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Thanksgiving. It’s a week from my writing of this text today. It’s a time we give thanks, express our gratitude for life. President Lincoln established it as a national holiday after the Civil War, to celebrate and deepen the newfound unity of the previously divided states. Before the War, and back to the time of the colonies it was a celebration of the harvest, gratitude for what was grow and put aside for the winter. It was not political, but rooted in a spiritual expression of gratitude for God’s faithfulness. It points back through Medieval Europe to Ancient Israel and the Festival of the Booths (Sukkot) – the celebration of the Fall Harvest.
In our day and age it’s a bit confusing. Is it political? Spiritual? Or as increasingly is happening a day for football games, big movie releases, parades, and discounted shopping? Our text today raises the question of gratitude, how much is enough, the providence of God, how we ourselves tell that story forward, and the gift of both resources and community.
The disciples have returned from being sent out in pairs to teach ,heal and drive out unclean, or dividing, spirits. [see Mark 6:1-31] They return filled with stories to share, memories to interpret and rest much needed. And then – this massive faceless crowd appears and follows Jesus as he goes to take his friends aside for a weekend away in a deserted “country” place. The crowd is described as “many” in v. 33. Our expression the hoi polloi comes from the literal Greek – the common people, the rabble, a boisterous crowd searching, hungering, thirsting…looking. It’s the kind of group that can start a revolution, a crowd which can change at the drop of a hat, a group easily incited.
But Jesus doesn’t incite them to riot, revolution or revolt. Rather he responds to their hungers, fears, and needs. He challenges his disciples to respond to their need – even when they themselves think it’s beyond them. 200 denarii is equivalent to half a year’s wages (the daily minimum wage was one denarii for a day of work). Where would they get this kind of money? How can they feed the people when they don’t seem to have any resources themselves, and can only locate 5 loaves and 2 fish?
Jesus speaks, acts and is present – where there is shortage there is abundance, where there is death, life springs forth, where there is division – a spirit of “ each one for himself “ – he creates community, cohesion and hope. Is it a physical miracle? Magic? Metaphysical? A sudden burst of generosity brought on by the teaching and example of Jesus? Is it just a metaphor? What do you think?
Questions for going deeper: