The next section of Chapter 2 deals with some of the major examples of how food, its giving and receiving, of getting it in a context where that is unexpected and out of the natural realm of expectation is central to understanding the Bible and really biblical religion. I will note that I think that since this was written, forty years ago, Brueggemann, in his more recent talks and writing, would emphasize the role that neighborliness plays in the miracles asserted in poetic form in the Bible. I've inserted the passages that the book cites, for the convenience of those who don't have a Bible handy, they are from the Revised Standard Verson.
Some Biblical Uses of This Story
Among the uses made of this story in the subsequent retellings are at least the following. In Isaiah 55:1-3, a poem for exiles when the community of Israel in the sixth century B.C. is hopeless, starved for faith as well as for bread, it is asserted that bread is freshly given and milk is for the taking.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; 3 and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come a long way.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish; and having blessed them, he commanded that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate, and were satisfied; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. 10 And he sent them away; and immediately he got into the boat with his disciples, and went to the district of Dalmanu′tha.
Obviously the actions of Jesus are understood quite differently because the remembering church saw his actions through the prism of the manna story, and no doubt Jesus himself also did. It is clearly intended to suggest that this old history of life-giving food in a place of death is happening again. The narrative in Mark is quite self-consciously inventive in the use of history. It is imaginative in its presentation, but its imagination is rooted in a precise historical memory. As a result, Jesus is presented not imply as a miracle-worker or a bread-maker but as the action of God transforming a “wilderness” (cf. Mark 6:35, 8:4) into a place of nourishment, a place of abandonment into one of caring power, a place of death into a time of life. Jesus, as the power of God, transforms the situation. And as the church remembered and told this story and reflected on it, she drew a powerful conclusion: We are in covenant with the transforming one It has been so since our fathers and mothers in Exodus 16, and it is so each time we eat in the presence of holy power.
It will be clear to you that in reporting this story I have handled it like an insider. By “insider” I do not mean one who has special expertise or technical learning. Rather I mean one who lives in and derives life from the community which believes these materials. Insiders are all the people who believe that these memories tell us about our past and these promises tell us about our future. Outsiders, by contrast, do not take the materials that seriously but regard them only as interesting materials which we can take or leave as they suit us. Only an insider would take the connections to Exodus 16 in a way which energizes and informs the Mark narrative. This connection has been made by the narrators of Mark who are also insiders, but they do it so subtly that it takes insiders to recognize the sensitivity and suggestion of the way the story is told. We are engaged in serious Bible study when we are alert and responses to such interactions among the texts.
The piracy of hijacking the name and what would be the identity of Christianity by politicians even as they cut food stamps, wipe out the WIC program, stigmatize and vilify those on food stamps and subject them to useless drug testing for entry into the program (they also want to cut drug treatment programs) are guilty of as anti-Christian a violation of the very center of Christian morality and its world view. I have said recently that after decades of thinking the last book of the New Testament had been a mistake, if it can be used as a lense to give a name to this hijacking of Christianity, maybe it is of more value than I'd believed.
There is no more characteristically Biblical act than feeding people who are hungry, making sure they have enough food. Feeding the "unworthy" probably the most profoundly Biblical act of them all. The very concept that there could be people who are properly placed in the category of "unworthy" is a sure sign of reversion to a Roman style of paganism. With all the talk about the "de-Christianization" of Europe, there's plenty of that among those who proclaim their Christianity the loudest. They're obviously too removed from the experience of needing food. Which would be in line with what it says about it being harder for a rich person to get into heaven than for a poor one to.