The Book of Isaiah is not just about the prophet Isaiah, but also contains prophecies from a later period. Prophecy in the Bible is not so much about telling the future as about telling how God is with people and what He plans for them – plans that interpret past events, explain the present and hence indicate the future in general terms. So the slaves in Egypt were liberated, and when they grumbled about being in the desert they were kept there for a whole generation then given their own land; and when they neglected their religion and broke their covenant with God they were taken and annexed by the Babylonians; all the notable people were deported into exile in Babylon. Our reading today comes from a section of the book of Isaiah written during that time; Then there was a new Emperor and perhaps a different attitude to these exiles; the prophet sensed the situation, knew of God’s way in the past and spoke of the good things that God would bring upon the people; they must listen and appreciate this message from God – about God’s way with people, the covenant. It is the same God, with the same attitude, that is with us here and now!
St Paul’s life had not been plain sailing. He began life as a Jew living outside of the Promised Land; he was well educated in the Jewish Law and with a traditional Roman education. He believed that keeping the laws of his religion was important in order to gain favour with God in order to have a blest life. He would have heard of Jesus and those who followed His Way; and he would have seen it to be a life of enthusiasm rather than education, of love above laws, and of forgiveness for any faithlessness. He was all for suppressing this deviant sect of the Jewish religion; he was against the early Christians, before even they were known as Christians. But he changed, he came to see things differently, to see that the covenant relationship with God was essentially a relationship of enthusiasm, of love and of forgiveness. When he converted to become a Christian, he was held in much suspicion by the Church communities and felt exiled from them. But he found that his role was to bring the Good News that he had come to him, to those beyond the Jewish nation; he became an apostle to the Gentiles. For this he was suspect by no less a person than Peter and by many other Jewish Christians. So when he wanted to go to Rome to fulfil his mission he wrote to them to try to assure them of his understanding of the new covenant revealed by Jesus and experienced with the Spirit of God. Throughout his missionary work he suffered expulsion from cities and imprisonment. But in his letter to the Romans, as we read today (omitting verse 36), he firmly accepted that nothing could break the covenant of love that God has with people. – even with him and with us today!
The gospel reading is the miraculous feeding of a multitude; there are six such accounts across the four Gospels, indicating that it was an important story in the teaching of the early church. The early church had developed out from the Jewish religion, believers were first called followers of the Way of Jesus. Their communities would come together weekly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and there was an enthusiasm and expectation for the End of the world. Sacred meals in the Jewish religion re-enacted the Passover and celebrated God’s leading them safely from Egyptian slavery and making them His people. Jesus, like all Jews, saw the sacred meals as keeping alive and celebrating the covenant relationship between people and God, and at His Last Supper He celebrated the gift of his whole life for the accomplishment of the Covenant. In memory of His completed life’s purpose, the early believers re-enacted this as they came together to strengthen their community in its life of responding to the call and love of God. Their celebrations, as those of Christians to this day, recognise the presence of Christ in our world, the participation we have and commit to increase in this Divine humanity of Christ, leading to the completion of God’s creative enterprise – our world!
see Jeffs Jottings – Know you don’t know