Jubilee and Stewardship Or “The Sweetest Sound in All the World”

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2000 »Volume 37 2000 Number 4 »Jubilee And Stewardship Or The Sweetest Sound In All The World

Megan McKenna
MEGAN McKENNA is well-known for her workshops and retreats as well as cassette tapes. She received her doctorate in theology from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, USA, and has taught in Chicago, San Francisco and Dublin. A theological consultant to a range of religious organizations, she has authored Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories of the Bible, Parables: The  Arrows of God and Mary:Shadow of Grace

Jubilee, both the traditional year and celebration of the Jewish people and the word itself begins with a sound--a shout, a ram’s horn summoning the community to an about-face and a jubilant song in everyone’s mouth, praising the Holy One who has brought them (and us) to this day. And so many of the jubilee texts of both the Jewish and Christian traditions depend upon hearing for understanding and meaning. In fact, there are some concepts and depth of perception that can only be perceived through hearing. I have coined the phrase “in the hearing is the meaning” for an introduction to how I structure the process of exegesis with a community digging into and seeking the core of the text’s meaning. This is based on oral tradition, the hearing of the words of the prophet, the words of the books of the law and the words of Jesus the Lord, not reading them either silently to oneself or even aloud, but hearing them in the mouth of a storyteller or proclaimer that has committed the texts to memory--who has learned them by heart and puts them out into the community as alive in their mouth.

Many exegetes believe that originally the texts we now relate to primarily as written tradition were originally oral. They lived in communities, in people’s mouths and hearts before they went down on the page. And perhaps they were only written down as mnemonic devices, to aid in memory those whose first introduction to them was through hearing and repetition. Many contemporary Christians only read the text visually and never hear them, either in their own mouths or in the mouths of others who know the text intimately. One of the primary roles of the exegete and the preacher today is to take the texts off the page and put them back into the mouth and ears of the community, so that they can live again. When you begin to learn the texts by heart you find that they have a rhythm, a pattern that carries the meaning along and aides in the telling. A piece that was originally written to be heard, to be oral follows drastically different patterns than a piece that was originally written for the page, and to be read.  The text of our testaments, both older and more recent were written to be proclaimed aloud--not read, but heard through the voice and inflection and body of a believer who incarnated the Word into their very body and person.

In this regard our texts follow the rules, if you will, of the oral tradition of storytelling. The Jewish people believe that God (Hashem) gave the written Torah to Moses during the day, but at night, God (Hashem) told stories and gave the oral tradition to all the people. Within our Jewish-Christian heritage we have three levels of tradition: the oral tradition, the written tradition and the living tradition. The first we have spoken about and it takes priority over the written one that comes later. Even today, in dealing with copyright laws in the western world, any oral version spoken and taped has precedence over any written version. It is considered closer to the original version. The written text/tradition simplifies, condenses and reformulates the oral version.  It even  transforms the line and direction of the oral piece, as remembered and makes it more universal. It is much easier to individualize the written text whereas the oral tradition belongs more to the community. They are meant to be read, studied and known, even loved in tandem with one another.

However, it is the third level of tradition that is most crucial, most revelatory and most instructive--the living tradition. This is a person, for the Jewish people a rabbi, a rebbe, a teacher/master and for Christians and Muslims, a prophet, preacher or teacher that embodies the oral and written traditions in their very person. They have incarnated the text and they themselves proclaim the meaning by their words, actions, gestures and even presence and silence. Their lives supercede any other interpretation. They are holy ones, who know the Holy Word and are becoming it for others’ salvation and graceful existence.

Perhaps an image will help to define some of these differences and yet reveal how they are also bound together. One can read the text of a play, especially a universally well-known and respected one and study its meaning, scenes, characters, development, background, historical perspective etc. and come to an appreciation of its meaning and power. But, the first time you go to see that play, sit in the audience and hear and see and become drawn into the plot and are caught up in its tensions and emotions, it is an altogether different experience. But again, if you ever become an actor or actress in the play and the lines are yours, you take on the character and live through the words, the inter-play between text, voice, word aloud and person can be staggering, transforming, conversional, frightening, fraught with meaning. Written--Oral--Living traditions. Our scriptures follow these rules and can be plumbed to varying depths by experiencing them in each of these modes. 

Not only that, but our scriptures are stories!  And stories are meant to be told, heard and talked about in the company of others. I always introduce my workshops and days of reflection on the scriptures with three basic rules that can be, and must be applied to both stories and scriptures, no matter the cultural or religious or geographical tradition. The first rule of storytelling is: All stories are true, some of them actually happened! For many, educated in western civilization, truth is factual, proveable, rational, but for many other cultures and educational systems, truth is simply universal, not necessarily proveable and it is concerned with concepts that are crucial to human survival and meaning. It does not matter really to many indigenous and religious people if something actually happened as described, what matters is what it means and what it says that is true. A simple exercise can demonstrate this rule. Get a tape recorder and fresh tape and go and talk with your mother. Ask her a number of questions and get her responses on tape. What was it like when you met Dad? What was it like while you were courting? What was it like when he asked you to marry him (if he ever did)?  And finally, what has life been like since then? You will, of course, get some remarkable, revelatory stories. And you will realize quickly how remarkable they are, when you go to your father and ask the same questions!  You will get another whole set of stories and you will wonder who these people are--they live together in the same house and yet, they live in different worlds, remembering things utterly differently. And you must ask yourself: which ones are true? And according to the rules, all of them are true. And if you wrote a story about what their lives have been like since you came along that would be another story altogether, but it too would be true!

Truth, this kind of truth that is essential to human living deals with large issues, existential questions, mysteries of life. The stories therefore deal with such things as: do you believe in God and if so, what is your God like?  Do you live your life differently than someone who claims not to believe in God? What is good and what is evil? And in the apparent struggle between the two forces, what criteria do you follow in choosing and acting upon your beliefs? You are alive--how do you face death? There is suffering, terrible suffering in the world--why? And how do you live with it and not let it destroy you or dehumanize you?  You live in a specific geographical location on the earth--does that influence the way you view the world and what is important to you?  These questions are the inner core of all stories that seek to delve into the unending mysteries of being human and living and facing death--all six billion of us on this planet. So the first rule of storytelling and scriptures is: All stories are true, some of them actually happened!

The second rule is this: Stories of their very nature create community. Just listening to a story within a group binds and draws the group together, cementing them and adding to the substance of their lives. Stories make communities. In fact, stories can be seen as the glue that holds a group together. Stories reveal values, hopes, dreams and visions, what is core to a people, what defines them as other, and what constitutes belonging to this group, as opposed to another. Stories give memory, a past, a history and roots, a heritage and shoulders of those who have gone before you to stand on...and they remind us of the hard things: of violence, and greed, of hate and prejudice, of loneliness and isolation that kills...of all the things we must remember and seek not to do ourselves, in peril of our very existence. That is why, we as Christians tell stories when we gather together:  the stories of creation and Exodus, the way to freedom and liberation for a people, of the prophets and their holy rage for justice, and of the promises of One who was to come who would not only save the people but be the presence of the Holy with those who were his own on earth so clearly that all the nations would see them as Light. And we tell the stories of Jesus, of the beloved son of the Father, of the Spirit of truth and those who were disciples and friends of the crucified and risen one who sought to draw them and all of us into a community called Trinity. And we tell the stories of the early Church and all those who have been beacons of light for us in our struggles and journeys in the world.  And some day, if we come true, they will tell our stories as part of the tradition, binding us to past and future, making more of the story come true in the world.  As community, we are known by the stories we tell. So, secondly, stories of their very nature make community.

And third: Stories are told, sung, chanted and shared to convert and transform us, to change our mind, our hearts, behaviors and life styles, how we love and how we live and die. Stories are like a mirror held up before us so that we can, for a few moments, get a glimpse of who we are--from the point of view of God, or see ourselves in the eyes of our children or in a hundred years when priorities have changed and what we do is seen in the long lens of history and hope or through the eyes of our enemies. They call us to stop, reflect, alone and with others and change, transforming our worlds and our persons so that we more resemble the truth of what it means to be human. All stories do this, and each religion honors its sacred stories, its scriptures having the power to do this, magnified limitlessly. If we do not change when we hear a story, or a portion of the scriptures, then we did not hear it and we do not believe it. Stories are intent on making us over, and recreating us in their image, both singularly and together as a community. There is a saying among storytellers that goes: The story begins when the teller stops talking! And that is the way it is with us, listening to a story, listening to the Word of the Lord proclaimed in community, in liturgy and prayer--we could just as easily proclaim at the end of our readings: This story comes true, when we stop talking--and we come true...

So, with this as background for stories and scriptures let us listen to a story.  It is an Islamic story, based on historical fact. I call it “The Sweetest Sound in All the World!” Once upon a time there was a Shah, a king of Persia.  His name was Shah Abbas and he sought to be a good king, fair and just with all his subjects.  He would go to war on occasion if it looked like he could win and it would improve conditions in the land. He was fond of conversation, food and music, culture and education. In fact, on a regular basis, he would throw a dinner party and invite his guests to both feast on food and wine and good conversation. Everyone waited for an invitation to one of these dinners because it meant that you had been noticed. You were coming up in the world and there were great possibilities in your future, besides the food was unbelieveable. It was so good in fact that many people as soon as they got their invitations, first bragged about it to all their acquaintances and then fasted the day of the dinner so that they could eat and enjoy the endless variety of food and delicacies that were served. And invariably as the meal progressed, the Shah would introduce a topic for the conversations. This particular evening the question was: “What is the sweetest sound in all the world?” Well, the response and discussion were so lively and engaging that people began to forget about the food, or if they kept eating, they were more concerned with their neighbor’s opinions and whether or not they agreed with their own. Every one had their own idea and was adamant about sharing it and making it heard.  It’s the sound of a violin--pulling at your heartstrings. No, it’s the sound of a drum, a woman said...like the heartbeat of the universe and our own in tune with all others. No...another was sure that it was the sound of a harp...even played by the wind, lovely and evocative... No...it must be an oboe...haunting, crying, tearing at the soul of those who heard...it went on and on...

And at this point I stop the story and ask those who are listening to answer the question: “What is the sweetest sound in all the world?” and the discussion takes off...everyone knows immediately. They share: the sound of a newborn cry...the sound of children laughing...the sound of a loved one’s voice when you have been away...the sound of birds in the morning...the sound of someone saying: I forgive you...the sound of silence, deep and rich and nourishing...the sound of bells summoning to prayer...as many as the people who are present are the answers.

Well, the dinner was a smashing success and the shah was thoroughly delighted except for one thing. He had an advisor that he trusted and admired, Merza Zaki and he noticed that he was very quiet and did not proffer an opinion and momentarily he thought to himself: I wonder what Merza thinks about this. But the food was superb and the night flew by. It was the talk of many days afterwards.

Not many weeks later it was Merza Zaki’s turn to throw a party...and what a party it was going to be, because it was the Shah’s birthday. Everyone waited to see if they were invited. The night arrived, many having fasted for the day, or even two days before, and the dŽcor was stunning, music greeted the guests and tables were laid with fine silver, glassware and flowers. At the head table, of course, was the Shah, his family and friends and Merza overseeing everything. First came musicians, dancers, acrobats, circus performers, animal acts, clowns, fire-eaters...stunning...an hour or two went by so quickly...except for one small thing... There was no food. Stomachs began to growl and people began to grumble. They were hungry. They had come hungry expecting a feast. And there was nothing to eat. A feast for the eyes and ears and senses, but no food.

Then came the seemingly endless speeches, poems and praises of the Shah and his accomplishments, virtues extolled, prepared texts and these next two hours dragged. People looked at one another and whispered: where is the food? Is there going to be anything at all? And then, Merza got up and told the Shah that he had a gift for him, a most spectacular one...to close his eyes for a few moments while the servants prepared it...and there was bustle and noise and the guests watched while a hundred slaves came in and quickly put together a fountain, with flowers, greenery and bubbling water...the sound of it fresh and clean in the desert air...the Shah was duly impressed...but by now even he was starving. There were guests who were quietly slipping out, intent on food and the others were afraid to get up, afraid they might faint. They had been at the party for over four hours and had been served nothing. Just then the clock struck midnight and the doors to the kitchen burst open. The smells that had been driving everyone crazy were unleashed and there was the sound of plates, platters and knives and forks, the sound of heavy covers being removed from food and the ahs of everyone in the room. These were served. And there was absolute silence in the room while everyone savored, chewed and swallowed. Then slowly the talk resumed...all about the food!

The Shah looked at his advisor Merza and spoke. “What have you been up to, my friend?” Merza looked back and answered. “My Shah, I believe you once asked this group: What is the sweetest sound in all the world?  Well, here is my answer. The sweetest sound in all the world is the sound of food in the ears of the hungry. These people here had only gone without food for maybe a day and they are always well fed and all they could think about was food...even you. You try to be a good ruler, but so many of your people are hungry. They are starving. And so much money is wasted on arms, on war and skirmishes at the border, and on threat to our neighbors. Your people need food.” The Shah listened to Merza. In fact they say that from that day forth, there was no preparation for war in the kingdom. Instead there was food, agricultural research, the digging of irrigation ditches, the cultivation of food staples and the eradication of hunger. Shah Abbas of Persia is remembered in Islamic society as a man who ruled peacefully and justly for a long time and was loved by his people. His reign is held up as a model for society.  But the story is told of Merza Zaki and his wisdom...the wisdom born of hunger and its memory.

The discussion that follows the story focuses around three questions. What does the story make you feel? What does the story say that’s true and what profoundly disturbs you about the story? The responses lay the base for studying the scriptures, for doing theology and for conversion. The first and most provocative statement was... I am ashamed. I never would have thought of anything that has to do with food or hunger. All of us had answers, sounds that we loved and cherished but none of us remembered our people, most of whom are so hungry. And then the statement that put everything in perspective: if you do theology on an empty stomach you get very different answers than if you do it on a full stomach. That’s the point! Hunger purifies and intensifies theological reflection. And in our world today, hunger and the lack of clean drinking water are the two most pressing issues for more than 80% of the world’s population. The majority of the world is always hungry, goes to bed and dreams of food, or works at chewing coca to dull the pain of hunger, or steals to survive and eats practically anything, rotten, thrown out and spurned even by animals. So many die of slow starvation, of malnutrition, of pesticide related illnesses and infections, all the effects of globalization, greed and corporate strategies of exploitation of the poor. There is more than enough food to go around but insensitivity to others’ needs, market economies driven by profit and consumeristic mentalities, individual materialism and institutions that control everything from cooking oil taxes, to land development, to the deforestation of third world countries and crop exports create massive and consistent patterns of starvation, drought and the death of millions--who wait for the wisdom of a Merza Zaki and the sweetest sound in all the world--the sound of food prepared and served, shared and enjoyed by all.

In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and to some degree in Mark as well, Jesus prepares for his work in the world and his proclamation of Good News, of Jubilee with the experience of being tempted in the desert by Satan. Satan, means in Hebrew, ‘the Hinderer’--anyone or anything that hinders us, and Jesus, from living the truth of who we are--the children of God.  And Satan’s first temptation is about food.

Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert that he be put to the test by the devil.  After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry.

Then the devil came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, order these stones to turn into bread.”  But Jesus answered, “Scripture says: one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:1-4) [All biblical texts are from Christian Community Bible. (23rd ed. Quezon City, Claretian Publications)].

All the synoptic writers begin with this reference to forty days and nights and to being hungry, tested by Satan to attend to one’s own basic survival needs immediately and to use any means and power available. But it is also a set up if we take on his dare, his challenge to use that power in direct opposition to its source and nature. Stones were created to build upon, for roads, altars, homes, walls, but not for eating. The resources of the earth are not to be used for other than what they were called forth to be--stones are not to be used to destroy, to kill or maim, but they are also not meant to be altered substantially and so, eaten. Power to transform, even the power to sustain life is not given indiscriminately. There are things more important than food and immediate gratification of even hunger. Every word that comes forth from the mouth of God--that is food, sustenance, a necessity and an essential for human survival and living. 

And in that answer that Jesus proclaims in the face of his own hunger and in Satan’s calculating presence is found our own answers--not only how to be the children, the sons and daughters of God, with Jesus, but also how to survive and how to live sustained by food and God’s word. The story of the temptations in the desert mirrors the story of Israel and their forty years in the desert being tempted to return to slavery, to worship other idols and to scatter and attempt to mold this Yahweh who had led them out of Egypt to their own ends. “Every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” is food and a source of where to find substance, bread and human existence that befits the children of God.

The Israelites left Egypt and in the book of Exodus we are told that they are tempted in the wilderness, but, unlike Jesus, they fail miserably and Moses and Aaron must resort to teaching them the basics of what it means to belong to Yahweh, the God of freedom who has laid claim to them as his own people. We read:

The Israelites left Elim and the entire community reached the desert of Sin, between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of Yahweh in Egypt when we sat down to caldrons of meat and ate all the bread we wanted, whereas you have brought us to this desert to let the whole assembly die of starvation!”

Yahweh then said to Moses, “Now I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you.  Each day the people are to gather what is needed for that day.  In this way I will test them to see if they will follow my Teaching or not.  On the sixth day when they prepare what they have brought in, they will find that there is twice as much as they gather each day” (Exod 16:1-5).

They are not out of Egypt two and a half months and they are in disarray, rebelling against Moses and grumbling against their liberating God. They want bread and caldrons of meat and in other translations, garlic and onions! They want to go back to slavery and to the food of slaves doled out by masters who only feed them in order to make them build their cities and fight their wars. And so, God tests them! It is a simple test: they are to collect the food that God gives them and only enough for that one day. On the day before the Sabbath, the sixth day they will find that they have enough for the day that belongs to the Lord. This is God’s first teaching in the desert. The revelation that with the God of Israel there is enough food for everyone each day and that is all they are to collect and take... No more. And they will find that there is more, when it is needed, so that they can worship God alone and rest on that day.

The story continues.

Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, “I have heard the complaints of Israel. Speak to them and say: Between the two evenings you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart’s content; then you shall know that I am Yahweh, your God!”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp. And in the morning, dew had fallen around the camp. When the dew lifted, there was on the surface of the desert a thin crust like hoarfrost. The people of Israel upon seeing it said to one another, “What is it?” for they didn’t know what it was. Moses told them, “It is the bread that Yahweh has given you to eat.”

“This is what Yahweh commanded: Gather it according to the amount each one eats, about four liters a piece, and according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.”

This is what the people of Israel did.  They gathered it, some more, others less.  But when they measured it with an omer, he that had gathered more didn’t have too much while the man who had gathered less didn’t have too little. Each one had as much as he needed. (Exod 16:11-18)

Upon first seeing this “thin crust like hoarfrost” the Israelites do not know what it is and they ask: What is it? These words literally translate “manna”. This is sustenance, daily bread. But the test and the time--those forty years is not just about eating on a daily basis, it’s about economics, about sharing and about no one having more than what they need and no one having less than what they need. In Yahweh’s camp, among Yahweh’s people all are taken care of and no one is allowed to take what is not given, what is not theirs to possess. This is the economics of mutuality. This is stewardship of the gifts, the creation and the resources of the earth, all of which belong to God and are given to the children of God as gift, not to be taken but to be received in obedience to the Word of God among them. This is the basis, the beginnings of jubilee economics and the common good of God’s people on earth, as a witness and example to the nations of God’s generosity, providence, care and just distribution of all that is needed to sustain and nurture human life. It even includes more--given in order to worship God alone, and refrain from making sure they take care of their own needs. This is the way it’s to be among God’s own people.

But of course, it’s not that easy and immediately we are told what happens in response to God’s word as expressed by Moses.

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it till the morning. But they did not listen to Moses and some of them left it till morning. It bred worms and become foul, and Moses was angry with them.

Every morning each one gathered as much as he could eat, and when the sun grew hot it melted....

And Moses said, “Eat it today, for this is a day of Rest--or sabbath--in honor of Yahweh.  Today you will not find it in the fields. For six days you will gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.

Some of the people went out on the seventh day but found none. Then Yahweh said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to obey my commands and my laws?” (Exod 16:19-21, 25-30).

Some disobey. The daily portion and trust in Yahweh is intimately connected to not having any manna on the day of the Sabbath, the day that belongs to God.  It is given and then it is not there. They must learn, as a people to take only what they need, and to worship God alone, together becoming a people that belongs to this God who feeds them, teaches them and commands that they live in imitation of Himself, Yahweh. It is a long lesson, forty years.

This event is also narrated in Numbers 11:4ff and the writers of the books of the Israelites feel free, in time, to amplify the narration of this event.  Future texts indicate that Yahweh sent the manna daily during the forty years. (see Exod 16:35, Jos 5:12; Ps 78:24 and Wis 16:20). The notes of the Christian Community Bibleprovide theological exegesis that develops over history, and on into Christian belief:

This gift of the bread which came from heaven is mentioned in two different commentaries in later pages of the Bible. In Deut. 8:3: “I gave you manna to eat, to show you that man does not live on bread alone but that every word that comes from the mouth of God is life for man.” ...later in the Gospel, the manna is an image of the true bread from heaven, Christ, which is given as food of life in the Eucharist...(p. 91, CCB).

This line from Deuteronomy is the one that Jesus quotes in rebuffing Satan and professing his own obedience to the Word of God. And it is Jesus’ way of deciding at the onset of his own work in the world that he will do things God’s way, not the way of the world, or in any way that hinders human beings from being the children of God. And so, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus will come from the desert and the testing straight back into his hometown Nazareth and into the synagogue, and “as was his custom, he stood up to do the reading, and they handed him the book of the prophet Isaiah” (Lk 4:16):

Jesus then unrolled the scroll nad found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and announce the Lord’s year of mercy” (Lk 4:17-19).

This is Jubilee proclamation!  It has begun. Jesus’ presence in the world heralds the new day, the new creation, the new order of business, the word of God loose in the world again, proclaimed and obeyed by the beloved child of God, and by all those who will be his followers and disciples.  Most likely it was a Sabbath, the appointed time to announce the coming of justice and hope to the poor. One can include the hungry, the starving, and the slaves as the poor and you have another sense of who Jesus singles out as the first group that will reap the benefits of his Word of God, his work and his presence with them as his friends.

Every seventh year was called the Sabbath year among the Jews and every fifty years the Jubilee was celebrated. This is “the Lord’s year of mercy” when all debts were cancelled, all land was taken up and redistributed equally, all prisoners set free, all immigrants and aliens welcomed within the community or sent home with seed and food for the future, slaves and indentured servants released and given back to their families.  This year of sabbath, and then the jubilee year in the 49-50th year were a built-in correction decreed by God’s law to make sure that among his people there would never be an ‘Egypt’--a place and time where there was ruler and slave, lavish wealth and slavish misery among His people. The gap between rich and poor was not to be tolerated and not allowed to demean any of the people who called themselves the children of Israel and worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem. Such inequality and breaches of community, such insensitivity and greed or lack of sharing or greed was not to be allowed, as it was in the other nations that did not believe in Yahweh the God of justice and mercy, who had brought them out of bondage and taught them his Word and his Way in the desert of Sinai. Freedom, liberation and community were to be the staples and the foundation of God’s dwelling place on earth and among Jesus’ friends. Historians have noted that it was not a jubilee year...and hadn’t been recently and wouldn’t be for decades. What Jesus is saying is a clarion call that rings sweet in the ears of the hungry, the poor and those who live lacking the basic necessities of life: among my people, every year is the jubilee year! 

And so, after the stirring words are proclaimed, Jesus will show his disciples what it means in reality. In Mark 6 we are told the story of the first feeding of the crowds of people who come to hear Jesus teach. It is the familiar story told in various forms in all the gospels:

It was now getting late, so his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place and it is now late.  You should send the people away and let them go to the farms and villages around here to buy themselves something to eat.”

Jesus replied, “You yourselves give them something to eat.” They answered, “If we are to give them food, we must go and buy two hundred silver coins worth of bread.” But Jesus said, “You have some loaves: how many? Go and see.” The disciples found out and said, “There are five loaves and two fish.”

Then he told them to have the people sit down together in groups on the green grass. This they did in groups of hundreds and fifties. And Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and, raising his eyes to heaven, he pronouced a blessing, broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them.

They all ate and everyone had enough. The disciples gathered up what was left and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces of bread and fish. Five thousand men had eaten there (Mk 6:35-44).

This is the new Exodus...groups of hundreds and fifties, and five thousand men (in the other translations not counting women and children, which would make about 25-30,000 people). The disciples are initially insensitive to the hunger of the crowd. They want them to go away. They have their food, enough for them: five loaves and two fish. And since some of them were fishermen, you can bet the fish were sizeable ones, enough to go around the group of disciples and Jesus. But Jesus has the disciples organize the people into groups (community organizing) and takes their food, blesses it and has the disciples distribute it. This is the way of sharing, of economics, of feeding, of survival. When what we have been given is shared, everyone has enough for the day and there is enough left over (when someone is directed to collect it) for the twelve tribes, or for everyone. Jesus’ word of Good News to the poor is a word about bread, about sustenance, about a life with dignity, with enough, with sharing and with leftovers for all the other hungry people waiting for those who have been fed on bread and word to come and bring it to those still waiting and hungry for justice and for food and for community. Always the first temptation has to do with food, with taking care of ourselves first anyway we can, without thought of others, or of God.

Jesus’ jubilee word is that sharing of food is the true worship of God. What we do with our resources especially food and drink reveals whether or not we are the children of God or the children of Satan, whether we have learned the lesson of God’s teaching and the word that liberates us or whether we are self-absorbed and intent on proving that we can take care of ourselves. Stewardship is just sharing, day-to-day taking only what we need and making sure all else have what they need to live as well. We pray it so often in Jesus’ prayer to the Father that he taught us to say: “Give us today our daily bread”... Give us today only what we need, no more, no less. Give us this day your Word and your presence. Give us sustenance so that we will imitate you and share our bread and hope with the hungry and those still bound in all the egypts of the world. Give us your Bread, Eucharist and in jubilation let us feed the hungry of the world and feast together on the goodness of the Lord. The sweetest sound in all the world, is the sound of bread breaking and God blessing and Jesus’ saying: “Give them something to eat yourselves”--or is it-- “Give them yourselves to eat.”  The sweetest sound in all the world is jubilee and nations hearing the words, your debts are cancelled, your interest payments are enough. Take what you have and feed your people and hear--let us share our food with you. We have more than enough and it is bitter and foul in our mouths while you are hungry. The sweetest sound in all the world is always: “Let’s eat and may all be satisfied--this is the will and word of God.” Amen. May it be so, in this Jubilee Year 2000 A.D. and for all the year to come in this thousand years of grace.  Amen.

  • Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) in Spirituality and Leadership
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