Jesus is teaching his disciples, the 5,000 gathered, and us that in this new kingdom he is bringing about, nothing is lost. Nothing is wasted. And he is not just talking about food. He is talking about people. All our lives have significance and purpose. And just as he gave instructions to gather every last crumb, Jesus will not abandon any of us.
It might seem like what would open us best to surprise would need to be strange and unfamiliar, but it doesn’t. Our worship tradition, our hymns and organ pipes and tower bells, our chalices and vestments and wobbly brass crosses are more like idols if they only settle us reassuringly into the stability of the past. They’re meant to be objects carried through the wilderness of so many centuries to startle us into a present hope that God can make something new, not only of us, but of our world. They are relics and reminders from lives and times in which God has done just that.
Whatever yearning that John the Baptist’s presence and words had stirred up inside Herod Antipas was being denied oxygen before it really had a chance to breathe, through Herod’s own evil order. His false integrity of being true to a misguided oath severed his hope for real integrity in the possibility of developing an inner spiritual anchor through further conversations with John.
Christian theologians today, like Kathryn Tanner, are asking Christians to look again at how the societies and economies we live in now form us and even ask us to understand Jesus’s teaching on their terms, rather than the other way around. Which means that you and I, if we’re to be faithful to Jesus, must struggle to ground our deepest identity in his way, his truth, his life. Even as we acknowledge that we are social creatures, dependent on the people and culture and society in which we live. Even as we acknowledge that Jesus’s own healing, redeeming work took place within all the relationships and norms and customs that formed him. Some of which he cherished. Some of which he challenged.
In today’s Gospel, we meet two people who hope for something more. One woman hopes that just by reaching out and touching Jesus she will be healed. One man, with a daughter close to death, hopes Jesus can just get to her in time. Two very different people, one very same hope brings them through the crowd.