There is no need for them to go:
give them something to eat yourselves.
The vision of Jesus is one of inclusion and acceptance. The shared meal was his vehicle for this. In his culture, shared meals symbolized peace, trust and community. They became Jesus’ way of showing that the reign of God included all and required love for all. The last supper has become the meal we celebrate in his memory but there were many more shared meals including what New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan calls Jesus’ “bread and fish eucharists”. These were meals with large groups of people, the gospels mention hundreds or thousands. At these, Jesus took loaves of bread and some fish, blessed them, broke them and shared the food with the people. Everyone ate and there was some left over. Jesus served food that was available to everyone. While wine was reserved for special occasions only or for the tables of the wealthy, bread and fish were the common food of the ordinary people. Thus, everyone could participate; no one was excluded.
“Give them something to eat yourselves.”
Jesus’ clear message was one of inclusion, acceptance, and compassion. A major mark of his ministry was his shared, inclusive, meals. As his followers, as a church do we imitate the Jesus who ate with those considered unacceptable by his society? Whom do we exclude? From whom do we withhold our compassion? Why? What should we do?
As he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick. When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’
Jesus replied, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves. But they answered, ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish. So he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples, who gave them to the crowds.
They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full. Now about five thousand men had eaten, to say nothing of women and children.
We know how important it was for Jesus to share meals with his disciples, but also, and especially, with sinners and the outcasts…at each Eucharist, the table of the Lord’s Supper, we should be inspired to follow his example by reaching out to others in a spirit of respect and openness, in order to share with them the gift we have received.
There’s a disturbing trend within our churches today. Simply put, we are seeing the embrace of our churches become less-and-less inclusive. More-and-more, our churches are demanding a purity and exclusivity not demanded by Jesus in Gospels.
Ron Rolhaieser, OMI
The eucharistic table presents itself as the one place in our society where at least this much of God’s kingdom is anticipated: where everyone is welcome, where those who are elsewhere unwelcome, outcasts, despised, oppressed, shunned, excluded are the most welcome of all.
Robert W. Hovda
Jesus’ table fellowship with the outcasts of society, his eating with them as a friend, epitomized the scandal of inclusiveness for his time, for he invited the others that were rejected to the fellowship of a meal. Moreover, this table fellowship became both a symbol of a messianic banquet, where all would feast together in joy, and a precursor of the sacrament of the eucharist. Thus, Jesus’ invitation to the outsiders to join him as friends at the table became an enacted parable of God’s friendship with humanity: the God of Jesus is the One who invites us to table to eat together as friends.
Don’t just talk about Christ. Be like Christ. The world needs less Christians talking about their faith and more people living it out daily in front of them.
We can either emphasize those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings. The choice is yours.
We are less when we don’t include everyone.
Inclusivity means not ‘just we’re allowed to be there,’ but we are valued.