....cannabis in the air, bottles of wine, picnic hampers, dogs and little children.... Is this how you imagine the scene from the Feeding of the 5000? (Matthew 14: 13-21) Meanwhile, wheels of bread are handed from group to group until one young woman stops and asks the question that has been on everyone's mind- "is this gluten free?" Next the fish arrives on a platter, next to it is a disclosure card mandated by the State of California, Warning. May Contain Mercury
Sometimes it is difficult to leave our post-modern world and step back in time to the pre-modern day of Jesus. Historical context is important for understanding the message, however. You see the 5000 on the lawn were not a random group of people at all. In fact they were 5000 men. Why would this number of men be gathered on the arid hills outside of Jerusalem on the night before the Passover, the event for which Jews from all over Judah had gathered? Could they have been mustered as a fighting force? Could they have looked to Jesus to lead them in an attack on their brutal oppressors, the Roman military machine?
What would it feel like to have a foreign power dominate our daily life? To have armed guards from another country posted at the grocery store? To have sacred sites, like our church sanctuaries, plastered with posters of a foreign "Caesar?" How would it be for our leaders to be mere puppets for a foreign government? To some one extent or another, this is happening today in Gaza, in the Ukraine, in Tibet, in Afghanistan. And just as tensions run high among men who perceive themselves to be under foreign domination, so did the hunger for restoring pride, for taking violent revenge, for mounting an armed revolution, prevail in Jesus' homeland.
So 5000 men come to Jesus hungry for leadership as a fighting force and how does he feed them? Does he whip them up to a frenzy like a militaristic leader? Does he feed their anger and desire for violence? Jesus does not. He is the "Prince of Peace," (Isaiah 9:6) And he has come to feed a deeper hunger. The hunger for peace. The hunger for community. The hunger for right relationship with God. He has the men sit down together. He feeds them out of God's abundance. He demonstrates that God is caring for them, even in their oppression. Eating together, they form community. They relax a little. Perhaps they can live with the Roman occupation after all. They have food, they have each other, best of all, they know that God loves them and continues to sustain them.
Can you visualize Jesus taking charge in some of the war-torn areas of our world? Can you imagine men whose minds are flooded with violence being ordered to sit down and eat together? Can you see them beginning to breathe, to relax, to lose interest in avenging their honor? The world needs Jesus today. How can Jesus feed the hunger for the good things that God provides, rather than the desire to do evil? Teresa of Avila said, "God has no hands, or feet on earth but yours." How can you follow the Prince of Peace to make a difference in the world today?