Friday, February 16, 2007

The feeding of the five thousand

Mark's story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes begins by establishing two divergent solutions to a hunger situation. People (five thousand, Mark says) have listened to Jesus all day in a deserted place, it is now late, and they are hungry.

The solution from the disciples is quite reasonable: "Send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat" (6:36).

The alternate solution from Jesus seems quite impossible, "You give them something to eat" (6:37), to which the disciples respond, "Are we to go and buy two hundred dinari worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?"

This difference between Jesus and his disciples is established, yet as the story proceeds Jesus forces them to participate step by step as intermediaries in the entire process.

Jesus has them find what food is available (6:38), make the people sit down in groups (6:39), distribute the food (6:41), and pick up what is left over afterward (6:43).

In other words, they are forced to accept and particpate in Jesus's solution (give them food) and not in their own (send them away).

Note that Jesus does not bring down manna from heaven or turn stones into food. He takes what is already there, the five loaves and two fishes, and, when it passed through Jesus's hands, there is more than enough, much more than enough, for everyone present.

The point of this story is not multiplication, but distribution. The food already there is enough for all when it passes through the hands of Jesus as the incarnation of divine justice.

The disciples--think of them as the already present kingdom community in microcosm, or as the leads of that community--do not see that as their responsibility and are forced to accept it by Jesus. Behind that, of course, is an entire theology of creation in which God owns the world, demands that all get a fair share of its goods, and appoints humans as stewards to establish God's justice on earth.

- excerpted from the book, The Last Week, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

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