence diet. So it has to be, hugely significant that these Gospels, all of them, portray Jesus having meals, not because it’s a normal occurrence, but precisely because it’s not.

These meals, with his disciples by the wayside, picking grain on the Sabbath, feasting at the wedding at Cana, inviting himself to dinner with little oddball Zaccheus, or with the social pariah tax collector Matthew, or having supper with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, feeding multitudes on the hillsides, more than once if John and Mark both have it right, or that last, memorable meal, of broken bread and poured wine the night before his death. These and those post resurrection meals, cooking fish for breakfast by the lake for his grieving disciples, being recognized in the breaking of bread at Emmaus, all of these meals are saying something profound about the ministry of Jesus and the purposes of God.

And they are all remembered, all encapsulated, like a name carved on a grain of sand, in the simple petition of the prayer he taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The interconnections between the prayer petition, and all these meals could happily take hours of study, but Mark’s telling of the miracle-parable feeding of thousands by the shores of the Sea of Galilee will suffice to reveal not only how Jesus’ actions and his prayer are connected, but how we too are connected, by our prayer and actions, to this mealtime ministry of Jesus for the sake of the kingdom of God.i

Look at them, this crowd. They are hungry, but not just for food, or they would have stayed home, cooked at their own ovens at the end of the day. They are soul-hungry, spirit searching, God-seeking, kingdom craving people, people prepared to run along the shoreline to keep up with a boat sailing north up the lake, because that boat contains this rabbi Jesus.

Now it helps to recall that Mark situates this occurrence in a particular historical moment that makes everything that follows take on significant political as well as spiritual significance. The Empire – Rome and its pawn, Herod Antipas – has struck out again at the little people of Judea, and John the Baptist is dead. They are – as Jesus sees – sheep without a shepherd. Leaderless, they are starving for hope and vision, and they follow to day’s end in search of a crumb from Jesus. It is physically hungry, and soul-starved people for whom Jesus, (the one Mark calls Son of God), has compassion. Exhausted disciples of Jesus on the other hand see no solution but to send the starving masses back to their own ovens, or to the local MacDonalds, or to someone else’s soup kitchen. But that’s not Jesus’ solution: Do you see what Jesus does?

It’s not the mighty, unilateral dew fall of manna in the wilderness that Jesus proposes,
– though the echoes of that story resound throughout this one –
What he proposes is breath-taking in its implications for us who pray his prayer.
“You feed them.”
The responsibility to feed the hungry and soul-hungry is never taken away from the disciples!
“You feed them.”
But they don’t want that responsibility. It’s impossible!
Too daunting, to feed the multitude with what little we have.
“Well, how many loaves of bread do you have?”
Again, giving back the responsibility to the disciples, whoever they were and are, to feed the hungry.

“Five, and two fish.”

“Good! sit them down. Set the tables, and chairs, put on the lights, set out the open sign. Just like Moses sat them down in 50s and 100s in the wilderness.”
For 5 loaves and 2 fish?! And a multitude too big to count properly?!!

Only once the disciples have engaged the process, corralled the crowd into an expectant banquet hall in the field does Jesus do anything.
Taking the 5 loaves, and the 2 fish,
he looked up to heaven, and blessed the loaves,
and then broke them, and gave them to the disciples
to serve to the crowd. And all ate and were filled.

Right there, and here, before their eyes and ours,
kingdom breaks in, the kingdom of God on earth.
Remember that kingdom,
where the poor are fed,
body and soul,
where the thirst for justice is slaked
with the service of all for the common good?
The kingdom of mustard seed and widow’s coin,
of outcasts at the banquet,
of the sick made whole,
of the lost found,
that kingdom!

Right in the belly of the kingdom of Antipas, puppet proxy prince
for the Empire of Rome,
Jesus enacts God’s Kingdom,
in a simple meal of 5 loaves and 2 fish, feeding a multitude.

Bread, and Fish from the sea of Galilee, once the staple foods of the region, now taxed to the hilt, most of it carted away to feed the legions, and the rulers of Rome. Jesus takes them back, for God’s sake,
and for the kingdom come on earth.

In the act of taking and blessing,
Jesus reminds all that this bread is from God’s bounty,
God’s provision of abundance woven into
the fabric of the earth.

In the act of breaking and giving,
he reminds all that this bread though gift of God’s bounty
is the work of human hands,
a responsibility given to us
to take and bless and break and give
for the wellbeing of all, not just some, who are hungry.

All of this is captured in that one petition, “God, give us this day, our daily bread.” One tight phrase to remind us what Jesus taught us in all those shared kingdom meals eaten in the face of empire:
all the bread, the fish, the wine, the water, the air, the mineral resources of the earth, the wealth, the food, the shelter, all these staples of the earth are God’s given by God for the good of all. Can you hear him say into our own time and place, “Now, you, feed them.” Because if we don’t, then who, for God’s sake, will?

I invite you all in the week ahead to pray, and think, talk, post to the blog, send me an email,
share with one another the ways we already do, and the ways we can and may respond to Jesus’ call to feed the hungry within and beyond our wood and stone. Amen

1The strategy of using Mark 6 to make this connection forms the bulk of John Dominic Crossan’s chapter on the “Daily Bread” petition in The Greatest Prayer; Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer. (Harper Collins, 2010)

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