Thursday, February 28, 2008

Feeding the Multitudes

Thursday, February 28, 2008 -- Week of 3 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 955)
Psalms [83] or 42, 43 (morning) 85, 86 (evening)
Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34
1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Mark 6:30-46

The feeding of the multitudes is one of the few elements that appears predominately in all four of our gospel accounts. It is significant that the Eucharist became the characteristic act of worship among the followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection.

The people come to Jesus scattered, hungry and vulnerable, "like sheep without a shepherd." He taught them, filled their minds and imaginations with the possibilities of what life would be like with God at the center, the Kingdom of God. Then he fed them. They were brought together in a holy meal, and were satisfied. Strengthened, enlightened and unified. These are the fruits of feeding, the fruits of the Eucharist of Jesus.

Mark offers us two accounts of the feeding. That is an important detail. This first of the two accounts happens in Jewish territory, the feeding of the 5,000. Five is an important number in Jewish tradition. The sacred Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. There are five loaves that are shared among the crowd. When the feeding is over, there are twelve baskets of leftover food. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel.

Two chapters later, Jesus will repeat this miracle, but this time he will do so in Gentile territory. There will be 4,000 people, seven loaves and seven baskets left over. Four is a symbolic number that traditionally represents the four corners of the earth, the four winds or four directions -- an image of the whole created order. And seven is a number that is sacred to many faiths and cultures, a number that represents totality and perfection, the sum of three (the spiritual order) and four (the created order). Later in the book of Acts we will read that the church would choose seven deacons to go out into the world to serve the Gentiles. In the book of Revelation we will hear John address seven Gentile churches.

What Jesus does is to feed -- nurturing and uniting God's people. And Jesus does the same thing among the Gentiles as he does among his own people, the Jews. His gifts are for all, not just those who belong to his own people or his own religion. Feeding unites the scattered and vulnerable multitudes within the care of a loving shepherd, a leader whose purpose is to serve. He is our example.

In his reflections on Mark, Bill Barnwell writes of the shepherding ministry of Jesus, "He led by serving. He came not to exalt himself but to raise up the people, to encourage the weak, tend the sick, bandage the injured, recover the straggler, search for the lost, and enlist the strong. He came to feed the people, not to feed on them. When the people attempted to make a hero of him, he tried to quiet them and to call attention away from himself. 'Tell them what the Lord has done for you,' he said (5:19, 20). Jesus' task is to lead his followers to God, not to glorify himself." (William Barnwell, Our Story According to Mark, p. 148)

The church at its best follows in the way of Jesus. Maybe that is why feeding ministries are so characteristic of congregational outreach programs. We connect what happens at our table of communion with the needs of the world to be nourished and satisfied. If a church only feeds spiritually and neglects the very real physical needs of its neighbors, it is doing only half the job. And if it cares only for its own, it has failed to follow the example of Jesus, who performed the same generous miracles for Jew and Gentile alike, without demanding of the Gentiles that they join his religion. He just pointed them to God and invited them to give glory to God in whatever way they may.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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