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Feeding the Hungry for It's Own Sake
Reflecting on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Old Testament: Isaiah 43:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 15:32-39
Psalter: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Old Testament: Exodus 16:2-15, 31-35
Gospel: Matthew 15:32-39
Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
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.” The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled, and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan (Matthew 15:32-39).
More focus is put on the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, then the miracle of feeding the 4,000. Yet, it is a miracle nonetheless. At the beginning of the story, Jesus tells the disciples that he has the compassion on the crowd and he wants to feed them. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas notes,
…that too often generalized accounts of compassion are unjustifiably attributed to Jesus. That Jesus has compassion on the crowd is best understood in the contrast to Herod’s banquet. Jesus provides food for those without foods solely because they are hungry. Herod provides food for those who are not without food as a demonstration of his power. Jesus feeds the 5000 because he has compassion for them. His feeding, therefore is an alternative politics to the politics of envy and greed that the Herods of this world cannot avoid (Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew).
In other words, Christians feed the hungry in a way that is different from the way the powers provide for the hungry. Christians should feed the hungry for the only reason that people need food. We don’t use the provision of food as a means to another end, the way the powers of the world work—I'll give you this if you will give me that.
It is wrong for the church to tie outreach to some other ends. We will feed you as long as you come to worship this Sunday. We will pay your utility bills if you bring your children to VBS. The gospel is not transactional in nature. It is relational. Of course, we hope that those we reach out to will come join us and become part of our community in a fuller way. But Jesus’ compassion is an end in and of itself. To use it as a means to another end is not in the way of Christ.
PRAYER: Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
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