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.
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (16)
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Isaiah 55 is the last chapter in Deutero-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1-39, being pre-exilic; Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-55, exilic; and Trito-Isaiah, chapters 56-66, post exilic. In the late 20th century there has been some forays into understanding Isaiah in two parts: 1-33 and 34-66. You can read Marvin Sweeney’s rationale, but I cling to the former understanding as articulated by Fred Gaiser. (By the way, “Enter the Bible” is a great resource.)
I think the most profound and troubling words come in the second verse of the pericope, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Walter Brueggemann’s article, “Counterscript“, speaks to them in 19 theses. Three of the more pointedly germane theses:
- The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.
* I use the term therapeutic to refer to the assumption that there is a product or a treatment or a process to counteract every ache and pain and discomfort and trouble, so that life may be lived without inconvenience.
* I use the term technological, following Jacques Ellul, to refer to the assumption that everything can be fixed and made right through human ingenuity; there is no issue so complex or so remote that it cannot he solved.
* I say consumerist, because we live in a culture that believes that the whole world and all its resources are available to us without regard to the neighbor, that assumes more is better and that “if you want it, you need it.” Thus there is now an advertisement that says: “It is not something you don’t need; it is just that you haven’t thought of it.” The militarism that pervades our society exists to protect and maintain the system and to deliver and guarantee all that is needed for therapeutic technological consumerism. This militarism occupies much of the church, much of the national budget and much of the research program of universities.
It is difficult to imagine life in our society outside the reach of this script; it is everywhere reiterated and legitimated.
- This script — enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the several liturgies of television — promises to make us safe and happy.Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism pervades our public life and promises us security and immunity from every threat. And if we shall be safe, then we shall be happy, for who could watch the ads for cars and beers and deodorants and give thought to such matters as the trade deficit or homelessness or the residue of anger and insanity left by the war or by destruction of the environment? This script, with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection.
- That script has failed. I know this is not the conclusion that all would draw. It is, however, a lesson that is learned by the nations over and over again. It is clear to all but the right-wing radio talk people and the sponsoring neoconservatives that the reach of the American military in global ambition has served only to destabilize and to produce new and deep threats to our society. The charade of a national security state has left us completely vulnerable to the whim of the very enemies that our security posture has itself evoked. A by-product of such attempts at security, moreover, has served in astonishing ways to evoke acrimony in the body politic that makes our democratic decision-making processes nearly unworkable. [Article written in 2005; increasingly true today!]
We are not safe, and we are not happy. The script is guaranteed to produce new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness. And in response to new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness, a greater resolve arises to close the deal according to the script, which produces ever new waves and new depths.
In chapters 1-8, Paul wrestled rhetorically with the unity shared by Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews); a unity they shared in and through Christ. In chapters 9-11, Paul now addresses the unity shared by Jews and Christians. (Chapters 12-16 will concern the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.)
Of the Jews he says straight out, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
One should read through chapters 9-11 in one fell swoop to get a sense of what Paul is after rhetorically. I think that 11:25ff is one of the high points,
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’
‘And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.’
In other words, don’t think that you are wise enough to determine who ought be “in” and who ought be “out”. God is up to the business of inclusion, not exclusion; centripetal force, not centrifugal. Do you think that is “just” or “unjust”?
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
A second article by Walter Brueggemann, “Myth of Scarcity”, is also a helpful read prior to preaching. Brueggemann refers to Mark’s account, but it works for Matthew’s as well.
The feeding of the multitudes, recorded in Mark’s Gospel, is an example of the new world coming into being through God. When the disciples, charged with feeding the hungry crowd, found a child with five loaves and two fishes, Jesus took, blessed ,broke and gave the bread. These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence. Jesus conducted a Eucharist, a gratitude. He demonstrated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all. Jesus is engaged in the sacramental, subversive reordering of public reality.
The profane is the opposite of the sacramental. “Profane” means flat, empty, one-dimensional, exhausted. The market ideology wants us to believe that the world is profane–life consists of buying and selling, weighing, measuring and trading, and then finally sinking down into death and nothingness. But Jesus presents and entirely different kind of economy, one infused with the mystery of abundance and a cruciform kind of generosity.
Five thousand are fed and 12 baskets of food are left over–one for every tribe of Israel. Jesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self-interest. From broken Friday bread comes Sunday abundance. In this and in the following account of a miraculous feeding in Mark, people do not grasp, hoard, resent, or act selfishly; they watch as the juices of heaven multiply the bread of earth. Jesus reaffirms Genesis 1.
The feeding of the 5000 – or some version of a feeding miracle; 5000 or 4000 – shows up six times in the gospels. John Dominic Crossan points out that loaves and fish are an allusion to Sepphoris and Tiberias in Galilee. Sepphoris, a very Romanized city, was the center for grain; the breadbasket of Galilee. Tiberias, built in honor of Tiberius Caesar, was a very Romanized city that was the center of the fishing trade. Both built to feed and sustain the empire.
[Herod] Antipas had multiplied the loaves in the valleys around Sepphoris, and he now intended to multiply the fishes in the waters around Tiberias-for the kingdom of Rome. But a magnificently parabolic counterstory tells us how Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes- for the kingdom of God. (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, p. 126)
As we have had parable about the kingdom of heaven for the past few weeks, this story then is also about the kingdom of heaven vis-à-vis the kingdom of Caesar. Where is nourishment to be found? Where is abundance to be found? To go back to Isaiah, where and what are the things that truly satisfy?
A final Brueggemann article, “Enough is Enough“.
And so, I too say, “Until next week, enough!”
Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson