St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Trinity 8, 2020, Aug.2, 2020 Canon Claude Schroeder
“Ho!” cried the prophet Isaiah, “Ho!”
What is this “Ho?”
That isn’t a word is it?
Turns out, “Ho,” as it appears in the 55th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah, is a call for attention to something that has been seen, as when sailors say,” Land, Ho!”
Look! There it is!
We are at a moment in history when the people of Israel are still reeling from the trauma of the invasion and the subsequent destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, where the social, political, and religious infrastructure of society was all but wiped out, setting the country on the verge of economic collapse. They were in a bad way, looking and hoping for some kind of relief, some kind of help, some kind of deliverance.
Last week the BBC, I heard a news report that Westminster Abbey in London, which is one of my the absolute favorite places on this earth, had been dealt a shattering blow by the CORONAVIRUS. More that 90% of the Abbey’s income comes from a hefty entrance fee paid by tourists who visit the abbey at a rate of 1,000 an hour. That’s a lot of cash. Since the Abbey closed it’s doors, it has lost more than 12 million pounds in revenue. The Dean has no idea how they are going to survive.
That of course is a story that could be multiplied over and over in business and institutions all across the world since the onset of CORONA. The damage has been incalculable. Web have been subjected to invasion by an invisible enemy. Our provincial governments have been anxious to re-open the economy, to get people out there making and spending money, and, our federal government, in an effort to stave off a complete economic collapse, has been printing and handing out money like there is no tomorrow.
People need something to eat, don’t they? Darn right they do. And for most of the world’s population: You don’t work, you don’t eat.
And so it is, that with renewed attention we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah this morning,
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…”
This is very strange talk, isn’t it?
How are we to “buy wine and milk without money and price, eating what is good and delighting in rich food?”
This makes no economic sense, whatsoever.
What Isaiah is talking about is the re-opening of another economy. It is God’s economy, an economy of grace, of gift, where the thirsty come, and buy wine and milk without price. We are not talking here about a trip to the food bank for hand out, we are talking about a banquet of some kind where the people delight in rich food. There is an urgency to Isaiah’s invitation to come to the banquet. 12 times in this chapter, he calls out to the people “to come.”
What’s interesting is that Isaiah is not just addressing people below the poverty line who visit food banks. Isaiah is addressing people with full time jobs and money in the bank. He speaking to consumers in what had become a consumer society. In other words, He is speaking to people very much like us.
But with the invitation, Isaiah posed a question. And the question was, “Why do you spend money on that which is not bread, and work for that which does not satisfy?”
Some you may remember the song by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, who way back in 1965, sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” (I am probably also going to get marks taken off for bad grammar.)
I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get me no satisfaction
And I try and I try and I try…
I can’t get me no…satisfaction
When I’m riding in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
When I’m watchin’ my TV
And a man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts could be
But it can’t be a man ’cause he does not smoke
Same cigarettes as me
I can’t get no
And when I’m flying ’round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m tryin’ do that
And I’m trying to make some girl
Who tells me, “Baby, baby, baby, baby
Baby, better come back later next week”
Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak
I can’t get no…satisfaction.
I find that song strangely satisfying. But then isn’t that just like the truth? It satisfies us in a way that no amount of pleasure and stuff can ever do…
Is it not true that as Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6.35).
Ho! Finally, some satisfaction!
Which brings us to today’s Gospel lesson and Matthew’s story of the Feeding of the 5,000. The number was actually significantly higher than 5,000 when you include the women and children. But whose counting? Jesus certainly isn’t, and Matthew, who as tax collector used to crunch numbers for a living, isn’t interested in numbers either. The only thing that mattered for Jesus and Matthew is that multitude of men, women, and children were fed and were satisfied.
It’s a story, like Isaiah’s announcement, that makes no economist sense.
How do we get from a crowd of hungry people and five loaves of bread and two fish at the beginning of the story, to a crowd of satisfied people, and twelve baskets full of broken pieces left over at the end of the story?
This is what we call a miracle story, which is a story that unveils for us something of the presence and power of God at work in Jesus to overcome the power of sin and death, and as such points us to the great miracle of the Resurrection which we celebrate in church in the breaking of bread.
Stanley Hauerwas suggests that as a modern people we do not easily recognize miracles because we have lost any sense of the miracle of life. (Hauerwas, 140) And this, as Wendell Berry suggests, is because we use the wrong language to speak of the world and it’s creatures. What is that language? It is the language of analysis where everything in the world is reclassified from creature to machine, making us strangers to our own lives. “There is an inherent danger,” writes Berry, “in our use of daily life by our accumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in our scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.” ( Berry, 10)
And so it is with the story of the feeding of the 5,000. We give up on it.
In the context of the story of the Bible as a whole, Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes in a lonely place is a retelling of the story from the Book of Exodus of God’s providential care for the people of Israel as they wandered through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. (Exodus 16) . Here God fed His people with bread from heaven but also with the bread of His Word, that they might learn, “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8.3)
In this story, food and scripture are inseparable. Food to nourish the Body, and Scripture to nourish the soul. We need both in order to thrive, and not just survive.
Might we see then in the five loaves and two fish an allusion to the five Books of Moses and the Law and the Prophets. Yes! After Isaiah invites the people to eat what is good and delight themselves in rich food, he then says, “Incline your ear and come to me; listen, so that you may live!” (Isaiah 55.3)
When, as Matthew tells us, “Jesus took the fives loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed, broke, and gave the loaves to the disciples to give to the people.” (Matthew 14. 19) might we not see in this an allusion to the Last Supper where Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “ Take, eat, this is my Body broken for you?” (Matthew 26. 26-29). Yes! And so it is that in the Holy Communion, Jesus becomes bread of us, preserving our bodies and souls unto eternal life, as we feed on Him on our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
And so the story of the Feeding of the Multitudes isn’t just about empty stomachs, earthly bread, and crowds of people miraculously fed. It’s about hunger, our for Jesus, who is “the living bread that came down from heaven and gave His flesh for the life of the world. “ (John 6.51) But it’s also a story about how it is that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, through the feeding that takes places in the Holy Communion, on the bread that is the Word of God, and the bread that is Body of Christ, in turn, become His Body and that is the bread that gives life to the world. And in so doing we become “His witnesses” , (Isiah 55.4) sia practitioners of an alternative politics that is free from the lust of power and participants in an alternative economy, that is free of envy and greed.
The dinner party which Jesus hosted in the wilderness at which the multitudes were fed, stands in stark contrast to the lavish dinner party which Herod had just hosted for the social and political elites, at his palace in Jerusalem, which ended with the head of John the Baptist bring brought in on a platter. Here we see how the powerful and the wealthy often use their wealth to extend their power over others. (Hauerwas, 139) But in this alternative economy, wealth is not an instrument of power, but of love.
This is an economy characterized not by scarcity, but by abundance, in which everyone’s needs are met with plenty of leftovers.
Might we see in the 12 basketfuls of broken pieces leftover an allusion to the power of this economy to bring renewal to the 12 tribes of the people of Israel in a Eucharistic life? Yes! So it is in the Eucharistic life, when we take what God gives us, however meager, and offer it up in thanksgiving and blessing, and then break and share it with each others. Life is renewed!
But the question remains, “How hungry are we for the bread that is the word of God and how hungry are we for the bread that is the Body of Christ, and how thirsty are we for the water of God’s Holy Spirit?”
If we are not hungry, and not thirsty, why is that? Could it be that we have lost our appetite, or perhaps spoiled our appetite for God?
How does this happen?
It happens, as Isaiah pointed out, when we “spend money on that which is not bread, and work for that which does not satisfy, ” preferring the cheap entertainment and the passing pleasures of our culture to the Living Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Law and the Prophets, and revealed in the breaking of the bread?
So what’s to be done? The answer is rather obvious isn’t it?
We need to reduce our consumption, both of food and pleasure, but in our culture, of media. In other words we need to learn the art of fasting. When we fast and in reduce our consumption, we will reduce our need to work so long and so hard for things that do not satisfy us in the first place. We will have time and money to give away.
We also need to learn and practice the language, not of analysis but of poetry. The miracle of creation, and the miracle of our salvation, is not something that can by fully analyzed, but only described and enjoyed poetically, which is what is laid for us in the prophets and in the psalms, and the liturgy of our Prayer Book.
Finally, we need to learn once again to be silent, to be quiet and still before God. When Jesus heard the news of John’s murder during Herod’s dinner party, He withdrew to be alone and quiet before God, and this became the well spring of his compassion for the crowds that led to the feeding.
In an address to the Roman Catholic Bishops in Rome in 2012, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “To put it boldly, the practice of contemplative prayer is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit.’
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Amen
Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. 2006. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Berry, Wendell. 2000. Life is a Miracle: An Essay against Modern Superstition. Washington, D.C: Counterpoint.