PERFECTION IN IMPERFECTION

 

This chapter is a digression from the primary theme of this volume, but is included here because it is so closely related to the information regarding Jesus’ feedings of the multitudes.

Having finished the analysis of the feedings as described in the previous chapter, I was left with a sense of disappointment in the little deviations from what I had pictured as what would be an ideal description of the details. Things just didn’t come together as I would have wished. The missing company of eleven in the array of the five thousand, for example, gnawed at me. Why would God do that?

Then I remembered that Elijah had fed a hundred individuals with twenty loaves. Those hundred, in a 20 x 5 configuration, actually furnished the template for a company. If Elijah’s company were to be inserted into the missing slot in the array of five thousand, it would make a perfect rectangle. Did God actually intend to imply that this should be done? What was His point?

The point, I finally realized, may have been that the arrays were intended to be integrated together. Applying that factor to the problem with the array of the four thousand being at right angles to the first array, I was astonished at the figure that was emerging from the integration: the array of the four thousand, placed atop that of the five thousand, began to look like a familiar figure, but yet imperfect in itself.

At this point, it will be useful to explore the Scriptural meaning of bread, and of Peter’s role with respect to it. In John 21, the risen Jesus shares breakfast with His disciples, and then addresses Peter, asking him the same question three times:

“Peter, do you love Me?”

Peter responds each time by affirming his love for Him, to which Jesus follows with a command:

“Feed my sheep.”

Peter, not appreciating that Jesus was gifting him with a threefold pardon for his denying Jesus three times, responds to each question with increasing anxiety. With the coming of Pentecost ten days after Jesus has left the earth, Peter is filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit, enabling him to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to feed His sheep. He does so, three significant times. The first time he preaches Jesus to the salvation of three thousand.

But Peter’s feeding is with the word, not the bread. Perhaps, with the doing, he came to understand John’s characterization of Jesus in Chapter One of his Gospel that Jesus is the Word in the flesh. Maybe he began, then, to appreciate Jesus’ words, recorded in John 6:30-35 and 51-58, that the Word is the spiritual equivalent of material bread, and that the bread Jesus gave the multitudes was only incidental to the Word.

“They said, therefore, to [Jesus], what sign do you show us, then, that we may see, and believe you? What do you work? Our fathers ate manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

“Then Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. Then they said to him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes on me shall never thirst.”

“I am the living bread who came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

“The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.

“As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he who eats me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven, not as your fathers ate manna, and are dead; he who eats of this bread shall live forever.”

Appreciating that the bread of significance in Scripture is the immortal Word of God, Peter’s feeding of three thousand with the Word took on real importance, to the extent that it should be integrated into the figure that was being formed. Accordingly, the three thousand were encapsulated in an array of ten symbolic rows of companies of 100 by three columns.

When this was added atop the array for the four thousand, which itself was atop the array of five thousand, the resulting figure stood out as a cross.

But what about that extra little three-company array? The answer was found in Matthew 27:37, which declares that a sign was placed on the cross over his head that stated in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” The sign is called the titulus, and belongs with the cross.

In passing on this message of the sign of the cross in Jesus’ feedings, I encountered a person who pointed out to me that my assumption that all the baskets had the same size was false. The basket for the feeding of the five thousand, I was told, was a small handbasket, whereas the basket for the feeding of the four thousand was larger. The smaller handbasket would be appropriate for 5 loaves per basket, but the larger basket could hold more.

Actually I didn’t assume a common basket size; rather, I assumed that the leftovers from the feeding of the menfolk were of a common number of five per basket.

There were women and children in addition to the menfolk in both feeding events. According to Mark 7:31 the four thousand were fed near Decapolis on the south shore of the Sea of Galilee, while, according to Luke 9:10, the five thousand were fed near Bethsaida on the north shore, the implication being that the four thousand were mostly Gentile, while the five thousand were primarily Jewish. Further weight is given to this difference by the fact that the seven baskets of the four thousand correspond to the seven representative Churches that Jesus addressed in Revelation 1:20, while the twelve baskets of the five thousand match the twelve tribes of Israel.

Christianity is more inclusive of women than Judaism as suggested in Acts 2:16-18, and this difference supports the possibility that the larger baskets for the four thousand included the leftovers from the womenfolk as well as those for the men. Yet the contribution from the menfolk in each basket would have remained at five.

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