Do not send them away hungry

November 13, 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Matthew 15:32-39.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. The picked up the fragments left over — seven baskets full. Those who ate were four thousand men, not counting women and children. And when he had dismissed the crowds, he got into the boat and came to the district of Magadan.

The New American Bible notes that this is probably the same story told in the previous chapter of Matthew but modified to indicate that is was the feeding of the Gentiles. However, the numbers are different and here Jesus takes the initiative, not his disciples. It is identical, though, to Mark’s rendition.

Barclay notes that the story of feeding five thousand in Matthew chapter 14 happened in the springtime because that’s the only time of year that the grass would have been green and, therefore, comfortable to sit on. In this story the crowd sat on the ground, the term used for bare earth because the grass would have been scorched by the summer sun. Also, this occurred in the Decapolis, an area of ten Greek cities where the Gentiles outnumbered the Jews and probably did so in this crowd as well. As noted in yesterday’s reflection, the crowd gloried the God of Israel after Jesus’ healing of so many. That sounds like a Gentile acknowledgement of a God not their own rather than a Jewish acclamation of God, the one who had chosen them to be His people. Another clue that catches Barclay’s attention are the different words used for basket in each of Matthew’s stories. In the one in chapter 14 it is a term that describes a narrow-throated basket in which the Jews carried food with them to avoid having to eat food that may have been touched by Gentiles and, so, made unclean. The word used in this scene describes a hamper-like basket big enough to carry a man that would have been used by the Gentiles. This story and yesterday’s immediately follow the story of the Canaanite woman, a Gentile, whom Jesus told that he was sent only to gather the lost sheep of Israel but whose daughter he cured because of this woman’s faith.

So, it seems that Matthew gives us two different reports. In the first Jesus is feeding the Jews and in the second the Gentiles. His ministry was expanded to all people because the Jews failed to hear and understand as he put it.

It appears to me that the Gentiles were more docile than the Jews. At the end of this story Jesus sent them home and apparently they complied. In other stories the crowds persist in following Jesus even around the Sea of Galilee to intercept him. The Jews consistently were looking for signs, for proof, the Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one. Whereas, the Gentiles seemed content to accept what Jesus offered at face value. They weren’t steeped in knowledge of the Jewish prophets and Jewish traditions or rituals. They weren’t burdened with the Jews’ expectations. They were religious and ethnic outsiders who were unencumbered of all this and could accept what they saw and heard and experienced of Jesus. They were more like the little children that Jesus repeatedly told the Jews to be like.

I think that’s what Matthew is trying to get across here even though I understand that he was writing for his predominantly Gentile Christian audience. I think he wants me to try to see and listen to Jesus with fresh eyes and ears. And to be compliant, not questioning and challenging and skeptical. He wants me to put myself at the feet of Jesus as in yesterday’s story and to obey as in today’s, to acknowledge that he has taken care of my needs by feeding me, strengthening me, before he sends me on my way.

Acceptance or taking him as he is and compliance or obedience to his commands. That seems to be the message he has for me these days. It’s up to me to hear and understand.



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