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Sunday 28 July 2024 Trinity 9, Seventeenth in Ordinary time, Proper 12

Feeding a hungry world

2 Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-21

By Nevsky Everett

Anglican Chaplain of the Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest; The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Apokrisarios to the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate

Context: a Eucharist in a very international community, with people from all church traditions and backgrounds

Aim: to explore the relationship between welcome, feeding and nourishment as signs of God’s loving care

Here, in Romania, food is still a hugely important part of social gatherings and encounters. Whether in the home, or at church, or even out and about in the market square, food and friendship go hand in hand. I have often staggered home after a second (or third!) lunch, carrying Tupperware full of traditional, hearty Romanian dishes. The problem is often the opposite to the problem we see in our readings from 2 Kings and John’s Gospel: there is often too much food and not enough people to eat it, rather than the other way round!

MIRACULOUS HOSPITALITY

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a story about God’s abundance. Andrew asks Jesus, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ But when Jesus distributes the bread and the fish, everyone has as much as they want and are satisfied. Like the wedding at Cana, Jesus meets the needs of the assembled crowd with vastly more than they could have imagined: as there must have been gallons of wine left over at Cana, so there are twelve baskets full of leftovers here on the hillside. As he invites the crowd to sit down, to give thanks, and to eat together, Jesus shows them an overwhelming, abundant hospitality; and this hospitality says something about who he is, about who God is.

FEEDING THE HUNGRY

Once they have eaten, they realise what has happened and they begin to say to one another, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ They recognise that something significant has happened, that Jesus is a prophet. Perhaps they recalled the episode from 2 Kings where Elisha feeds a hundred people during a famine with only twenty barley loaves and some fresh ears of grain. But the crowd on the hillside do not fully understand what has happened. They do not fully understand who Jesus is.

In the fourth century, St Gregory of Nyssa tried to answer the question of how we can know the truth of the Incarnation, the truth of the fact that God dwelt among us. By way of an answer, he says that we should look to Jesus’ miracles. St Gregory writes, ‘It is a mark of God to give man life… to afford food and drink… to care for those in want… [to heal the sick]… to exercise an equal sway over all creation, over land, sea and air… and above all, to be the vanquisher of death.’ And if these things are the things that God does, that only God can most completely do, we see clearly in the miracles of Jesus that God has truly come among us: ‘everything by which we know God is evident in the record about him [Jesus].’* To feed the hungry is a sign of God’s presence, revealed to us in Jesus. The Lord’s abundant hospitality is not just a prophetic sign, but a sign of the Incarnation.

FEEDING A HUNGRY WORLD

Our vocation as Christians is to share in God’s redeeming work. And there is much hunger in our world: literal famine, poverty, spiritual hunger. Here in Romania, the serious food shortages and shop queues of the 1980s are only recent history – and perhaps that explains why the abundance of food is such an important part of the culture today. But whether we help out at a food bank or cook for our neighbours from time-to-time or donate to charities working with the poorest communities in our world, we can all share in this divine work. Feeding the hungry is a sign of God’s presence – from the famine at Gilgal in 2 Kings to the present day – God makes himself known through this particular sign of loving care. We might not be able to work miracles, to make a tin of beans stretch to feed the multitudes: but little-by-little we can show to others the love of God, the God who meets our deepest needs and gives us abundant life.

*Gregory of Nyssa, ‘Address on Religious Instruction’, in Edward R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers, The Library of Christian Classics (Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, 2006), (p. 289).

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