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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It takes a village to pitch a no-no (or feed 5000. or the world) (B17O)

In Mark’s gospel, there are two feedings of multitudes. One takes place in Jewish territory, the other in the Greek territory, the Decapolis, on the other side of the lake. It is this second feeding for which the lectionary substitutes the John 6 story and continues with the rest of John 6 for several weeks. The first feeding takes place between the pericopes we heard a few weeks ago about the healing of the two women (the woman with the hemorrhage and the 12-year-old) and the calming of the sea, and it is skipped by the lectionary compilers, no doubt because of the amount of time being spent on the John’s version. But there are some things we ought to ask ourselves about the Mark feedings, like, why two? What’s different about the (earlier) Mark versions of the story?

My thoughts were about meaning as I was re-reading the gospel these days. Interpreters have grappled with the meaning of this miracle from the beginning. From the beginning is exactly right, as all we need to do is look at Mark’s narrative of the aftermath of the first feeding to see that the meaning of it, like the meaning of most of what Jesus was about, was lost on the ones who witnessed it. (This is no condemnation, by the way, as all of us have pretty much lost the meaning of it even today.) In chapter 6, Mark tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Then the disciples get on the boat and head over to the Decapolis. This is when the storm blows up and Jesus walks to them across the water. Mark then says this:

...(W)hen they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were (completely) astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves.

One could understand “they had not understood...” to refer to the divine power of Jesus in the multiplication, which they should have transferred to his power over the sea. But when I think of this gospel as arising from a community in the crucible of the destruction of Jerusalem and the passing of the torch of discipleship to a generation that had not known Jesus personally, it strikes me that another meaning might be intended. What is the meaning of the incident of the loaves?

This story in John, if not in all the gospels, is certainly meant to recall the feeding of Israel with manna in Exodus. The “bread from heaven,” the bread of life, was the food that kept Israel alive and together during their sojourn in the desert. The bread was a sign of God among them, and that assurance forged them into a people. In both wilderness settings, in the context of both “miracles,” there is the grumbling, the uneasy protests of those unable to summon the faith of gratitude. In both stories there is the possibility of a “natural” miracle: some kind of pollen in the case of manna; some extraordinary preaching-induced sharing by the multitude with Jesus. In both stories there is the extraordinary dialectic between the abundance of God (all have enough, there is enough to store and share), and the equality of the gift (no one has more than they need.)

Six years ago tomorrow (July 23, 2009), during this summertime sojourn into John 6, another Mark, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, pitched a perfect complete game: no hits, no walks, no baserunners for the other team. The “miracle” of the perfect game, as Mark Buehrle knew and repeated in so many words in dozens of appearances in the Chicago media following the game, is not the work of one man, no matter how extraordinarily talented he might be, but the work of a “village,” or a team. No pitcher can win a game if his team doesn’t score a run. Unless he can manage to strike out twenty-seven consecutive batters (a feat that has still never been accomplished at the major league level), he depends on the rest of his team for the ordinary and extraordinary defensive work that they do day after day in winning and losing. Buehrle acknowledged this in action by sending a case of beer to Sox center fielder Dewayne Wise for his game-saving catch at the wall in the 8th inning!

What is the "meaning of the loaves"? I think it has to do with God’s abundance, with a divine strategy of grace that requires a surrender to equality, cooperation, and participation. It means that there is enough if we all stop hoarding, more than enough, enough to have some left over, 12 baskets full, enough until the “twelfth of never,” enough forever. Team Humanity’s perfect game will happen when we are inspired, in-Spirit-ed, so that we surrender to the divine plan of mutuality and interdependence, letting go of our need to hoard for ourselves and our ability to ignore the desperation and need of those around us. The meaning of the loaves is that whether we’re lost in the desert, or hungry in the wilderness, or on a boat in a storm, God is with us, Christ is with us, and we are together. And it will always be enough.

That’s not everything there is to know about the meaning of the loaves, of course, but I think it’s part of it. And, like everything in the gospel, it is easier said than done. But to me, at least, that’s something to hope for, something worth believing in.

Here's what we're singing at St. Anne this week: we're also celebrating the patronal feast, Ss. Anne and Joachim, this weekend.

GATHERING:   A Place at the Table (Lori True)
RESP. PSALM 34 Taste and See (Cooney)
KID PSALM: O Taste and See (Haugen)
PREP RITE:   We Come to Your Feast (Joncas)
FRACTION:   St Aidan (A)
COMMUNION:   I Myself Am the Bread of Life (Cooney) (blog post here)
SENDING FORTH:   All Are Welcome Haugen
Or On Holy Ground (Peña)

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;

but what good are these for so many?”  (Jn. 6:9)