Feeding of the Four Thousand – March 6, 2024

Feeding of the Four Thousand – March 6, 2024


Feeding of the Four Thousand

by Pastor Brian

No one had eaten in seventy-two hours. Some were weakened by dehydration, withering under the desert sun. Others clutched limestone boulders to steady their balance, spiraling from the vertigo. The hungry crowd, with their sunken eyes, scanned the barren landscape for the man from Nazareth who, just weeks earlier, had fed a multitude.

With 80% of ancient Palestinians negotiating chronic food insecurity, Jesus smelled the foul air of starvation. He asked the disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” They checked their tunic pockets for the crust of yesterday’s hummus sandwich and rummaged through their haversacks for any leftover unleavened cakes. “Seven,” they mumbled. Jesus gathered the modest offering, said grace, and returned it for distribution.

The crush of people- hundreds of rows deep, propped up on their weary elbows- waited to be waited on. While some believed and some doubted, everyone did the math: 4000 ÷ 7 = 571 growling bellies per loaf. Yet, as the disciples tore off fistfuls of Challah bread and handed out tins of sardines, the food wondrously kept multiplying. Regardless of how- only God knows- the gathering headed home satisfied.

At least forty years later, the Gospel writers started organizing their narratives. Matthew needed twenty-eight chapters; Luke required twenty-four, and John twenty-one. But Mark only wrote sixteen short chapters. He passed on the genealogy, neglected the Christmas story, skipped Jesus’ childhood, omitted the Sermon on the Mount, and rushed ahead to the crucifixion.

For an author running out of ink who already included the feeding of the five thousand story, why does Mark add this second feeding of the four thousand to his Gospel?

Mark 8:1-10 In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish, and after blessing them he ordered that these, too, should be distributed. They ate and were filled, and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

Congregational Responses: 

Repetition leads to remembering.

Jesus’ radical ministry is most on display at Table.

God’s miracles are dependent on our responses.

Theological Reflection:

One mid-October, Fred Craddock was speaking at the University of Winnipeg. Leaving the assembly hall, he noticed the sky beginning to spit. The next morning, three feet of snow pressed against his hotel door. The phone rang and his host said, “I can’t [take you to] breakfast, the next lecture is canceled, and the airport is closed. If you can make your way down the block, there’s a bus depot [with] a café. I’m sorry.” Craddock ventured outside, bumping his way around the corner. Every stranded traveler in western Canada was in there. He found a place to sit, and a man in a greasy apron came over, “We have soup.” Fred responded, “What kind?” The man in the apron said, “Soup. You want some?” After the bowl arrived, Fred put a spoon to it- Yuck! Gray and awful. The café door opened again. In came this woman clutching her little coat. The apron came over to her, “What do you want?” “Glass of water.” “You have to order lady.” “Just water.” “Look,” he continued, “I have customers that pay- what do you think this is a church? If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!” She got up, and almost as if rehearsed, everybody in that little café stood up and started for the door. “All right, all right,” the apron relented, “she can stay.” Everybody sat down, and he brought her a bowl of soup. The place grew quiet as the patrons went back to eating. Fred decided to try again. “I have no idea what kind of soup it was,” he said, “no idea what was in it, but I do recall it tasted a little bit like bread and wine.”1

Thousands of years before the greasy apron, an extremist fringe of Pharisees, or “separated ones,” strictly interpreted religious Law as a protectant against the contagion of ritual impurity. Did the onion farmer observe the Sabbath before harvesting? Did the olivewood spoons get disinfected? Did each diner wash with salt water before sitting down? “Follow the rules,” they taught, “and keep kosher at all costs.”

Jesus, an observant Jew, revered his Tradition. But when he looked out at the famished masses, ravenous for nutritious food and nurturing inclusion, he decided to defy a system of institutional segregation. He didn’t lather everyone up with hand sanitizer; he didn’t organize two feeding lines- clean here and defiled there. Instead, he gave thanks and instructed the disciples to pass the dinner rolls without checking the statute.

In the more famous feeding of the five thousand story, Jesus shared bread with his Jewish kinfolk. But here in chapter eight, the crowd is entirely Gentile, a slur for the pagan “other.” Think women with polluted blood, men with unclean spirits, child laborers with grimy feet, untouchables scratching their enflamed skin, or anyone stopped at the sanctuary door and told, “Your kind isn’t allowed here.”

Despite his hurried scribbling, Mark recognized how every square inch of the dining room was contested territory. In reaction, he added this second feeding of the four thousand because God’s love isn’t primarily mediated through the Law, a set of prohibitions, but through the Table, one grand and ceaseless permission to join the family banquet without condition.

What we do with food—how we appropriate or misappropriate bread—reflects everything we believe. In a wilderness full of fainting people, let’s grab the heels of Wonder Bread we have left and place them on the altar, remembering that supper turns into sacrament when we eat with the dirty company marked in bold on the DO-NOT-INVITE list.

Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, (St. Louis: Chalice Press) 2001, 83.