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Readings: 7th Sunday after Trinity

25 July 2014

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Proper 13: Isaiah 55.1-5; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

DO WE think of Jesus having a row? He needed space to grieve over the execution of his cousin, but the crowds would not leave him alone, and compassion got the better of him. That resulted in a food shortage. The disciples suggested: "Get rid of the problem - send people away to fend for themselves," but Jesus expected them to come up with food, and sat the crowd down. Everyone was watching, and there was no escape for the disciples.

We know the rest. Jesus took the bread and fish, looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples for distribution. He did the same at the Last Supper. We do it week by week. This alfresco meal was a foretaste of heaven's banquet, could people but see it. Because it was a heavenly meal, there was more than enough - 12 full baskets left over. God is a God of abundance.

Jesus could have fed the people himself. Instead, he threw the situation to the disciples, who could see the problem all too well. The Church's vocation is to be so closely involved with our broken world that we know what is going on, and articulate the needs to God. Even then, we cannot just dump the solution on to Jesus; the disciples had to do something about it with their measly resources.

How often Jesus seems to break what we offer him, and then give it away to others. Then he wanted the left-overs to be collected. With God, the author and giver of all good things, nothing is wasted or too scrappy to be collected up and celebrated as a sign of God's abundance.

This story has six potential endings, each of which sees it differently. It could conclude with the disciples' giving food to the crowds, but it goes on "and all ate and were filled". Then "and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces", then "twelve baskets full"; "and those who ate were about five thousand men"; and, finally, "besides women and children".

Matthew's extra details move this from being a story about meeting an immediate need to one where there is not just enough, but more than enough. There was overflow for others not present, and we never know who ate the leftovers.

This has implications for our celebration of the eucharist. Jesus's actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread are not in the context of a meal with friends, but the overwhelming needs of a very large crowd. He expected the disciples to find the resources to meet that need, which they did - to their own surprise - by bringing the five loaves and two fish that they could muster.

Eucharist is about God's generous love for this world. There can be no celebration of holy eucharist without prayers for God's world, for the crucial theological reason that our sharing in the heavenly banquet can never be divorced from our sharing in the life of the world, with its needs and confusions.

Eucharist is the foretaste, the anticipation, of God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. So, in the eucharistic prayers, we pray, for example: "Lord of all life, help us to work together for that day when your Kingdom comes, and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth." Eucharist is about justice and mercy, because our communion is with Christ, who makes his communion with people in need.

We pray to be nourished with all goodness, a vivid image; and then, at the end of every eucharist, we commit ourselves to serve Christ in this world: "Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory;" "May we who share Christ's body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world."

If we do that, then Isaiah's prophetic vision of the thirsty, poor, and hungry delighting in rich food can begin to become reality in our corner of the world. Only those adjusted to a healthy diet can cope with rich food: it is not occasional emergency hand-outs, but regular, healthy food for everyone that is God's vision for the world, of which the eucharist is foretaste and commission.

Forthcoming Events

25 September 2021
Festival of Faith and Literature: Food for the Journey
With Stephen Cottrell, Peter Stanford, Lucy Winkett, and Rowan Williams.

20 October 2021
Does the parish need saving?
Warnings that the parish is under threat date back decades. But are claims that it is now being dismantled accurate? Join our panel for a lively online debate.

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