Sunday 6 August 2023 Trinity 9, Eighteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 13
We Are What We Eat!
Isaiah 55:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Context: Eucharist involving a mixed group of established and occasional worshippers in a small rural town
Aim: to show the importance of being transformed by the action of Jesus
Up until recently, due to a period of illness, I was on a restricted diet known as a ‘low residue diet.’ This meant eating high fat and high protein but cutting out almost all forms of fibre. Foods such as cheese and full-fat milk were encouraged but almost all fruit and vegetables were off the menu. As time went on, I was very conscious of the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ as I longed to be able to eat an apple without having to peel it first.
A MEAL WITH JESUS
Eating takes centre stage in our reading from Matthew’s gospel as we revisit the only miracle of Jesus included in all four gospels – the feeding of the 5,000. It is a remarkable encounter with Jesus that is very familiar but also one that contains subtle nuances that familiarity may slightly blind us to.
At the heart of this gospel story is a meal with Jesus. Granted, it is not your average feast but there have been precedents in times past such as when Elisha feeds a hundred prophets with limited provision in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In Matthew 14, Jesus has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been killed and, perhaps in grief, looks to take some time out only to have a huge crowd follow him.
Even in grief, Jesus acts out of compassion. Firstly, healing the sick and then attending to the hunger of those who had sought him out and followed him. It is interesting to note that in the accounts we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the boy who loses his packed lunch in John’s gospel, isn’t mentioned!
ELEMENTS OF FINE DINING
In Isaiah 55 the chapter title given is ‘An Invitation to Abundant Life’ which takes the form of what could be described in our times as ‘fine dining’ - a feast of rich food laid on for free. For Jesus and the 5,000 plus there in a remote location, we find a subtly different emphasis.
Jesus takes what is offered, blesses it, breaks it and shares it out. It is an action that, many years later, the great liturgical scholar, Gregory Dix, would recognise as the ‘four-fold action’ of the eucharist as outlined in his 1945 book The Shape of the Liturgy.
So out of compassion, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares out a meal feeding a cast of thousands with enough left over to fill twelve baskets. It is a picture of fine dining, most certainly, but also one of abundance and extravagance as, from those humble beginnings, there is more than enough to go around.
At the very heart of what Jesus does to make the miracle happen is an action that is costly. The bread taken, blessed and shared is also bread that is broken. Without being broken, the bread cannot be shared, can’t benefit anyone. This prefigures Jesus’ own brokenness on the cross so that everyone can benefit from his ultimate life-and-death rescue mission.
BECOMING WHAT WE EAT
Through our participation in worship, in receiving the bread and wine that Jesus gives us, we are caught up in being taken, blessed, broken and shared. In short, we are called, invited, and encouraged to become what we eat. Just like certain diets, though, the meals of Jesus might need a health warning as it could be said that Jesus died because of the way he ate. He shared his meals with the outcasts, with sinners. In feasting, Jesus modelled radical and even scandalous inclusion as well as the abundance of the Heavenly Banquet we are called to share and hope in.
Almost at the very centre of our passage from Matthew are words of Jesus to the disciples ‘you give them something to eat.’ (Matthew 14:16b). As we are taken, blessed, broken, and shared out, have we the courage to live out that costly calling, of being a blessing to others? Christianity is all about the best parties – of being invited to fellowship and feasting but those meals are not ends in themselves. They are to be a foretaste of heaven as well as fuel for mission and ministry in a world that sorely needs God’s blessing.
May we become what we eat!
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