Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Text: "John 6. 51-58 "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Why has the Eucharist, the central part of Christian worship, been the focus of so much debate and disagreement over the centuries?
A Window on the Text
John wrote his Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ and his life, about 70 years after the events he described. By this time the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, had been celebrated, argued over, abused, reformed, and extended from a meal to a liturgical Service, and a significant part of Christian experience.
We don’t know why John doesn’t mention how Jesus broke bread and shared wine at the Last Supper, and told his disciples to do so in remembrance of him. Luke, Mark and Matthew all do, but not John. Maybe he wanted his readers to go right back to the heart of what Communion meant; maybe he thought it more relevant to emphasise Jesus’ words here, at the climax of his actions in feeding the 5000, and then trying to explain what the miracle meant – how what Jesus did was not to impress, and gain a following from clever conjuring tricks, but in the context of what his whole life means for humanity.
It is no good just to take the bread that is offered to us, if we don’t use it in turn to make a difference – to reproduce it, both physically and spiritually, to those who need it.
Jesus is saying that it’s not enough to be impressed by what he does, or even to admire his teachings and read and analyse them. That’s like admiring the loaves from outside the baker’s shop window. If we are to be nourished and satisfied by him, only complete incorporation will do. We have to take Jesus into the very fabric of our lives, as necessary to us and food and drink, as bread and wine.
Responding as a community
- Have you eaten any bread today? For breakfast, lunch, or later this evening? White or brown? Crusty, sliced, toasted, pizza, ciabatta or baguette? Bread is still very much part of our regular diet, in spite of all the food from around the world that we eat today. It is one of our staple foods, just as it was in Palestine in Jesus’ time. In other places rice, pasta, maize porridge, or potatoes might be the staple food. Are translators justified in talking about “the rice of life” if it helps a community that doesn’t grow wheat to understand the significance of Jesus life?
- We are living in the aftermath of the credit crunch and the global financial crash. How does our modern economic system of excessive consumer culture and debt compare with Jesus’ Sabbath Economics? This recognises that actually the earth produces an abundance of good things, more than enough to satisfy everyone – if only some of us would exercise self-restraint and be satisfied with less.
- Soon it will be Harvest Festival in many churches. Should we concentrate on local farming and food, or remember the global situation too? How do people feel when we bring these issues of economics and politics, poverty and exploitation into church?
- Do we see the feeding of the 5000 as a magic trick, done to impress? Or as an encouragement to us to share what we have with other people who don’t have enough?
Say the Lord’s Prayer together, thinking particularly of what is meant by “give us our daily bread”.
Arrange in advance for everyone to bring a small amount of a different sort of bread. Share this with each other, using the words, “God, Maker and Breaker of Bread, feed and nourish us with your love.” Give thanks for the abundance of God’s creation, pray for wisdom to use it well.
Good resources for prayers about bread and food include:
Harvest for the World, by Christian Aid, compiled by Geoffrey Duncan.
Bread of Tomorrow, SPCK Christian Aid, edited by Janet Morley.
See also, Mixed-up Blessing, by Barbara Glasson, about the Liverpool ‘Bread Church’.
Just as with the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day, dominant civilizations have always tended to draw labour, resources, and wealth into greater concentrations of power – from the Tower of Babel and the Empires built on the transatlantic slave trade to the current growth of the Chinese economy. We never seem to learn when enough is enough.
- The two most powerful symbols we have are Jesus as food, in the Eucharist, and Jesus as word, in the Scriptures. Both are central to what makes us Christian, and the emphasis put on each depends on the tradition you are most comfortable with. We still talk about “food for thought” and “eating our words”. Even Jeremiah says to God, “when your words came, I ate them, they were my joy and my heart’s delight”. (Ch 15, v 16).
- The marketplace signifies the economic sphere in Palestinian culture, and the Pharisees control the food sold there. They not only approve the animals to be used for sacrifice in the temple, they regulate the supply of wheat and other crops. If they think something might have been sown or harvested on the Sabbath, or that they had not been properly tithed, then they could reject what the farmers bring to market as unclean, and bankrupt them in the process. Jesus rejects their right to do this, and also the whole system that declares any particular foodstuff unclean. His offer of food is free and unconditional.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion