Wednesday 26 October 2016

Bible Book:

“Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” (v. 32)

Matthew 15:32-39 Wednesday 26 October 2016

Psalm: Psalm 37:1-11


Attentive readers will have noticed that this is not the feedingof the 5,000! Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark have twoversions of this story, and the Gospels of Luke and John each havejust the more familiar 5,000 version, with some interestingvariations in the details. What is particularly distinctive aboutit is that it is the only miracle story to appear in all fourGospels, which suggests that it must have been very significant forthe first generations of Christians. While some readers may try tofind natural explanations (eg it was a spontaneous'bring-and-share' supper) or supernatural ones (eg this was adivine miracle, with overtones of Holy Communion), that is,perhaps, to miss the real point of the story. As we noted yesterday, one of the things that the Messiahwould bring was abundant food for the hungry - those who 'hungerand thirst' will be satisfied.

Matthew and Mark have two versions of the story for a reason,and both contain details that their first Jewish readers would haveunderstood very well. Matthew sets this account of the 4,000 on amountain, which is where the Messiah might be expected to feed thenations (Isaiah 25:1-10), whereas the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-20) are fed on the grass by thelake (reminiscent of Psalm23). And these numbers are probably very significant: 5,000,and 12 baskets left over, point towards Israel, whereas 4,000 and 7baskets left over may well symbolise the gentile (non-Jewish)nations. (There are other details too which are interesting - inthe 5,000 Jesus blesses the bread in a typical Jewish way; in the4,000 he gives thanks (verse 36), and the Greek word is the same asfor 'Eucharist'). So Israel is fed first, and the gentile nationsare fed second, which is just what Matthew's Jewish Christianreaders would have expected.

Of course, we can make this story mean whatever we want it tomean, but maybe it's worth knowing what Matthew might have meant aswell!

To Ponder

  • How helpful is it to understand some of the background to afamiliar story such as this? Can its familiarity get in the way ofreading it carefully?
  • As a modern reader, who do you identify with in the story?Why?
  • What is the significance of this story for you? Why?

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