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Maybe it's not complicated

There is a mode of thinking in some Christian traditions that sets them apart from other Christian traditions, and it has to do with how they view scripture. Some Christian traditions believe in the full and perfect inerrancy of scripture, that with a bible in hand and not a thought behind those eyes, babygirl, you can do anything. It is the idea that anything you need is in the Good Book and written word for word, and any cross section you take, in or out of context, will be true and good and necessary.

Other parts of the Christian tradition see the bible as a contested space -- that parts of scripture are true and good and necessary, and other parts are deeply harmful and weird, and that some parts of scripture cancel out other parts of scripture and that it is our job, not to take contradicting lines at face value, but to work hard to make sense of what to take and what to leave.

For example -- Matthew 25 "feed the hungry, give drink to the thirst, clothe the naked", kind of unequivocally easy and good. Samson in Judges 16 toppling a temple and killing 3000 people. Bad, don't do that. Deuteronomy 22 telling us not to mix two different types of fabric seems kind of neither here nor there, neither good nor bad, just kind of random nowadays! As for Paul saying something like "everybody should remain unmarried like me!" well, it seems simple on it's face but taking a step back, it's hard to place it in the context of the larger themes of loving your neighbor, and helping the marginalized, so we get to figure out what to do with it.

The tradition of the Episcopal church has something called the three-legged stool which invites us to read scripture hand-in-hand with our sense of reason and the church's history and tradition. It is perhaps more aptly symbolized by a little bike with training wheels. Where scripture is clear and good and uncontradicted, ride on. Where it would cause us to skid or crash or backtrack or slam on the brakes, reason and tradition are there to keep us on track.

I say all of this to say that there is a lot in scripture that requires careful discernment and cross-reference, a lot things in Paul and in Hebrew scripture, even things in the Gospels that require a second and third look. And our readings today are a fine example of a part of scripture that doesn't need that. What if when people are hungry, we feed them, and it doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

There this logical principle called Occam's Razor -- it's the idea that the simplest and least complicated explanation is probably the most correct explanation. And this has a lot to do with the three legged stool and with our scriptural interpretation, I think: where scripture is simple and straightforward, where it helps people without hurting anyone, where it goes uncontradicted with the rest of scripture, perhaps the right interpretation can be the simplest one. I think there is this impulse that people have sometimes where the bible has to be solved like the Da Vinci code, where we would have to have extensive arguments and comprehensive theologizing to back up the simplest of claims. I think it has warped our brains a bit to think that we would have to prepare extensive defenses for claims like hungry people should have food to eat, unhoused people should have shelter, money should not be tied to anybody's dignity or care. It can feel deeply disorienting to feel the need to bring argument and citation to a conversation about which sick deserve healing, or whether or not queer people deserve to exist.

I think what Jesus demonstrates in this passage and over and over again in the Gospels, both in word and in deed is that in many of the cases where we would feel the need to litigate Christian ethic, He would make it quite simple instead. Those people are hungry? They should eat. Those people are sick? They should be healed. Those people are down? They deserve our care. And in cases where a simple encouragement to care is countered with a "well, actually" -- we all have experienced that probably -- it is more often than not (in the Gospels, too) because that care is a threat to power or to wealth, two things Jesus showed little regard for.

I wonder, from your perspective, what are some simple claims that have no need of training wheels?

Silence is kept for folks to speak.

Well hey, Amen to that.


Isaiah 55:1-5

55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.\

55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Matthew 14:13-21

14:13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."

14:16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."

14:17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."

14:18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."

14:19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

14:20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

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