Tuesday: Nehemiah 9:26-38; Psalms 78:40-72; Revelation 18:9-20; Matthew 15:21-28
Nehemiah continues his prayer of confession before the Lord on behalf of all of the people. It is a recital of the Lord’s mercy to his people, and a history of Israel’s response: initial gratitude, then apathy or rationalizations concerning what God’s law requires, followed by open indifference, leading to the inclusion of worshipping other gods, especially the fertility gods the people thought themselves dependent upon for prosperity. Again and again the Lord sent prophets to warn the people and call them back to the Lord’s way. But the people ignored, harassed, drove out or imprisoned the prophets for their word and even killed them. The Lord’s patience worn thin, divine judgment would fall upon the people in the form of defeat to a neighboring people. Then, the people would cry out to the Lord, who in his mercy would respond and remove the oppressive nations. But beginning with the king of Assyria in 720 BCE, the Lord’s judgments became more severe, leading to the northern tribes of Israel being defeated by Assyria, and ever after non-existent as an identifiable nation with its own king. So too in Judah, who followed the same customs in spite of being the home for the temple. God ultimately took vengeance and judgment upon them, through the siege, sack and total destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. Once again, the people cried out and the Lord heard giving Persia victory over Babylonia, whereupon God turned the heart of the Persian king Cyrus who let the Jews return to their land. But even now that they have returned, built a new temple and restored the walls and gates of Jerusalem, and reside once again in the land God gave to their ancestors, they remain slaves, subject to the Persian king. Consequently, the rich yield of the land that God has intended for the children of Israel now goes as tribute to the king of Persia. Nehemiah acknowledges that in all of this, it is his people who are guilty and deserve what they have received, though the Lord has remained gracious and merciful through it all. After all, the remnant has remained, as God frequently promised. Because of all of this Nehemiah and the people are ready to make a firm agreement with the Lord in writing, and signed and sealed by Nehemiah, Judah’s officials, the Levites and the priests. Commentators note that this “agreement” is not called a covenant, possibly because its initiation has been by Nehemiah and the people rather than the Lord. Only the Lord makes covenants of this sort with the people.
The psalmist continues to recount for a later generation how their ancestors have behaved so badly in response to God’s goodness until the time God established David as king and Jerusalem as God’s home. The people’s continuing rebellion in the wilderness is recalled, in spite of all that God did for them in Egypt to liberate them. He led them through the wilderness as a shepherd cares for his sheep; brought them to God’s holy hill; drove out the nations before them and gave them appointed portions of the land in which to settle. Yet, they continued to test God, rebelling and ignoring God’s decrees, and provoking him by indulging in the worship of the gods of their Canaanite neighbors. God abandoned his place in Shiloh and allowed the ark to be captured by the Philistines, delivering his glory to the hands of the foe. Behind this also lies an allusion to the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria, with the priests falling by the sword as God vented his wrath. Rather than choose Joseph or Ephraim, the more powerful and noble, God chose David from the tribe of lowly Judah to be king, and Mount Zion, in the land of Judah, as his dwelling. There God built his sanctuary, a replica of the high heavens, and chose David, taking him from the sheepfolds, to become the shepherd of all of the people of Jacob, of Israel (Jacob’s other name), and Jacob’s inheritance. With upright heart and skillful hand, David tended them as a faithful shepherd.
A lament for the fall of “Babylon,”—a veiled reference to Rome—the poem continues into today’s lesson. All the kings of the earth who have indulged in fornication with her will now stand afar and in fear say, “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon—in one hour your judgment has come!” It is swift and sure. The merchants who have made great wealth selling to the city will stand afar in fear and weeping; who will now purchase their goods? In one hour, all this wealth has been laid waste—so fast will be the judgment on her. Shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all who trade by sea will do the same. They will throw dust on their heads in grief. On the other hand, the heavens are called to rejoice over her with the saints and the apostles. The vengeance that belongs to God alone has now come in judgment upon Babylon.
Jesus and the disciples have traveled up to Sidon and Tyre, Gentile country north and west of Galilee. As they do, a Canaanite woman comes to him shouting, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David,” begging him to come and cast a demon out of her demented daughter. Jesus ignores her plea, and the disciples also irritated with her behavior go to Jesus urging him to send her away for she keeps shouting after them. Jesus’ answer seems not to fit the disciples’ request but rather confirm it: he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house Israel. The woman comes up to Jesus, kneels in front of him and pleads for his help. Jesus’ answer is again startling: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jews regularly called Gentiles “dogs,” a particularly demeaning term when dogs were mostly wild and simply lived by devouring scraps or other forms of dead flesh thrown out in dumps. Some had dogs for security, but even these were considered highly unclean. Jesus has come to bring food to the children of Israel. The woman hears this and responds, “Yes, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus is startled by that answer and responds, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Matthew tells us that “instantly her daughter was healed.”
Monday: Nehemiah 9:1-15(16-25); Psalm 77; Revelation 18:1-8; Matthew 15:1-20
We return to the book of Nehemiah—remember, it and Ezra were initially one scroll, separated into two books later by Origin and Jerome, and not done so in the Hebrew Bible until the 15th century CE. Today’s reading follows upon yesterday’s account of the returned exiles separating themselves from the foreign wives of the people of the land that they had married or given their sons to in marriage, upon their return to Judah. It is now the 24th day of the 7th month, six months after the completion of the divorces and there is a national assembly of the people who are fasting and wearing sackcloth with earth on their heads. This is a national liturgy of penance. Those who had married foreign wives and had now separated themselves, stand and confess their sin as well as the iniquity of their ancestors. The book of the law of the Lord is read for a fourth part of the day, while another fourth is given to confession and worshipping the Lord. Specific Levites are named who cry out to the Lord with a loud voice on behalf of the people. A second group of Levites is named who then lead the people, commanding that they “Stand up and bless the Lord” their God from everlasting to everlasting. They bless God’s glorious name, which they confess is exalted above all blessing and praise. At this, Ezra stands and begins a prayer which is, in fact, a recital of holy history beginning with creation, the call of Abram, the change of his name to Abraham, the covenant God made with Abraham to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites and others, in which they are now residing, citing God as righteous in fulfilling his promise. Then Ezra recalls Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God’s response, the exodus, the defeat of Pharaoh’s warriors in the sea, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai (notice, there seems to be no recognition of a covenant associated with the giving of the law), and all of the statues and commandments given through Moses. God’s provision for them through manna and water out of the rock are recalled. The prayer goes on to report on how “stiff necked” the people were, refusing to obey the commandments and wanting to return to the slavery of Egypt. But the Lord is a God who forgives; is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord did not forsake them, but gave his good spirit to instruct them. Forty years the Lord sustained them in the wilderness with them lacking nothing: their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. The Lord ultimately gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner of the land, so that they took possession of it. The Lord multiplied the people like the stars of heaven promised to Abraham, and brought them into the land to possess it. They captured fortressed cities and rich land, and took possession of houses filled with good things, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. They ate and were filled and became fat, and delighted themselves in the Lord’s goodness. It is almost as though Ezra, in the form of prayer, is reciting their holy history to them, a history many of them may not have known.
The psalmist offers a lament in his time of trouble; where is the Lord? Will he remain absent forever? Through long, sleepless nights, his soul is troubled. In that time of God’s silence he occupies himself with remembering the mighty works of God who leads Israel through the sea and to the land of promise. Sometimes, we can do no better in those times of our own trouble. Remembering God’s work in our lives in a posture of thanksgiving has power to lift our spirits.
Another angel appears in heaven singing the song of Babylon’s fall. Cast as a lament, it is filled with Old Testament prophetic imagery and judgment against “the nations,” that have oppressed God’s people. All the nations have drunk of her wine of wrath and fornication. Kings and merchants have participated and grown rich in her whoredom. Another voice from heaven calls out to people, “Come out of her; do not take part in her,” lest they finally participate in her plagues. It is, yet, one more invitation to repentance. Then, there is the call to render to her double for her deeds, and give her measure of torment and grief in proportion to the way she glorified herself and lived in luxury. The queen is becoming a widow and she will be burned by fire. It is the mighty One, the Lord God who is judging her. This is not a hymn about personal vindication for the saints, so much as it is a declaration of the ultimate justice of God being acted out against a power that was thought to be the greatest in the world and abused it for its own glorification and purpose.
The Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus from Jerusalem and ask why it is his disciples break the tradition of the elders. They do not wash their hands before they eat. Jesus counters, asking why they break the commandments of God for the sake of keeping their traditions. He illustrates this with the commandment to honor father and mother. Yet, they tell their father and mother that whatever support they might have received from the Pharisees and scribes, is in fact, given to God. Consequently, they teach that such a person does not need to honor father or mother. So, for the sake of their traditions, they make void the word of God. Calling them hypocrites, Jesus quotes Isaiah’s words about honoring God with their lips but not with their hearts. Moving away from the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus calls the crowd to him and tells them, it is not what goes into someone that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouths. The disciples warn Jesus that what he has just said caused the Pharisees to take offence and him. Jesus replies that every plant that his heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Leave the Pharisees and scribes alone; they are blind guides. And when the blind lead the blind, both ultimately end up in the ditch. Peter seems to think this a parable and asks for an interpretation. Jesus is a bit taken aback by Peter’s cluelessness and asks him if he is still without understanding. He then points out that it is not what enters the mouth that defiles, whether taken with washed or unwashed hands. For it simply enters the stomach, then goes out into the sewer. But rather, it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. For from it the desires of the heart and its intentions are revealed: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are the things that defile a person—eating with unwashed hands is nothing.
Sunday: Ezra 10:1-17; Psalm 34; Acts 24:10-21; Luke 14:12-24
Ezra recognized that the returning exiles are falling into the same trap that their ancestors fell into in marrying foreign wives and continues his prayer of confession, weeping and throwing himself on the ground in the court before the temple. As he does this, a great company of men, women and children of Israel gather around him and begin to join him in his weeping. Schecaniah addressed Ezra, speaking for the rest, saying, “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land.” Yet, he believes there is hope. If the people will make a covenant with the Lord to send away all these wives and the children, born of these recent unions, doing so according to the counsel of Ezra and all who tremble at the commandments of God; let it be done as the law stipulates divorce is to be carried out. Schecaniah urges Ezra to “be strong, and do it.” Ezra then stands and makes the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel swear that they will do this. As the people promise to do so, Ezra withdraws from the temple to the chamber of Jehohanan to spend the night, and he continues his fasting, praying and mourning over the faithlessness of the returned exiles. He grief was not just to gain the people’s attention. The next day, a proclamation is made throughout Jerusalem and Judah that all returned exiles must assemble in Jerusalem, and if any do not come within three days, by order of the officials and elders, their property will be forfeited and they will be banned from the congregation. Consequently, the people of Judah and Benjamin assemble on the 20th day of the 9th month. They sit in the open square in front of the temple, trembling, not only because of the gravity of the matter, but also because of the heavy, cold rain. Ezra stands and declares the people guilty, not only those who had married foreign wives, but also the others who permitted and condoned it. Everyone is guilty and has trespassed, increasing the guilt of Israel. He calls them to make confession to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and promise to do God’s will. They are to separate themselves from the people of the land and from their foreign wives. The entire assembly answers with a loud voice, “It is so, we must do as you have said.” However, given the size of the group and the time of the heavy rain, it does not seem possible to accomplish this in one or two days, especially if they are to do so according to the provisions of the law. And, so they ask that the officials represent the whole assembly and let those from the surrounding towns, who have taken foreign wives, come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every town who permitted this, until the Lord’s fierce wrath is averted. Though the majority agrees, there are four who do not. It appears that they believe the matter so serious that it should be dealt with immediately. The four are named for their objection. Then, the returned exiles do as they have been commanded, and Ezra selects men—the heads of their families—designating them by name. On the first day of the tenth month they began to examine the matter and execute the divorce decrees. Three months later, on the first day of the first month, the work is done. All of the men who had married foreign wives have divorced them and sent them away. Though the judgment seems harsh to modern ears, one must realize that much of the faithlessness and worship of other gods that led to Jerusalem’s destruction, the loss of Solomon’s temple and the people’s exile had emerged from the people having married foreign wives, a practice that began with Solomon. Ezra acts quickly to avert what he recognizes would be a fatal repeat of that mistake.
This psalm is attributed to David, when he feigned madness before king Abimelech so that the king drove David out, allowing David to escape. It is a wisdom psalm built on an acrostic pattern, each new section beginning with a word that begins with the successive letter of the alphabet and focuses on God’s goodness. It uses a number of Hebrew parallelisms, the first phrase making a statement that the second phrase repeats with different language: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be continually in my mouth.” “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt in his name together.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” These, of course, have been solidly incorporated in the liturgical language of the church as the Psalter was its first prayerbook. The psalm is testimonial through and through: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me…, look to him and be radiant. …. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.” The young are then summoned to listen and learn the fear of the Lord and what it means for their lives. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in sprit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. …. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
The high priest Ananias arrives in Caesarea with some elders and an attorney named Tertullus, to begin Paul’s trial, and outlines their case against Paul as “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world (Roman empire), and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” the first time Christianity is acknowledged as a sect of Judaism, similar to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Our lesson begins as Felix allows Paul an opportunity to defend himself. Paul does so “cheerfully” and ingratiates himself to Felix with kind words. But, then he points out that the Jewish leader’s charges against him are false: he was not disputing with anyone in the Temple or their synagogues in the city. He had simply entered the Temple after purification, in order to bring alms and offer sacrifices. It was the Jews from Asia that arrived and created the disturbance. This one charge alone, he will acknowledge, he is a member of “the Way,” which they call a sect. He hopes in the same God, follows the same law, but believes in the resurrection, and it is about this that he is on trial.
Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee, to dine on the sabbath. Noticing how the other guests have jockeyed with one another for places of honor, he gives some instructions on hospitality. When you put together a dinner party; who do you invite, the rich, the powerful, the important, all who will be compelled to return the favor? That was certainly the case in the quid pro quo world of the Judaism of the day. But Jesus says, “No. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind—all who are outcasts and cannot repay the favor—and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Hearing that phrase, one of the dinner guests burst out saying, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God,”—a pious statement that all can affirm. Jesus uses it to tell a parable of a great banquet, and does so in such a way that it can be construed as a description of banquet at the consummation of the kingdom the pious guest has just alluded to, making the point that none of those initially invited will be there, because they have all allowed the cares of the world to get in the way of their obedience and discipleship (remember, these stories are being read aloud in churches gathered in dinner settings). Or, it can be read as a description of someone who has heard and is not acting out the rules for hospitality that Jesus has described earlier in verses 12-14. His host and other guest realize Jesus is talking about them.
Saturday: Ezra 9:1-25; Psalms 138; Revelation 17:1-14; Matthew 14:22-36
Ezra and this cohort, including the Levites, have come safely into Jerusalem, and after four days, come to the temple to restore the vessels and other implements of worship that King Artaxerxes had given them for the temple. After this, the officials approach Ezra and tell him that the people have not separated themselves from the “peoples of the land.” Is this a reference to those who had been left behind, to those who had moved into Judah in Israel’s exile, to those who had initially returned for the building of the temple and the city wall, or a combination of intermarriage between all of these with the neighboring nations? Each nation that is named has been a historic enemy of Israel, and now it is reported that Ezra that the Jewish men have taken wives from among these foreign nations as well as wives for their sons. Ezra responds with an act of public penitence and confesses the people’s historic sinfulness. He tears his mantle; he pulls out hair from his head and his beard and sits in appalled mourning. Those who see it tremble at the words Ezra speaks about the faithlessness of the general of returned exiles. Ezra sits in such public mourning for the nation, until the evening sacrifice is complete. Then he gets up from his fasting, and in his torn clothing falls on his knees, spreads out his hands to the Lord God and offers a corporate prayer of confession, saying he is “embarrassed and ashamed,” so much so, that he will not lift his face heavenward. The iniquity of the people has been accumulating since the days of their ancestors, and, for their iniquity, their kings and priests have been handed over to other kings and put to the sword, to captivity and slavery. And this group of returned exiles is no better. The Lord has been just in his punishment of them—no, more than just, the Lord has been merciful to them. Their sin deserved much more. But now the Lord has granted this brief moment of favor, extending his steadfast love before the king of Persia, allowing them to return, and what have they done with it? Again they have violated the Lord’s law and forsaken his commandments! They have made the land unclean, polluting it with their abominations. He now commands that the people do not give their daughters to the sons of the people of the land, and neither shall they take the daughters of the land for their wives. Again, Ezra confesses that the Lord has punished them less than their iniquity deserves, and given them this remnant. He now asks the public question in addressing God, “Shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the people who practice these abominations?” Would not the Lord be angry again and destroy them leaving no remnant? They stand before the Lord guilty and without excuse.
This psalm celebrates and gives thanks to the Lord for God’s intervention on the psalmist’s behalf. The language is rich in the action of praise and worship and the recognition that, in all of this, God has again demonstrated his steadfast love and faithfulness—the qualities that most regularly describe the Lord in the psalter—and thereby, has again exalted his own name. The psalmist called, and the Lord answered, increasing the strength of the supplicant’s soul. The psalm is attributed to David, and clearly has royal overtones as it notes that all the kings of the earth shall praise the Lord, for they have heard the words of God’s mouth. They too shall sing of the ways of the Lord. Though high, the Lord regards the lowly, but the haughty, God perceives from far away—keeps them at arms-length but still under surveillance! As God has cared for, and intervened in the past, so God shall continue to do so. Consequently, the psalmist confesses, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.” The psalm ends with a final affirmation of security: “the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Then, confessing that God’s steadfast love endures forever, there is one final plea: “Do not forsake me, for I am but the work of your hands.”
An angel comes to John to say, “Come and see the judgment against the great harlot that sits on many waters” (the rivers of Rome), with whom the kings of the earth have participated in her fornications and immorality (notice that this is traditional prophetic language for those who have worshiped other gods, and the emperors of Rome required its subjects and nations to worship the emperor). John is carried away and sees the harlot seated on a scarlet beast with blasphemous names, and amid her pomp, with her name inscribed on her forehead: “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, and the abomination of the earth.” She was drunk on the blood of the saints and with those who were witnesses to Jesus (the saints here are the saints of Israel). The beast who was and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit, is a reference to the emperors. The seven mountains with its seven emperors, five of which have already fallen, with two to come, the last of the two with a short reign is Rome. The eighth king is one of the seven who died but has come back; it is probably a reference to Nero returned as Domitian, since the latter took up persecution of Christians as an official agenda, the way Nero did. (Persecution of the church by Rome was not a constant, but ebbed and flowed within the empire according to other influences.) They will make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with him are called “chosen and faithful.”
Jesus has fed the crowd and the disciples have gathered up the twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus now tells them to get into the boat and sail across to the other side of the lake. The disciples do, and as they do, Jesus dismisses the crowd. Thereafter, he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening comes he is alone. By this time, the boat is out in the middle of the lake battling a headwind and being battered by the waves. Jesus walks out to them on the sea, and when the disciples see him, they cry out in fear, thinking him a ghost. Jesus speaks to them immediately saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter responds, “If it is truly you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” The Lord does, and Peter steps out of the boat and onto the water and begins to walk toward Jesus. But as the wind continues to rise, Peter is struck with fear, and begins to sink. As he does, he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately extends his hand and catches Peter saying to him, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” When Jesus and Peter get into the boat with the other disciples, suddenly the wind ceases and all fall to a dead calm. In that moment, the disciples worship Jesus—one of the few places in the gospel this takes place, and Jesus allows it—as they say, “Truly you are the son of God.” His mastery over the water and the wind, his mastery over the force of gravity makes it clear to them that he has the power to rule over creation as God does.
Friday: Ezra 7:27—8:23; Psalm 142; Revelation 15:1-8; Matthew 14:13-21
Ezra offers a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for favoring him with the king and the king’s counselors in such a way that he should be permitted to return to Jerusalem as the king’s edict makes clear. He then tells us that he “took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.” We step over the names of the families and those who came out of Babylonia with Ezra for his trip to Jerusalem, a crowd scholars estimate at approximately 5,000, including women and children—some twelve families, symbolic of all Israel. Camped at an unknown river named Ahava, Ezra discovers there are no Levites in the group he has brought out, and so he sends a delegation back to Casiphia, who seems to exercise leadership in Iddo, asking that Levites be sent. Sherebiah, a son of Levi, with his eighteen year old son as well as others named in the text, so that Ezra welcomes some two hundred twenty temple servants who are Levites. At that, Ezra proclaims a fast, to deny themselves before the Lord, in order to seek from him a safe journey back to Jerusalem, for given the king’s great generosity, Ezra had not dared to ask Artaxerxes for soldiers to provide them safe conduct and protection from bandits and hostile peoples along the way, since Ezra had already insisted that the hand of the Lord was upon them and is gracious to all who seek him. So they fasted and petitioned the Lord for this protection, and the Lord listened to their entreaty.
This personal lament cries to the Lord for relief in the midst of troubles brought on by unidentified enemies. Not only is the psalmist being oppressed by foes, it seems the entire community has abandoned him—no one takes notice, no refuge remains, no one cares. And so the psalmist cries out to the Lord “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Only the Lord can provide the care that is needed while “imprisoned” in this state of affairs. But, the prayer ends on a note of triumph: freed from affliction and now able to give thanks to God’s name, the righteous will surround him and recognize God’s bountiful rescue and help.
This vision sets forth preparation for the final judgment of God. Seven angels appear, each with a plague—the last of God’s acts of judgment on the earth. With them, the wrath of God is spent. Here the imagery of Egypt is used as a metaphor for Rome, as the plagues of Egypt are poured out on Rome. The redeemed, those who have been numbered and signed, stand beside a sea of glass before the throne of God, with harps in hand to sing a victory hymn to God as well as the song of the Lamb—the Song of Moses. The scene shifts to the temple in heaven. Out of “the tent of witness” comes seven angels with the seven plagues; the angels are dressed in the garb of victory with gold sashes across their chests. They are given the seven golden bowls of God’s wrath. Thereupon, the temple is filled with the smoke that accompanies the presence (glory) of God, and all are excluded from God’s presence, until the seven (complete) plagues of the angels are ended.
Upon hearing about John the Baptist’s death, Jesus has departed by boat to a deserted place, but the crowd learns of it and goes after him on foot. When Jesus comes ashore, he sees a great crowd and he has compassion on them, especially their sick. As evening comes, the disciples come to him—evidently they accompanied him in the boat, but Matthew does not tell us this—and asks Jesus to dismiss the crowd, for it is a deserted place. It is now late and the crowd will need food. Let them go into the villages and find it. Jesus tells the disciples that the crowd does not need to go away, and tells them to give the crowd something to eat. Astonished, the disciples reply that they have nothing with them but five loaves and two fish. Jesus asks the disciples to bring the food to him, and they do. He orders the crowd to sit down on the grass and then takes the five loaves and two fish, looks up into heaven, then says the ritual blessing as he breaks the bread into pieces. The language here is the same that will be used as Matthew tells us of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper—“take,’ “bless,” “give,” the Eucharistic symbolism clearly behind the actions. Giving the blessed food to the disciples, they give it to the crowds. Matthew tells us that “all ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full—again, symbolism of the abundance Jesus provides, twelve being the number not only of the disciples but of the church in its fullness. There were about five thousand men, plus the women and children.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.