As we look at the reading for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time a few words stand out to us when we keep in mind how there are no unnecessary details in Torah and Gospel. These words include, “He said the blessing, broke the loaves.” These words from the earliest church are jargon for our Eucharist. In our Eucharist, the bread is blessed and broken. The blessing Jesus used was, “Blessed are you, Personal Name, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Another set of key words in this passage is, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish.” Why five, and why loaves and fish? There are five books of Torah.
Jesus gives them what Numbers 11 tells us God gave the Hebrews in the desert, Manna, “Manna was like coriander seed and had the appearance of τό βδέλλιον , a resinous substance; Pliny ("Historia Naturalis," xii. 35), relates this as, “A transparent, fragrant, crystalline substance, resembling wax, greasy to the touch, and of a bitter taste. When they had gathered it up, the people would grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar, then cook it in a pot and make it into loaves, with a rich creamy taste.” The loaves Jesus gives the people represent manna.
Why fish? Numbers 11 has the answer, “The riffraff among them were greedy, and they sat. The Israelites lamented, “If only we had meat/Bashar for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” Fish is the food of the poor, the food of slaves. The loaves are the food of refugees, not the wealthy.
A key word in this Numbers reading as it relates to the Gospel reading is “Bashar/Flesh.” It also means Gospel. The people were greedy for the Gospel, the Sweet Message/the Good News. Numbers 11 goes on, “Moses said, “The people around me include six hundred thousand soldiers; yet you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month.’ Can enough sheep and cattle be slaughtered for them? If all the fish of the sea were caught for them, would they have enough?” The NAME answered Moses: Is this beyond the NAME’s reach? You shall see now whether or not what I have said to you takes place.”
Numbers 11 goes on to relate how Moses chooses 70 elders to help rule the people. Numbers 11:26 gives the essence of what our reading for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time is about. “Two men, Eldad and Medad, remained in the camp; the spirit came to rest on them. They were on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; they prophesied in the camp. When a young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” Joshua, Ben Nun, said, “My master, Moses, stop them.” Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? If all the people of the NAME were prophets! If the NAME bestowed his spirit on them!”
The five thousand men and the five loaves of our story represent the five Books of Torah. The people come looking, not just for loaves and fish, but for fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Jesus gives them manna and fish, just as God did in Sinai. Joshua/Jesus Ben Nun gets it wrong, and does not allow everyone to be prophets.
Jesus/Joshua Ben Nun, gets it right. Everyone will eat the meat/Bashar of the Gospel, and all become prophets. Matthew 16 relates Jesus’ interpretation of this Gospel passage, and the feeding of the four thousand. Jesus tells Peter/Caiphas/Rock, Son of Jonah/Son of the Fish, that upon his Rock he will build his church. This is a church where all of us, you, me, the person sitting next to you in our pews, and the guy next door will all be prophets, proclaiming the Bashar, the Sweet Message of life lived to its fullest for all people So, why are we standing here. Let us eat communion and become prophets.