Friday, 4 June 2010

Corpus Christi

Luke 9:11-17

Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.

It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people’ For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, ‘Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.’ They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.

This part of the Gospel is a mathematician’s dream, especially if you have an interest in the symbolic meaning of numbers – in this case the Biblical, particularly Judaic use of numbers. Numerology has been around as long as language and is an active part of storytelling even today – any story with the number 13 in it leaves you waiting for disaster to strike and where would we be without a trilogy to look forward to?

This is the only miracle (apart from the Resurrection) that is reported in all the Gospels- there is a message here that we all need to hear.

Luke uses numbers to accentuate the meaning of this account, clues and footnotes revealed within the story. To the people he was originally writing for, these asides would have been a spiritual commentary; to us some numbers plucked out of thin air. So here is one interpretation of the Gospel using numbers and we begin with the Twelve – this is the easy one and represents the twelve tribes of Israel; so the apostles, the tribes. And the twelve know that they have God with them; God looking over them; and they know they are the Chosen so rather than taking care of the strangers, the gentiles, choose to send them away and expect God to agree.

But Jesus tells them - No, they are Kingdom people too and the Twelve have to take care of them and, of course, they have no idea how. In John's account a boy comes- one, Unity, God, God that comes as a child, without earthly authority but with food.

In any case all that they are able to find is five loaves and two fish – the Twelve see no way that this is going to work

Five loaves and two fish – two – unity plus one – the time when something changes; when division takes place – the new from the old – the was from the will be. And the was to the will be needs Grace which is number five. Grace to change the world. And the Grace is unlimited - 5 fish, parties of 50, feeding the 5000. But Israel, the Twelve don't get it.

They need to be shown by Jesus the Reconciler who brings them together. The two and the five make seven – the number of completeness – God’s work done – change through Grace.

And at the end, the twelve baskets of leftover food to show that Israel is not forgotten; God has not deserted the tribes – there is plenty to go around. We have a generous God.

So you could imagine that this is not a real account at all. Luke is writing an allegory to describe the gift that Jesus brings to the world.

Of course there are fables and parables all through the Bible. It is a library of wonder. And the masterful use of symbolic numbers suggests a writer that knows how to play an audience. Certainly, with the Age of Enlightenment, it makes far more sense that it is a story to tell a story. In the most sensitive use of logic the feeding of the 5000 can be explained with cultural and dramatic finesse.

Even without the numbers, the Age of Reason will explains the account with a refined sense of conscience. Almost everyone, who had come along to hear Jesus had some food with them; they were simply not willing to admit it, certainly not to share but when someone volunteers their share everyone else is shamed into revealing their own portions. And, of course, a shared table tends to go further; a good morality tale.

It is the human condition – to find a pattern, to explain the unexplainable; to add reason, even a superstitious reason like numerology – rather than accept the reality of a real, honest to God, miracle.

Perhaps Jesus plays the game himself; using the symbols and signs of the times to his own advantage; seeking to reinforce the faith that the apostles and disciples find so shaky; so hard to cling on to from even one moment to another. Sometimes it must seem like all he can do; even after the healings and forgiveness; to give them what they need – now – food. He accepts their mortality and is satisfied, this day, with taking care of them; all of them.

So the numbers are fascinating; the morality laudable but as Christians we are asked to do one thing – to believe that this really happened; that the Second Person of the Trinity worked a miracle; that the generosity of God is unequalled and God is that big and that clever. And that what we need from God is as everyday, as basic but as necessary as food. God's gifts are fundamental to our lives and we will never have enough to feed ourselves.

These people were good people, they had come to listen; to pray; to be healed; faithful people but the journey they had taken to this lonely place had used up their reserves. They were hungry again but hungry for something they couldn't provide. It is the same for us; we have to know that, admit that, turn to God with open hearts so that we may receive Grace. Grace that doesn’t need the number 12, 5 or 2 to work, that it is simply there, abundantly there, ours for the asking, freely given, as much as is wanted, with leftovers.



Loukas said...

Here is an interesting entry on Corpus Christi, its history and spiritual meaning offering a broad perspective on various traditions and forms of piety. Certainly worth checking out:

Loukas said...
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Barbara said...

The Bible is always a multifaceted thing. Too cleverly written for man to be it's Author.