Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sundays after Trinity (7)
Compassion in Action
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Can you recall a time when you or your Christian community was deeply moved with compassion towards an individual or group of people? What actions, if any, did you take to address the need and what was the outcome?
Reflection on the text
Jesus is often described as having compassion for the crowds in Matthew’s gospel (see Matthew 9v36; 15v32, 18v27, 20v34). The Greek verb (splachnizomai) means literally was moved ‘in his guts’. Today, we refer to people’s hearts being moved with compassion. It is a very deep feeling.
Interestingly, Jesus turns to the disciples for a solution to the hungry crowd problem. The command ‘give them something to eat’ (v16) suggests that Jesus is confident they can deliver the goods! Indeed, they had been commanded to feed the hungry and to serve all who need help (25 v 35, 42) and they have been given the authority (power) to do so (see 10 v1).
How often in our prayers do we ask God to bless our plans rather than placing ourselves at the disposal of God’s kingdom agenda? The disciple community is to be a learning community constantly reflecting on its actions in the light of the gospel. The community is also called to be a good steward of the limited resources it has entrusted to it.
It is interesting that Matthew not only refers to the 5,000 men in his account but also mentions women and children (v 21). This informed the practice of table fellowship in the early Christian households, the Lord’s Supper. At that shared meal all the followers of Jesus: Greek and Jew, wealthy and poor, male, female and child are together as one as they break bread at table, alert to any unmet needs. The table fellowship of the Christian community must always seek to satisfy God’s demands for acts of mercy and justice.
some questions for group discussion:
- To what extent does food figure in the life and mission of your small Christian community? Do you offer opportunity for those who are poor, excluded, lonely or homeless to eat at table? Are there possibilities to be explored here?
- In what ways does the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) in your community link with issues of mercy and the meeting of people’s needs, justice and reconciliation? How might you increase the links in your gatherings to the breaking of bread?
- Have there been times when you as a community have stepped out in faith believing that God will provide? Is there a current issue of need in your community that requires such action?
- George Monbiot drew to the world’s attention the madness of the current drive for bio-fuels which is leaving thousands hungry and spells death to millions (see the article reference below). What practical steps can your Christian community take to address the problem of world hunger and out unwillingness to change our lifestyle?
Use the Lord’s prayer and, when you reach ‘give us this day our daily bread’, stop to consider those who are hungry in today’s world – naming nations, groups and individuals that come to mind. You could have a map of the world and place sticky markers on the places of known famine.
You might like to use the material in ‘A Prayer for Pentecost 12’ at http://revsbrown.tripod.com/aplaceforprayer/id54.html.
You may also like to sing this new hymn "Where is Bread". The words and tune (Abbots Leigh) can be found at http://www3.baylor.edu/christianethics/FoodandHungerhymnGillette.pdf#search='where%20is%20bread%20gillette'.
More background information
- The way Matthew tells this story suggests that he wants to link this feeding with the Last Supper (Mt 26:20-29) and the eucharistic household gatherings. He uses the same words "take, bless, broke, & give" the bread. The fish don’t seem to figure in the account after the food is distributed.
- This notion of sitting down and feasting seems to anticipate the great feat at the end time (see 8 v 11 where "Many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac in the kingdom of heaven.")
- Two superb films that provoke discussion are Isaak Dinessen's "Babbette's Feast" and James Joyce's "The Dead." These should be available through Video Hire shops.
- Parker Palmer considers the real miracle her to be how "suddenly, through a community ignited by an example of generosity, scarcity turns into abundance" (The Active Life [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990], 131).
- There are echoes here of 2 Kings 4:42-44.
- Jesus "... looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them ... (Mt 14:19)." In Jesus’ day Jews never sat down for a meal without giving thanks to God for the food provided. And they always ended their meals with a prayer of thanksgiving. Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech olam = "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe ... ." are the words spoken in an observing Jewish household) to this day. The household ‘head’ was responsible for saying the table blessing.
- See Rosemary Radford Ruether’s comments on the passage entitled ‘Miracle of the loaves and picnic basket: uncounted women make the world food go around’ at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_n38_v32/ai_18676179
- George Monbiot has been speaking out about world hunger and bio-fuel production for a number of years. Read his article in the Guardian entitled “Credit Crunch? The real crisis is global hunger. And if you care eat less meat?” His says ‘the only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let’s reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.’ Go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/15/food.biofuels or to his website at http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/04/15/the-pleasures-of-the-flesh/.