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Thursday, December 01, 2005 

Feed My Sheep
Exegetical

Music Hack: Want to listen to some music while you read this post? How about listening to Project 86's new album ...And the Rest Will Follow. If you are using Firefox (which you should be. New Firefox 1.5 out yesterday!), open Project in one tab, and do the rest of your surfing in others. That way you can listen to their killer new tracks while browsing the net. Tracks include "Sincerely, Ichabod;" "Doomsday Stomp;" "Subject to Change;" "Necktie Remedy," among others. You can listen to nearly half the new album. On a personal review, I really like what I hear.

Sometimes, the Scriptures break forth on your heart in ways you can't understand. All of a sudden, a text shines more brightly than normal under the Holy Spirit's tutelage. When Matthew records the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, I had an occurence like this a few years ago.

Jesus, in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew's rendition of the Good News, hears the tragic news of John the Baptist's death. Who among us can understand the psychological toll this would have effected on Him? John, who was making the path smooth for Jesus, was now paving the way to Golgotha with his own death. Jerusalem, which had killed all Her prophets, now killed the greatest (Matthew 11:11), and was about to slay Her Prince. In His humanity, perhaps Christ was reeling from this emotional blow (though no doubt He knew it, planned it, foreordained it); regardless, he went off to "a desolate place." However, the crowds still find Him.

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

I can remember being in a Bible study of college guys, when Jesus' words landed on us: "They aren't leaving to get food. YOU get them food."

What would you do if you were one of the twelve and Jesus broadsided you like this? (Of course, broadsiding in one sense, but in another, Jesus was always making comments like this.) There you are, you've just picked your jaw up off the ground, and how do you handle this. Everyone one of you knows there is no way you are going to get enough food - or money to buy enough food - to feed all these people. If there are five thousand men, assume one woman per man. Then realize there were probably more women than men in attendance, given male-dominated vocations. Children? Families were bigger back then, and there was no day care. Is it any exaggeration to guess-timate a crowd of 13,000?

Here is the Lord, giving His disciples a command. For all those who feel that it is so en vogue to say that commands and Law are gracious, here's an interesting example. Conversely, for everyone who assumes that God only gives commands that we have the ability to keep, this is quite a prooftext.

The Law is Gracious
Is there any way to think of Christ's command here as gracious? I suppose several ways, actually. At the very least, our Lord is being very gracious to the hungry multitude who is ready for a snack. Perhaps one might argue His talk here is encouragement, to spur the lax disciples on to good deeds and love for their neighbors.

But on the face of it, this seems mostly preposterous. Jesus is commanding His disciples to do what they obviously could not. We are left helpless in the face of God's commands. It is tragic to think that the command to love as He has loved is any easier than feeding a multitude. It is superfluous to suppose being holy as He is holy is a command that humans have any more chance to perform than feeding the five thousand. And don't think they are different kinds of commands either. Starting down the road of holiness, "I gave it my best shot," and other admirable starts never fulfill any command.

I cannot think of a single matrix in which the disciples justification or sanctification was in any way furthered by Christ's command.

The Law as Dunamis
In Koine Greek, the dialect commonly spoke during Second Temple Judaism - the period of time in which Christ lived - and the language the New Testament was written in, the word to describe "power" or "ability" is often dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. The connotation is that dynamite, as explosive power, makes you able to accomplish things; whether you need to create a hole, blast a tunnel for a train, or whatever. The power creates the ability. (Lyotard, eat your heart out.)

The disciples simply do not possess the dunamis necessary to carry out Christ's command. They only have a few loaves and fish in their possession, and feeding crowds in excess of ten thousand will not occur.

I'll never forget that bible study I mentioned, as the full force of what Jesus was truly expecting of His disciples landed on us at various points in that time. For a bunch of guys who had grown up vainly striving to keep way too many laws, this was a revelation on a whole new level. I'm still thankful for that night, both for my own experience and theirs.

Christ as Law-Giver and -Fulfiller
Jesus Christ told His disciples to feed the multitude. He didn't offer platitudes or hypotheticals or best case scenarios. When I was young, I was very black and white in my thinking, and as I grow older I see shades and variations to more and more of life. The demands of God are not one of these. They are absolutely black and white.

Our Lord obviously didn't require the disciples five loaves and filets to perform the blessing; any infinite billion combination of possibilities could have rectified the situation - angels granting care, ravens feeding, turning stones into bread, or manna from heaven. Instead, after blessing the meal, Christ provided what the disciples couldn't. Jesus met His own stipulation. From this, we pray with Augustine: Command what Thou wilt, and grant what Thou commandest.

After His resurrection, Jesus reinstated Peter by commanding him to feed His sheep. Peter was instructed to do that by feeding them on the pure milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). By faith in the way Christ has already fed (physically and spiritually) His sheep, Peter is granted to follow in his Master's footsteps, walking by the Spirit, and so fulfills the Law himself (Romans 8:4). Never attaining the perfect feeding that Christ Himself has done, nevertheless, Peter - and we with him - follow our Lord by doing as He has commanded us in faith. Our inability and His efficiency becomes the ground for our own walking after the Law-giver, and Law-fulfiller.

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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