Monday, April 04, 2011

The Feeding of the Multitudes

Monday, April 4, 2011 -- Week of 4 Lent, Year One
Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader and Martyr, 1968
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 954)
Psalms 89:1-18 (morning)        89:19-52 (evening)
Jeremiah 16:10-21
Romans 7:1-12
John 6:1-15

From the time that the New Testament canon was established to include the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, many have remarked that the feeding of the multitudes is the only one of Jesus' miracles (except the resurrection) that is attested in all four gospels.  It is obvious that feeding was central to Jesus' ministry and made a huge impact in the memory of his followers.  A ritual of feeding quickly became the characteristic act of Christians soon following his resurrection.  The holy meal of the Eucharist recalls and brings forward Jesus' practice of feeding and eating with others in an inclusive and nurturing spirit.

One of the details that has caught my imagination in John's version of the feeding of the multitudes is the key role that is played by a boy.  As the disciples anxiously discuss their dilemma, Andrew brings forward a boy.  Philip has done some adult accounting of the problem.  It would take two hundred denarii to buy just a little bread for a crowd this large.  A denarius was the usual day's wage for a laborer.  They need a volume of bread that would cost the equivalent of a laborer's total wages for six months. 

What does it take for Andrew to bring a child into this adult conversation?  The Mediterranian culture was hierarchical and patristic.  Elders and men had standing to deal with problems; children and women did not. 

What does it take for Andrew to suggest that a boy's offering of five barley loaves and two fish is to be considered part of the discussion?  Barley loaves are the food of the poor.  The fish were probably small, sardine-like fish.  It is poor and common fare. 

I once wrote a short story about this little boy.  I imagined him to be a peasant boy with a bad attitude.  Some of the barley loaves he had stolen that morning from a vendor.  But he hears the teaching of the itinerant Rabbi Jesus, and he imagines a better possibility.  He hears words of compassion, generosity, love and hope; he hears words of forgiveness, acceptance and an inclusive fellowship where everyone cares for their neighbor.  The words touch him, and he brings the food, including the stolen loaves, as a spontaneous offering of generosity.  In my imagination, a similar spirit inspires others.  When the first gift is blessed and begins to be distributed, other food appears in a similar spirit of kindness and generosity.  In my short story, the miracle is the changed hearts of the crowd that produces such generosity among them that there is abundance. 

One way of thinking about the stories of the miraculous feeding is to focus less on the food and more on the distribution.  What if the problem was not so much that there wasn't enough food, but rather its distribution from those who had excess to those who had none?  That is an image of our planet and our nation right now.  Some have seen the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes to be calling from Christ for us to share in his ministry of feeding, to insure distribution of daily bread to all people. 

And Mark makes explicit the "allness" of the miracle.  In addition to the story of the feeding of the multitude in a Jewish setting, Mark tells of Jesus' feeding of a similar multitude in a Gentile region.  Jesus offers the same generous compassion to all, insiders and outsiders, those who belong and those who don't, those of the same religion and those of a different faith and culture.

There was something about Jesus that multiplied food and made tables of hospitality.  That core characteristic of Jesus has been central to the church's stories and to our identity from the beginning.  Maybe that is why so many churches have ministries of feeding.  Right now we are planning to expand our own Community Meals hot lunch program that welcomes anyone to a fine, home-cooked meal in our church twice a week.  We are raising money to fund the daily food costs for a similar lunch ministry in Dharamsala, India, the home-in-exile for the people of Tibet.  These offerings are our "five barley loaves and two fish" for the feeding of the multitudes.

On Sunday we repeat the miracle.  We take bread and wine, we give thanks, and we distribute to all.  All are fed.  All are blessed.  It is a miracle of communion every time, conveying in the sacrament the essential message of compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, belonging, love and reconciliation that was at the heart of the message Jesus taught when he fed the multitudes.  Take, bless, break and give.  There is abundance.



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

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

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

See 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


At 8:37 AM, Blogger peacenik said...

St. Paul's is a Beacon of Peace and Hope within the Episcopal Diocese. Congratulations on your feeding ministry. Your connection of the feeding, Lowell,with today's abundance and today's great needs was a good way for us to start the work week.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One way of thinking about the stories of the miraculous feeding is to focus less on the food and more on the distribution."
Yeah, too bad Obama (and all enviromental whackos)are making it impossible to distribute what food we have. So much of our food is not going to make gas which was supposed to save the world. What a crock.

At 7:21 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Lent Twenty Three

All who follow sit
In his Presence we are fed
Mountain communion


At 8:13 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the kind words about our feeding ministries, peacenik. The people who serve in those ministries find that they are fed so profoundly themselves.

It seems that more and more people recognize the associated problem of rising food costs when we divert corn to ethanol for fuel. I'm glad to see that environmentalists and many politicians are backing away from promoting that policy, a policy largely pushed by the multinationals like Archer, Daniels and Midland who pump so much money into elections.

On the other hand, there is encouraging work in developing alternative fuels from non-food products and even from waste. Local researchers have made some contributions in converting algae to fuel.

You might look at the work of the Millennium Promise Alliance which is just one of many non-profits working to improve production and distribution of food. There are many contemporary incarnations of Jesus' work of feeding the multitudes. They deserve our support.


At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the "scientists" were wrong about this lame brain idea. I wonder which other ones they are wrong about too.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home