Jesus never draws too firm a line between soul & stomach. True religion always feeds both. To feed the hungry may well be justified by theology, but to feed the hungry is to do theology!
John the Big Dipper's death puts Jesus himself at risk. Herod may well be after him next. Another challenger of the status quo. Jesus makes a strategic withdrawal. In his 'Matthew and the Margins' [Orbis, 2000, p.305] Warren Carter says withdrawal is 'to refuse to play in the tyrant's world and by the tyrant's rules. It is to make space for a different reign'. A lot to ponder there. (By the way, if you're serious about MT, consider getting hold of Carter's excellent commentary.)
Barren as it is of fleshpots & luxuries, desert doesn't hold much interest for the rich & powerful. Except, that is mining its mineral riches. Those prepared to find in 'wilderness' a tool to grow in God, mine a different kind of riches. While Jesus goes apart to get closer to God (if we can say such a thing!) & his humanity, the crowd, too, finds God out there reflected in Jesus' face. Hopefully they find themselves a bit more, too, as they see themselves in his face, too. God as God really is. Earthed & among us. Among us in ourselves & each other.
The crowds have largely deserted Jesus today. Perhaps his 'face' isn't readily recognizable on us? Of the monotheistic faiths, it's Islam that's drawing the crowds today. Because it's more cut & dried than Christianity? Or even more capable of being taken to extremes? Do we recognize how much the extremes (& extremists!) of both faiths have in common as they shape up to each other today? If we're going to pick on Islamic fundamentalists, surely we should pick on Christian fundamentalists too? Are they any less dangerous? People who hide behind the Name of God to lock God & themselves into narrow confines & thus lock anyone else out. Not Good News!
Where God is, where Jesus is, there is compassion. Never an abstract quality. Always God's love actually doing something for somebody. Doing something about their plight. Not just talking about it. We live in a world plagued by famines. Driven by ignorance, mismanagement, political ineptitude, poverty, & corruption as much as by El Ninos. We often hear the term 'compassion fatigue' used by those at the cutting edge of on-the-ground-help in their search for funds to support them; to describe most of the rest of us. I know what they're saying often applies to me. I don't even give as much financial support as I could (i.e. I apply the old "Here I am, send someone else!" principle!) Deep down I know I need to do something more than just watch disaster succeed disaster on ever more instant & trivialising TV. Is there some small, achievable action we can take, preferably in company as the Body of Christ, at our congregational or local level? Surely there must be ways 5 loaves & 2 fishes or their equivalent can still help feed a multitude? Question: Who's going to start it off by handing them over?
Jesus' feeding of the crowd needs to become substance for today's hungry crowds. Debates about how & whether it happened can be a cop out. How can we as today's Body of Christ play host to the world about us as Jesus does? Are eucharistic bread & wine only a sad commentary on, a wistful mockery of, a fleeting religious Camelot long ago & far away? Or are they, are we who share them, demonstrating a commitment to what still can happen when Jesus takes bread, wine, fish, anything, & we as disciples make ourselves available to make sure it goes around?
The Gospels meticulously record that there were left-overs. When God fills, God fills! As with the wine at Cana, debates about whether & how are futile. Diminish God & us. Factual truth isn't the issue here. If we can't recognize a good story about God's overwhelming generosity when we see one, maybe we're incapable of recognizing the generosity itself? Passing it on to those still waiting for their share?