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Three Witnesses, One Story
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“You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37; Matthew 14:16; Luke 9:13)
Three Versions of the Feeding of the Five Thousand
This week our focus will be a bit different. We will be learning how to do a comparative reading of one story shared across the three Gospels that scholars call the synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. They are called synoptic because they are based on a common synopsis of the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. We believe that Mark was the first of these Gospels composed, and that Matthew and Luke each had a copy of Mark available to them when they were composing theirs. By looking closely and comparatively at one story that appears in all three, we can begin to see how these three Gospels share many similarities, but also reveal differences in their perspective and wording.
The story we will read across all three of the synoptic Gospels is the story of the feeding of the five thousand. As we read the three versions of this story, we will also try imaginatively to enter into what it is like to read this story from the widely varying perspectives that we human beings can bring to it.
How does this story sound to a person with ample goods in the USA?
How does this story sound to someone who is without food or shelter, fleeing Syria?
How does this story sound to a single mother with three children?
How does this story sound to two parents with steady income and an only child?
How does this story sound to a baker or fishmonger?
How does this story sound to a farmer or fisherman?
As we begin to see the varying insights and perspectives that we bring to this single story, we may also begin to see what blinders we have to seeing the story from perspectives other than our own. Finally, we can see more deeply how valuable it is to read Scripture in Christian community, since within the community of fellow readers we will hear perspectives on the story that we would never hear if we read it in isolation or only with folks of our own background and markers of identity.
Questions for Reflection
What categories of identity—gender, sexuality, education, economic status, race, ethnicity, national origin, family configuration, etc.—do I bring to the reading of Scripture, and in particular to this story of the feeding of the five thousand? How do these markers of identity open me up to certain perspectives on the story, and close down my ability to see it from other perspectives?
How might the starving child of the first prayer below read this story?
How might the folks that Walter Brueggemann wrote his prayer for read this story?
How might the people reflected in the three pieces of visual art below read this story?
What would the Ethiopians in the first painting see in the story?
What would the children in the photograph from India notice in the story?
What would the folks portrayed in Tintoretto’s painting draw from this story?
Answer of a Starving Child—from “An African Prayer Book,” Desmond Tutu
“Oh! Jesus. I have heard of that name. You say he is the Life of the world. Life! But I am hungry. I am lifeless. There is no milk in my mother’s breasts. She is sick and weak. They tell me some people called ‘Red Cross’ are sending or have sent some powdered milk. But I am hungry. I am dying. You say Jesus is the Life of the World? But I am dying. Can Jesus help to keep me alive?”
Giver, Giver, Giver – a prayer by Walter Brueggemann, from “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”
Creator, giver of goodness, creator of all that is...
Redeemer, giver of new creation...
Spirit, multiplier of loaves...
We are children of your bounty,
daughters and sons of privilege...
We live amidst ample food, ample clothes,
ample housing, ample cars, ample stereos,
ample friends, ample security...
We have ample and count on it,
reckoning our luxuries to be necessities...
And we are grateful...
In our gratitude,
we notice war refugees in Kosovo...
we notice the war on poverty,
even with our government surpluses...
we notice our ample housing
along with 20,000 in Atlanta on the streets...
we notice how you grace our church
midst our fear and rage and cunning...
we wonder about our grades
and our worth and our honor...
we ask about inheriting eternal life...
and turn away with our great possessions...
Giver, Giver, Giver who overrides fear in utterance...
who overrides scarcity in abundance...
who overrides parsimony in generosity...
we are among the 5,000...
we are dazzled by twelve baskets left...
Our gratitude does not match your generosity,
but we are grateful...
For all your gifts including the gift of your very own life to us,
we give you thanks... Amen. And all the people said...
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand - Laura James (1971- ) – See Above
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