Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’
When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.”’
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.
Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.
In last week’s ‘Origins and Influences’ posting we considered the New Testament accounts of Christians gatherings held in fulfilment of the Lord’s command to ‘do this in memory of me’– gatherings for… well, what do we call it? Breaking of the bread (generally their term), or call it Eucharist or Mass (our terms and, to a greater or lesser extent, anachronistic terms)
A key term, a key verb, associated with these communal meals – used in the accounts of the Last Supper in the Gospels and in Paul is eucharistein. It is a word that means ‘giving thanks’. It is also a word that has remained in currency over 2000 years. And is used in the New Testament most broadly than in the accounts of the Last Supper.
As noted in last week’s mini-essay, eucharistein is also used in association attitudes and a life of thanksgiving more generally – key aspects of living in communion with the Lord.
It is a word also used, in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels in their account of the multiplication of the loaves for the 4000; and in John’s account of the feeding of the 5000. Though eucharistein does not appear in the synoptic gospels account of the feeding of the 5000, there are other verbal parallels which themselves echo the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper. In other words, these miraculous feedings far great, far more substantial than the feasts of which Paul complains in Corinth – these meals too need to feed into our appreciation of what it means to eat and drink in memory of Jesus.
Let’s look at the accounts of the feeding of 5000 and 4000 in Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish,he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
It is interesting to note that not only is Jesus’ action with the bread described in terms which evoke what he does at the Last Supper, it is describe much more elaborately than is what he does with the fish. The bread is blessed, broken and given – the fish just divided.
Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And 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.
Again, the fish are just set before them, but the bread… the loaves Jesus give thanks (eucharistein) for, breaks and gives them.
This language of giving thanks, breaking and sharing anticipates the language that Mark uses to describes Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper.
This is surely not accidental. In these miraculous feedings Jesus draws on his divine power, on himself, for the benefit of others.
The disciples – by contrast – seem just want rid of the others – send them away. They want to keep what they have for themselves and for Jesus.
There is lovely little episode in Mark’s Gospel that follows on from the feeding of the 4000 that seems to me to make the point beautifully. The Pharisees miss the point, and the disciples miss the point. The Pharisees are blind to the signs that have already been given; and the disciples fail to understand the deeper truth of the sign. Jesus is the bread – the living bread as John would put it – and to be in communion with Jesus is to be fed. Every thing else is bonus…
The Pharisees Demand a Sign The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Mark 8. 11-21
Jesus tells us he has a reputation for one who has come ‘eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”’ . (Mt 11.19).
And yet believers see that in his eating and drinking with sinners he manifests the love and mercy of God in a way that is sometimes obscured by our disciplines of inclusion and exclusion, not least those surrounding eating and drinking, be that in our homes, and even – at least sometimes – in our religious rituals.
When we ourselves come to eat and drink with the Lord, or – in truth even more truly when we come to eat and to drink the very Lord himself in the Eucharistic food and drink – we do well to call these other transgressive meals to mind.
When we come to the Eucharist we say that we are not worthy to be there – we group ourselves with tax-collectors and sinners. Do we mean it? Do we? And do we truly ask the Lord to speak his healing word.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Order of Mass 132
The priest at Mass is given additional words to use in his prayers before Communion and as he receives Communion. They underline our very real need for what Christ offers in communion
The Priest, with hands joined, says quietly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.
Or: May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy. … (As he receives Holy Communion) the Priest, facing the altar, says quietly: May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
And he reverently consumes the Body of Christ.
Then he takes the chalice and says quietly: May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
And he reverently consumes the Blood of Christ.
The Order of Mass 131, 133.
The priest prays ‘keep me always faithful …and never let me be parted from you.’
In other words he prays that as he leaves the altar, as he leaves the assembly of the faithful and with them returns to ‘the world’ he might continue to live in communion with Christ. He prays that he will be at one with Christ’s life of thanksgiving to the Father.
He prays that he himself (with the rest of the Church) will live as an effective sign of communion with Christ that Christ himself extends to all peoples – with those others with whom we might easily eat and drink – but especially with those others that, left to ourselves, we might shrink from spending quality time with…
How does Eucharist challenge the status quo?
Does Mass in your Christian community challenge the status quo?
What connects sharing in the Eucharistic food and drink with other meals in your daily life?
How does Eucharist feed the hungry? Where does it fail to meet their needs?
Translation of Scripture: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The Roman Missal(c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Photographs. (c) 2013, Allen Morris, Two images from paleo-Christian sarcophagii, Musee Departemental Arles Antique, Arles, France.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.’
The crowds got even bigger, and Jesus addressed them: ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’