Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 26, 2015
2 Kings 4:42-44
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
While Elisha rarely appears in the lectionary, he is a great prophet whose miracles outnumber even his mentor, Elijah. For those who did not live near the Temple in Jerusalem nor a synagogue, taking their various offerings to the local “man of God” was also considered proper. Earlier verses of this chapter indicate the Elisha presided at sabboth and new moon festivals which locals attended.
In this story, a man brought his thank offering of the first fruits of his harvest. Exodus/Leviticus prescribes that one returned to God one tenth of the first harvest and then later one tenth of the rest of the harvest. Usually a portion of these offerings were burned and the remaining were given to the priests and Levites to feed themselves and their families. This story reflects that tradition well. Earlier in the chapter we learn that there is a famine and the company of prophets, who look to Elisha as their head, are struggling to feed themselves and their families. For this reason, Elisha does not take any of the offering brought but turns it all over to the very hungry community. How gracious is God to turn this small but genuine offering into a meal for all his hungry servants in that place.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
Here is a wonderful example of traditional Hebrew praise to Yahweh. People of modernity and post modernity have scientifically divided creation into sentient and non-sentient beings, relegating anthropomorphism to children’s literature and poetry. But it is not so in ancient Hebrew literature, certainly not works of praise in the Old Testament! Psalmists regularly adjure sun, moon, stars, mountains and seas to praise God, and promise that the “trees of the field will clap their hands.”
While these attributes of worshipful activity to inanimate objects may seem quaint, the biblical authors did not mean it so. Truly humanity learns of some of the qualities of God merely by marveling at nature. The earth and the cosmos absolutely tell of God’s handiwork!
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,[a] 15 from whom every family[b] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
In the verses previous to this passage, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that, through Jesus, they have access to God. It is perhaps this to which Paul refers when he states, “For this reason…”
Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus, and all who read this letter, that Jesus dwells within us. Theologians like to use words like “incarnational” which, when they get hitched to words like soteriology, completely lose their wonder, much less their meaning. But the miracle of the incarnation inaugurated with Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, continues as each of us are made pregnant, through baptism and faith, with the unsurpassed power of God’s love. “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend…” Thank you for your prayers, Paul, but I am certain that true comprehension of this mystery is impossible.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
While we have been rolling merrily along through the early chapters of Mark since Easter, now we have an interlude of 5 weeks of John. The gospel of Mark has a perfectly good and wonderful account of the feeding of the 5000 (plus women and children), and if the reader/listener does not get the point, Mark tells of Jesus later feeding 4000 (plus women and children). Nevertheless, the powers that be, when creating the 3 year Revised Common Lectionary, set aside Mark’s feeding stories for five weeks of John’s feeding story and its many applications and interpretations.
In the gospel of Mark, the miracles that Jesus performs serve many purposes. Jesus heals out of compassion “because the people were like sheep without a shepherd”, out of frustration (he heals when his disciples could not), to teach, and to manifest the Kingdom of Heaven drawn near. In the gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t do miracles, but rather signs, which are always meant to point to both Jesus’ and God’s true nature and identity.
In John’s telling of the feeding of the 5,000, note that the crowds are not pressing in on Jesus or clamoring for him, as in the gospel of Mark, but rather merely following him “because of the signs he was doing for the sick.” Jesus gathers his disciples (not merely the twelve but all of the disciples) onto a high hill/very low mountain while they see the crowd approaching in the distance. John tells the reader/hearer that it is almost Passover time a note Mark does not make. Why would John tell us that it is Passover time? The detail seems superfluous, but in fact, it is key to understanding the sign Jesus is about to do. Signs give direction. What direction is Jesus about to give? Does Philip understand? No. Philip points out that they don’t have anywhere near enough money to buy all these folks dinner. Andrew states that there is a kid with a bag lunch but that is the only food in the area. Jesus instructs the disciples to have the folks sit down and then the sign is revealed.
First Jesus takes the loaves and gives thanks. The words likely said would be the Aramaic for “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe who does give us grain from the earth for bread to eat.” This is the same prayer recited three times during the Passover meal. “Jesus took the loaves and when he had given thanks…” The Greek for “given thanks” is a tense of the verb eucharist. In the gospel of John, there is no Last Supper Passover meal where Jesus institutes Holy Communion. There is only a last meal begun with foot washing. In stead, this feeding is John’s Holy Communion. All who are present get feed with the loaves and fish. And there is enough for even those who are not present.
The number 12 is a very important number in the Bible and is a symbol of: 3-God x 4-all creation = 12-all God’s people. 12 sons of Jacob/12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples/12 apostles who are to be the New Israel sent out to witness to Jesus not just in Judea but also Samaria and to the ends of the earth, and now 12 baskets full of leftover bread. Those 12 baskets are the sign symbolizing that Jesus feeds everyone, not just those lucky enough to be present, but all the people to the ends of the earth.
What is the result of this sign? The crowds, upon witnessing the sign, come to believe that “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the w