Watch out for hypocrisy! God hates it! “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Isaiah 29:130). The longer a faith becomes entrenched within a society, the more it seems that an outward observation is all that matters. The oral tradition of the Jewish rabbis, established after the return from the Babylonian exile, began to set out rules and regulations that went way beyond the requirements of scriptures – and over every aspect of a believer’s lifestyle.
So ingrained did these rules become, that they effectively superseded the Law of Moses in terms of day-to-day authority. And it was all for outward show; obey these rules and you were considered a fine upstanding member of society. The food laws, in particular, were rigid and demanding. In a culture where people always ate together, they were rules from which you could not hide!
However, they totally missed the point. Jesus summed it up when he said that it was not what went into your mouth that mattered or made you acceptable to God – it was what came out of your mouth, in terms of Godly speech. As James 3:2 puts it: “Anyone who is never at fault in what he says is a perfect, able to keep his whole body in check”. Godly living is all about the inward life invading the outward, rather than the outward cleansing the inward. What is our inner life like – that which is only seen by God, not men? Our inward life is actually part of heaven. And are we motivated to please the unseen God or the visible and cheering crowds?
A Gentile woman whose daughter was suffering demon-possession, cried out to Jesus for help. To test her faith, he claimed that his ministry was only to God’s existing chosen people – analogous to a man’s children being fed from his abundant meal table. The woman, full of faith – where did that come from? – pushed the analogy to argue that even the family pets manage to feed from the abundance of the father’s provision. Jesus could not resist that kind of bold, audacious faith and granted the woman’s request instantly. How audacious is our faith? Do we insult the God of all the Earth with our low expectations and our timid requests? Rather, should we not honour him with the size and scope of our prayers!
Some liberal scholars think that the ‘Feeding of the Four Thousand’ was just a textual repeat of the ‘Five Thousand’ episode and that, as usual, Matthew was seeking double! However, Mark also mentions both events in his gospel. Furthermore, if we look ahead to the next chapter in Matthew, we read Jesus asking his disciples: “Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand… or the seven loaves for the four thousand…?” (16:9-10). So, clearly Jesus recalled them as two separate events.
What surprises me is that the disciples seemed to forget the ‘5000’ event and the lessons they learned, when they encountered the same kind of catering challenge with the ‘4000’. Surely their faith should have been strengthened by their first experience and they would have readily expected Jesus to do a similar miracle. Jesus seemed to wait for them to make the first move this time around – in the spirit of true discipleship – and perhaps there was a slightly ‘resigned’ tone to his voice when he eventually asked them: “How many loaves do you have?” (v34).
Do we learn from previous answers to prayer? Do we even remember them? Perhaps we need to read more biographies of great people of faith – or spend times with those kinds of people living around us – in order to learn from their faith and energise ours! One of the saddest phrases in the scriptures is usually: “… and Israel forgot the Lord’s miraculous provision for them…”.
GENESIS 41 and 42
Joseph’s administration of Egypt’s food supply is perfection itself and soon all the nearby nations are forced to trade with them – including a certain family with twelve brothers! Jacob’s sons make the long trek to buy grain and don’t recognise their estranged brother – well he was 30 rather than 17, without a beard, and dressed in Egyptian high fashion. And you don’t really expect to find your kid brother in charge of the greatest empire in the world, do you!
Joseph can’t resist playing a small game of ‘pay-back’ with them and, suddenly recalling his own childhood dreams, deciding to manipulate their fulfilment too. He spares Reuben the indignity of being the hostage (perhaps because Reuben had tried to rescue him) and opts for Simeon instead (perhaps because as Son Number Two, Simeon had negotiated his price to the slave traders). He then packs the rest of them off to Jacob, hoping that Jacob will take the bait and agree for Benjamin to travel next time.
Children rarely understand their parents’ pain until they are parents themselves; Joseph probably had not thought through how much he was heaping more worry upon his poor father with this charade. A simple revelation of his true identity from the outset would have surely sufficed. Oh well! Dream on!