A lesson of mission forgotten?

This coming Sunday the Church celebrates The Solemnity of Corpus Christi. In yesterday’s post we catch a glimpse of a moment of respite for the apostles after their mission that gives way to crowds of people

12 As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, ‘Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.’ 13 He said to them, ‘Give them some food yourselves.’ They replied, ‘Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.’ 14 Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

There is some question as to how much of a “deserted place” they were actually in. The Greek eremos used by Luke definitely means “deserted or lonely place – even wilderness” but there is no transition from the geographical marker of Bethsaida. Apparently there are surrounding villages and farms. As Joel Green (363) points out:

Only when viewed against the backdrop of Jesus’ prior instructions to the twelve does their request to him seem odd. Their location in the rural environs of Bethsaida places them in close proximity to the possibility of food and lodging; why not take advantage of it? Jesus, however, had earlier instructed his disciples to take no bread on the journey (v.3); thus, they were counseled to carry on the divine mission while trusting in divine benefaction and resources. Had they not trusted and been successful earlier? If one reaches further back into the Lukan narrative, one remembers Jesus’ instructions on Simon’s boat that had led to a miraculous catch of fish (5:1–11). If he was able to provide then, why not now? Even further back in the memory is Elisha’s instructions to feed a hundred people with five barley loaves and fresh ears of grain (2 Kgs 4:42–44), the potential relevance of which is underscored by Luke’s earlier use of Elisha-material to portray Jesus (e.g., 4:27). In light of their present location in the “wilderness,” memories of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16; Numbers 11) might also be activated. In light of these narrative realities, could the twelve not continue to trust now, even if these fresh circumstances presented obstacles more severe than those they had yet faced? Against such a backdrop, the extraordinary nature of their request to send the crowd away is seen in their lack of any vocalized expectation that Jesus might be able to provide for their needs.

The disciples’ experience of and with Jesus has been one in which Jesus has been able to meet every encounter in a way that best reveals the Kingdom of God. He just sent and received them back from a mission in which they did the same thing. What lesson of mission in the name of the kingdom just got lost? What made the disciples “pump the brakes” in this encounter?

The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997)

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