The Pharisees showed up and began to argue with Jesus. To test him, they asked for a sign from heaven. With an impatient sigh, Jesus said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I assure you that no sign will be given to it.” Leaving them, he got back in the boat and crossed to the other side of the lake.
Jesus’ disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, so they had only one loaf with them in the boat. He gave them strict orders: “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees as well as the yeast of Herod.”
The disciples discussed this among themselves, “He said this because we have no bread.”
Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? When I broke five loaves of bread for those five thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”
They answered, “Twelve.”
“And when I broke seven loaves of bread for those four thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”
They answered, “Seven.”
Jesus said to them, “And you still don’t understand?”
Recently, I had a short back-and-forth discussion over a quote. The quote was about not taking care of the poor using tax money all the while thinking our nation was built on “Christian principles.” My friend stated that this was too simplistic and that there’s a big difference between charity and forced “help” by taxing citizens. While I agree in principle with that position, I disagree with it being a charity. To me, taking care of the poor is a responsibility and a justice matter. Since, by and large, the Church has stopped taking care of the poor, the nation must step in and do the heavy lifting. And that’s what happened.
During the Great Depression, the Church was struck deeply (perhaps even more so) than most people realize. When almost ones entire budget is based on the generosity of others, and your support doesn’t have enough money to take care of their own basic needs, they stop giving money to others. So a lot of the poor found themselves without a place to eat where once they could. And those who normally helped out the poor found themselves in the same boat as their brothers and sisters.
When the economy started it’s long climb out of the pit, the Church never quite recovered to the same degree. In short, people didn’t give as much as they once did. The nation couldn’t stand back and let it’s own citizen starve. So programs were established to fill the void left by the Church.
Granted, this is a very broad brushed assessment of what happened, but it begs the question: Why was the Church concerned with the poor? This passage points to a way of seeing the answer.
As we’ve been noting, Jesus believed, lived, and taught, that the long awaited promise of G_d’s Realm was somehow, mystically, coming in and through his own life. He was not only the Messiah, G_d’s anointed, but was also embodying and doing things that only YHWH, the G_d of Israel, was supposed to be and do. However, it wasn’t looking like what people were expecting. When John was in prison, he sent some people to Jesus to ask if he really was the one they were waiting for. After healing many people, Jesus told them, “Go, report to John what you have seen and heard. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled now walk. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. And good news is preached to the poor. Happy is anyone who doesn’t stumble along the way because of me.” In other words, this is what is looks like when G_d rules “on earth as in heaven.” But there must be a re-thinking of what that means; of what that looks like. Some people won’t receive it. It will cause them to “stumble along the way.”
The story in our Gospel lesson today has the same meaning. G_d was working through Jesus. Taking care of those who are without is part of what G_d’s Realm looks like. The fact that the people “ate until they were full,” points to G_d not only giving them life, but “life to the fullest” (John 10.10). And not just for those present, but the remaining food is for the other people who come later. In other words, G_d’s Realm is not limited just to those present, but is intended to reconcile everyone.
The people who follow Jesus are to be Jesus in the world. They, too, are supposed to take up the same vocation - bringing G_d’s justice and peace to the world.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC