The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.
Many people saw them leaving and recognized them, so they ran ahead from all the cities and arrived before them. When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he began to teach them many things.
Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay and give it to them to eat?”
He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.”
After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”
He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish. About five thousand had eaten.
Right then, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake, toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying good-bye to them, Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray.
“Who can have communion at your church,” the man asked.
“All are welcome,” I replied.
The man was stunned. “But what if they aren’t Reformed?”
Another person asked, “Do you use real wine or juice?”
“We use wine,” I said.
“Even for children,” was her reply.
“Okay. Enough of these trifles. The big question is: Do believe in the real body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist?”
It’s amazing to me how we have taken something that was supposed to unify the people of The Way and made it into something that divides us. As most of you know by now, I think this stems from the Empirical Religious Business that has consumed the simple faith and practice of following Jesus. “The Way” has lost being a daily practice of being Jesus in the world. We now argue and debate things like wine or grape juice. If we disagree we won’t fellowship with each other and, sometimes, we question if “they” are really a follower of Jesus at all.
In the story before us, we see a completely different approach. After a long day of ministry, Jesus and the disciples go off to a “secluded place” to rest and regroup. Apparently this was a place they went to a lot because the crowds saw them leaving, determined where they must be going, and got to the destination before them. And not just those people, but the people from the neighboring communities went, too.
When Jesus and the disciples arrived, Jesus was overwhelmed with “compassion.” The Greek word here indicates a deep stirring of emotion that is felt physically. Jesus was moved. His insides were churning for these people. He couldn’t just leave them while he and the disciples went off by themselves. The people had nowhere else to go. The systems of their world had all but abandoned them (and some of them were abandoned). They weren’t getting the support and care they needed and it moved Jesus to action.
As the day wore on, the disciples wanted to send the people away. I often feel we give the disciples are hard time in this passage. I don’t think they were being unkind. I think they, too, were stuck in the way the systems work. They cared about the people but they were still imprisoned in their old ways.
Jesus wanted them to expand their way of seeing. G_d’s Realm was not about individuals and families. It was about all of them, together, along with their neighbors - and yes, even their enemies - becoming one tribe, one group, one community.
I see in this feeding a sense of the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving, the common meal. The people were not set in their family groups. They were set in groups of fifties and hundreds. This sign is meant to expand our vision and focus. The new family Jesus was creating around himself redrew the social, economic, political, and religious lines. No doubt, there would be people in those groups that were tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, home makers, carpenters. There were probably rich people and the homeless. There were probably those who had recently been healed of a horrible skin disease that kept them out of regular society. there were probably some Samaritans and Romans and Jews. There were probably even some of the Religious Elite there, too (since they always had someone there to see what Jesus was up to).
But Jesus reordered their ways of seeing. The Way of Jesus brings all of those groups together as a unified people. They’re all seen as sisters and brothers. The all shared in this miracle. This sign that points, not to the systems of the world, but the Realm of G_d becoming a reality in their midsts. It was given to show what True Humanity looks like. It’s given as an example of how we should act, live, and be in the world around us.
All are welcome to feed on the Eucharist because all are welcome to Christ. Christ is present in the Eucharist because Christ is present in all Life. He is the Life and Light within all things. We, as followers of The Way, are called to reflect Christ, to be Christ to the world around us.
“Let the one who hears say, ‘Come’” (Revelations 22).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC