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Feeding the Body of Christ

– First Week of Advent –

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat”. [Matthew 15:32]

Today’s scripture is the story of the ‘Feeding of the four thousand’, and follows hot on the heels of the more familiar story of the ‘Feeding of the five thousand’ – not counting the women and children. There is no doubt that the Gospel writers considered the ‘feeding’ stories to be important and significant, because it is the only miracle recorded by all four Evangelists, aside from the Resurrection.  So why does Matthew (and Mark) give us two in fairly quick succession – in chapter 14 and then in chapter 15?  After all, if Jesus has already fed five thousand people (and the rest) what does today’s story add to the Gospel and our understanding of it?

The importance of this story is where it took place – in the region of the Gerasenes, around the Decapolis – Gentile territory!  In contrast, the earlier story took place in Jewish territory, around Bethsaida, close to the Sea of Galilee.  Further hints for us are the numerical clues – numbers are rarely accidental in the Bible.  For Jewish listeners, the number five is reminiscent of the five books of the Law, the Torah, and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected afterwards, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Israel.  In this story, seven loaves and seven baskets of leftovers remind listeners of the seven days of Creation (Genesis 1-2) and completeness, significant for both Jews and Gentiles.  The ministry of Jesus, and therefore the early church, is moving beyond Israel to the world, for God feeds, heals, and provides for all people, both Jew and Gentile.

The common elements in each of these accounts is the great need of the crowd. The almost visceral response of Jesus to the plight of so many, the complete unpreparedness of the disciples and their clueless response to Jesus’ compassion for the wellbeing of the many people who had brought their sick and infirm family members to Him.  Jesus heals their outward infirmities and feeds the inner person with miraculous bread in preparation for the day when all will be fed sacramentally by His very own Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

The disciples are all for sending the crowds away, yet Jesus challenges them to think laterally and to respond with compassion to the needs of the people right in front of their very noses.  He gives us an example of what it means to celebrate Eucharist on Sundays but to live the Eucharist between Sundays, ‘seeing’ the needs of those right in front of us.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to be servant to all, giving of ourselves to the Body of Christ in our midst and the building up of the kin(g)dom of God.

By Carole Danby

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