In response to his disciples’ apparent meager supplies for the feeding of 5,000 people, Jesus speaks a word of creation into nothingness: “They have no need to go.” The divine Logos knows a truth buried deeply beyond all that the disciples can fathom. The disciples are not playing the role of ignoramus here: they are being responsible, even pastoral. They recognize the embodied needs of the people, asserting in their legitimate care for these people that the body is important. “No one ever got saved with a toothache,” said William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army — or on an empty stomach, the disciples might have added.
While Jesus does not deny the value of this thinking, he does transcend it. He upends the conventional pragmatism of the disciples. He places a spiritual challenge directly in the path of pragmatic ministry: food is necessary, food is not here, and yet they have no need to go? The disciples’ pragmatic reasoning about needs and resources leaves something to be desired. Jesus’ mission is not merely to feed the body, nor just the soul, nor even the two in turn — but to testify to a higher unity in which all needs are met in God: a plane upon which Christian ministry must always take place, where body and soul are not opposed to one another, where pragmatism and mysticism point to the truth that God’s grace transcends the physical and the spiritual economies of needs and resources. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 KJV). In Jesus’ spiritual miracle, there will also be physical nourishment. In his setting of the table there will also be faith, thanksgiving, and miraculously answered prayer.
In our churches, the sacramental life testifies to the truth that we “have no need to go” elsewhere. In the sacraments we can find the presence and power of Jesus Christ, and in him find our needs met, bodies healed, lives sanctified, minds transformed, souls saved, bills paid, sins forgiven, and food put on the table. Nothing is impossible with God. Every miracle in every realm of possibility and impossibility is on the table under the form of water, or of oil, or of bread and wine. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily. We have no need to go elsewhere. “Ho, come to the waters! Let everyone who thirsts, drink.”
Tertullian writes: “The flesh, indeed, is washed in order that the soul may be cleansed. The flesh is anointed so that the soul may be consecrated. The flesh is signed so that the soul too may be fortified. The flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands so that the soul also may be illuminated by the Spirit. The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ so that the soul likewise may fatten on its God” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. iii, p. 551)
Look It Up
How often do we make decisions about which church to attend based on an economy of needs and resources? What might it mean for our choices that we “have no need to go” elsewhere?
Think About It
Tertullian calls fasting, asceticism, virginity, widowhood, marital chastity, and martyrdom the “fragrant offerings to God paid out of the good services of the flesh.”