Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jesus Feeds Five Thousand


There are some days remaining in the Christmas-Epiphany season,and while we're reminded that the name, Bethlehem, means House of Bread, the Gospel account of the Feeding of Five Thousand comes to mind. Here's some thoughts about this scene which is so important it appears in all four gospels, even more than once at times. 
As the day wore on, his disciples approached him and said,  "This is a lonely place and it is getting very late; send the people off to the farms and villages round about, to buy themselves something to eat." Give them something to eat yourselves;" he answered. They replied, "Are we to go and spend twenty pounds on bread to give them a meal?" "How many loaves have you?" he asked; "go and see." They found out and told him, "Five, and two fishes also." He ordered them to make the people sit down in groups on the green grass, and they sat down in rows, a hundred rows of fifty each. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. He also divided the two fishes among them. They all ate to their hearts content; and twelve great basketsful of scraps were picked up with what was left of the fish. Those who ate the loaves numbered five thousand men. Mark 6:35-44

The disciples reminded Jesus, "it's getting late." The painting above is sensitive to these few words - see, the sky is darkening. But perhaps the little sentence is not about wristwatch time as much as a reminder that I don't have forever. It's getting late in my life, and I don't have forever to start being generous. It's getting late in my life and I don't have forever to get a prayer life. It's getting late in my life and I don't have forever to forgive an old offense or to start treating my family better. Indeed, it's getting late; I don't have forever to .... 

Do the disciples sound indignant when they ask, "Are we to spend...on bread?" As if to say, "Jesus, do we have to assume responsibility for all of these people?" Jesus doesn't even respond, rather he seems to ignore what they've asked and takes the situation in hand himself. Maybe Jesus wouldn't agree that we're as other-referred or generous as we think or imagine ourselves to be: as a family, as a parish, as a nation.

"Five and two fish...on the green grass...a hundred rows of fifty each, twelve baskets, five thousand men." This is the language of amazement, isn't it? Someone was so amazed as to remember even the details of what Jesus had done. Do I love Jesus like this: even in the details?

Notice too that Jesus involves the disciples all the way: getting the people to sit down, turning the disciples into servers and to gather up the leftovers. I knew a young man who was looking for a church to connect with. He shopped around and finally decided on the church that welcomed him at the door and then immediately gave him something to do - hand out the worship brochures as folks arrived. Jesus gave the disciples something to do!

"They all ate to their hearts' content..." Reflecting on the dramatic increase in the number of people around the world who claim to be atheists and agnostics, Pope Francis said, "We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have failed to satisfy the thirst people have for God and so they go elsewhere." The people ate to their heart's content. I often feel that our Church has become a cauldron of polemic - arguing and debating over who's in/who's out, policies, doctrinal purity, censures, disciplines and laws. But that's not what satisfies the hungry heart. 

"Five thousand men." Mark uses a masculine word here. Likely these men went out into the lonely place because they thought an army was going to form around Jesus to overthrow the Romans. Wrong. If Jesus is going to overthrow anything it's more likely to be what's inside that's keeping me from being more kind or compassionate. This Jubilee Year of Mercy? If all we're doing is going through holy doors and collecting indulgences and we come out the other side not more kind and compassionate...that sounds like something of a flop.

15 comments:

  1. Wow! You went into more detail with that polemic stuff. Point taken, I left church once before for another. It's now what makes me stay. But I do get why people go elsewhere. There is much more to what you wrote here but for another time.

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  2. The Church is very often a dysfunctional family. And I ask, "Where would I go?" I stay because of the Mass and I believe the "take" on the Gospel is most spiritually freeing. Pity us when we don't venture there.

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  3. It is hard to imagine that I never heard this message before. Jesushi fed their hearts and their minds to their fullness. It wasn't about the bread and the fish so much as feeding them with His love. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but this makes the whole story so much more to me.

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    1. Or maybe you were never told. But you've heard it now in a deep place and that's all that matters. You see, I don't disbelieve the historicity of the Gospels, but I believe much more than that. The Gospel is a spiritual way and often the Church, lost in the polemic I've referenced above, doesn't get around to opening that up for people.

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  4. It is sad to see so many people turn away from the Church and renounce all their beliefs. How can we do out part to change this? Sometimes I feel as though I want to leave also. I can't even explain why I stay true to Church teachings.

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    1. You ask, "How can we do our part to change this?" When I was just ordained a priest friend said to me, "Do everything you can to get Christ into your life; there is everything to take him away." For YOUR part - keep Christ at the center. Jesus of the Gospels!

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  5. Father, with all due respect, doctrinal purity is indeed what feeds the hungry heart. If we don't know what we believe, or if we're at liberty to "fiddle" with it to better suit our sensibilities, well, then we wind up worshiping ourselves...in all our confusion...not God. Love (and mercy) without truth is the greatest injustice. They are not two separate things. The reason why people are leaving, and have been for the last fifty years, is a lack of truth and the resultant confusion. There is no mercy in that.

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  6. No disrespect taken. I wouldn't agree that doctrinal purity feeds the hungry heart. The living Jesus feeds the hungry heart. Not to say doctrine doesn't matter, of course it does. But lots of folks who have their doctrine very well ordered and articulated, who live in the catechism, are simply not converted people. They can be hateful, small, hard-hearted, unkind, unjust. They can be fine-tuned in doctrine, argue it all even brilliantly, and still have no lived or living experience of God. To be perfectly honest, the most hateful person I've had in my circle of acquaintances was a doctrinal purist. This person saw an opportunity for bitterness around every corner. Doctrine didn't serve this person well. So the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist - the teachings matter - but don't bother if you're fundamentally left unchanged. Sorry to say, sad to say, I'm a priest 36 years now - I've seen and heard a lot, and I'm not talking about sitting in the confessional.

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    1. Please don't misunderstand me. I agree that there shouldn't be a disconnect between the two. That was my point. One without the other is a recipe for disaster, as we've seen these last decades. Now I'm afraid we're in danger of overcompensating as one does on an icy road.

      I just discovered your blog last month and you've given me much to think about. I especially appreciate your prayers and intercessions which I refer to often. Thank you and a Blessed Christmastide!

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  7. You always give us something to think about and learn from. You exemplify what a priest should do when addressing his congregation. Our souls should be fed these gospel interpretations so that we can consider the deeper meanings. Challenging, thoughtful and educational. A good teacher Fr. Stephen.

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  8. I can't pin point the theologian who said this, but here it is, and I really get it: The Church has lost its Christic center. So many things have taken the place of Jesus at the center. When we re-discover the Christic center everything will be different and the real renewal of the Church will begin. This is the task that's before priests today - taking care of our own psychological (soul) evolution/health, an immersion in the Gospels and a deepening of our powers of observation and holy questioning. Thanks for finding the posts. I send a blessing in the New Year!

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  9. This is a beautiful space with the discussions. Keep opening the gospels of Christ. Change is slow as is conversion, we need one another to keep chipping at it, thank you!

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  10. I look at the spiritual life in garden terms - apples and tomatoes grow and ripen slowly, over time, by gentle exposure to the sun. I grew cantaloupes once and I made a little straw nest for each melon so they were off the damp ground and every day I turned them a little bit so they caught the sun evenly - turning, turning. Spiritual living is like that - not slavish living - not even hard labor - just turning, turning. Years ago an old priest told me of his offering Mass in a convent and as he was leaving the sacristy afterwards and going down the hallway he met a nun scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees. He said to her, "Sister, you work too hard." She looked up at him from under her headgear and said to him, "Heaven isn't cheap, you know." I don't agree with that. Jesus has done the essential work. It's for me to ponder Him and heaven's light and energies (call it grace perhaps). The posts here attempt to do that.

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  11. Jesus is around us at all times surrounding us in his love. But in order to welcome him more completely into our lives, we must first welcome him into our minds without distracted, cluttered thoughts. Then we can see the good and the beautiful in others.

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  12. May your life preach more loudly than your lips - William Ellery Channing. Take some time to think about your inconsistencies, screen your behaviors, and be willing to settle for existence where the words you preach can uphold the life you’re living. And pray to Jesus that you can do this.

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