Friday, October 21, 2016

Reflections on Galatians 2: Recipients, Setting and Date

An important point of discussion concerning Galatians is the old debate concerning the setting and date of the letter. One set of scholars holds that Galatians was written around the time of Romans and the Corinthian letters, so the mid to late 50s. Others consider it was written around 47–48. Scholars dispute to whom Paul wrote. Those who prefer a later date argue Paul wrote the letter to churches in North Galatia planted on his second Antiochian mission journey (Acts 16:6) or even on his third (Acts 18:23). Such a setting pushes the date to the mid or late 50s. Others who hold an earlier date argue that he wrote it sometime between his first Antiochian mission (Acts 13 – 14) and his second. Another critical factor is whether the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2 matches the visits to Jerusalem in Acts 11 (the famine visit) or Acts 15 (the Jerusalem Council discussion on Gentile Christians the Law).

It seems to me that the arguments for an earlier date are much stronger than those for the later date. First, the only real evidence of evangelization in the Galatian region is Acts 13 – 14. Acts 16 and 18 suggests Paul passed through visiting churches rather than full on evangelization. Certainly, Luke gives no indication of his evangelization of the northern area. Rather, it seems Paul left it to the Galatians to complete the task. Conversely, Acts 13 – 14 clearly has Paul in Galatia and planting churches. One weakness of this view is that Paul preached the gospel to them first due to illness (Gal 4). Luke says nothing about this, so one can surmise this happened on Paul’s second or third journeys. However, this is not a strong argument because the details of Paul’s evangelization are scant even where Luke does mention it. So, he may have been ill on his first journey at some point, and it is to this Paul is referring.

Second, if Gal 2 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15, Galatians seems redundant. Acts 15 refers to a letter written to the Gentile churches telling them that they did not need to be circumcised and come under the Law. Silas took this to Antioch. Paul and Silas then traveled from Antioch to the Galatian churches. No doubt they carried the letter. Galatians then would be needless. Rather, the letter from the Jerusalem Church and his presence with them would do the trick. So, it fits better to see Gal 2 as Acts 11 and Galatians preceding the Jerusalem Council.

Third, if the letter comes after the second Antiochian mission journey and before the third, then Paul would surely mention the Jerusalem Collection. In 1 Cor 16, there is a reference to Paul gathering money from the Galatian churches. Yet, Galatians is silent on collecting money. All that is mentioned is Gal 2:10 where the Jerusalem leaders urge Paul to continue to remember the poor, something he is eager to do. While this reference can fit a date after Paul’s second Antiochian journey, it fits nicely with Acts 11 being the Gal 2 journey to Jerusalem. Barnabas is also mentioned, perhaps indicating this is before their split which happened before the second mission trip.

Fourth, some argue that chronology fits a later date. So, it is claimed Jesus died in 33, and Paul’s conversion was in 34/35. He spent three years in Arabia. He then visited Jerusalem 37/38. There is then a fourteen-year span until his second journey to Jerusalem in 51/52, which is the Jerusalem Council visit (Acts 15; Gal 2:1–10). He then travels on his third journey and spends time in Ephesus. He may have written Galatians from there in the mid-50s. However, there are two ways through this. One is to take the fourteen years as inclusive of the three years, the fourteen years being from his conversion. Such an interpretation takes the date to AD 48. An alternative is that Jesus died in 30 and Paul was converted in 32/33, which also takes the date to 48. Hence, the chronology question remains unclear leaving both possibilities open.

All in all, I think the case for South Galatia and a date around 48 a year before the Jerusalem Council makes better sense of the data. It is not a watertight case as the chronology question, the possibility that Gal 2 matches Acts 15, the presence of Titus, the references to later visits to Galatia, and the closeness of themes and style to Romans and the Corinthian correspondence, gives a reasonable case for North Galatia. Thankfully, such a decision is not critical as it does little to change the meaning of the letter.

So, I surmise that the situation was thus: Paul has evangelized the churches of South Galatia (Acts 13 – 14). He has returned to Antioch. Judaizers have entered his churches seeking to convince Gentile converts to Judaize. Paul has heard of this and wrote Galatians to deal with it. Some of these same characters come to Antioch and do the same. Their presence catalyzed Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas where the church resolved the issue (Acts 15). After this, Silas and Judas delivered the letter to Antioch. Subsequently, after the split with Barnabas and Mark, Paul took Silas and the letter west to follow up on his Galatians letter. The Judaizers remained an issue after this, but the ‘orthodox’ position of the church is that a new Gentile believer did not require to adhere to Jewish boundary markers to be saved and included in God’s people. 

Reflections on Galatians 1: The Authorship of Galatians

It is not debated whether Paul wrote Galatians. It is one of the seven undisputed letters alongside Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Its acceptance is due to its similarity to these other letters in style, theology, and vocabulary and the details concerning Paul’s life (esp. Gal 1:10 – 2:14; 4:8–19; 6:14–16). However, there are two things worth noting concerning the production of the letter. First, it is the only Pauline letter where ‘all the brothers who are with me’ is mentioned in the prescript. ‘Brothers’ here can mean his co-workers (e.g. Ellis), but most likely means all the Christian brothers and sisters at Paul’s point of writing. The letter is likely written from Syrian Antioch if I am right about the date. Otherwise, this would include the Christians in Corinth or Ephesus, if the letter is later.

The brothers and sisters are likely mentioned not because they are co-authors or even co-senders, but they endorse the material in the letter. Thus, all those Christians with Paul at his point of writing agree with his appeal and repudiation of the Judaizers. They stand with Paul in advocating that the only real gospel is a gospel of grace and faith. New Gentile believers are not required to yield to the Judaizers’ demands that the male converts are circumcised and that all new believers live by the expectations of aspects of Jewish law that mark them distinct from the world. When combined with Paul’s testimony that the Jerusalem Church endorse his apostleship and gospel (1:17–19; 2:1–10), the whole church stands behind Paul—Jerusalem and Antioch. As such, this pulls the carpet out from under the feet of the Judaizers who are claiming Jerusalem’s endorsement in their repudiation of Paul and his supposedly deficient gospel. The mention of the brothers likely means that they have heard the letter, and may even have contributed to its production.

The other interesting reference in 6:11 where Paul exclaims, ‘see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.’ These words almost certainly indicate that Paul wrote this verse and/or some portions around it. As such, we can surmise that another Christian acted as his amanuensis (secretary), he dictating the letter to him—someone like Tertius in Rom 16:17. If Paul writes from Antioch around 47, this may be John Mark, who is at this stage an essential member of the Pauline team. Alternatively, Barnabas or Titus may have acted on his behalf (Titus mentioned in 2:3). If he is writing later from Corinth or Ephesus, then Tertius may be involved, or Timothy, Gaius, or any of the other brothers or sisters in those cities. 

The writing of letters like those of Paul was probably not quick. Each sentence was likely carefully crafted and the labour of writing it down slow and laborious. One can imagine Paul with a crowd of key Antiochian Christians including Barnabas, Titus, and perhaps John Mark, sitting around hearing him dictate. They may have made suggestions as he wrote.

The upshot is that when the letter reached Galatia, delivered by one of Paul’s Antiochian emissaries, it was a letter which the whole Antiochian Christian community vouched for. The reference to the brothers would have added to the authority of the letter. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let Us Be Confident in the Gospel

Note: A piece prepared for a newsletter.

If Paul was writing a letter to the New Zealand churches today, he might write something like this: ἀλλὰ πείθεσθῶσαν ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ (alla peithesthōsan en tō euangeliō), which can be translated: ‘but, let us be confident in the gospel.’ This lack of confidence is because many Christians in NZ have lost their confidence in the gospel and have adopted a quietist approach to sharing Christ. They live out the supposed mantra of Francis of Assisi (which he never actually said): ‘preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’ There may be good reasons for our reticence, with many New Zealanders very resistant to the gospel. One could imagine Paul becoming very testy if he was to observe our unpreparedness to open our mouths and share Christ. For what counts for Paul is that in every way, Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18).

Christ himself demonstrated the importance of sharing the message of God, even when the gospel was repudiated. He died because he refused to be silenced. After his resurrection, much of his teaching was to urge his followers that their primary task was to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Then the end would come (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8, also Mark 13:10; Matt). One of the primary functions of the Spirit in us is that God may speak through us with Spirit-inspired words (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12).  In this way, the lost are found. The early Christians were fearless and determined to share Christ refusing to relent even if they were commanded to be silent, flogged, imprisoned, and killed (esp. Acts 4:19-21; 5:29-32; 6:8-8:4).

This is because they had complete confidence in the word of God. When a Christian opens his or her mouth and shares the gospel or some part of it, God speaks through us, working in and through these words prompting response from the hearer. Aside from much prayer, seeking to be as clear as possible with our words to ensure the gospel is plainly heard (Col 4:2–4), and sharing with the right attitude of agapē love and grace (2 Cor 5:14; Phil 1:16; Col 4:5-6), we carry no responsibility for the effect of the message. God does his work. Some will hear it and not comprehend it, even repudiating it with stubborn hearts and antagonism (Acts 28:26-27). Others will hear it, appear to receive it with faith, but it come to nought (e.g. Mark 4:1-20; Acts 17:32). Yet others will hear the word and believe, faith born in their hearts (Rom 10:17). Their hearts will be opened (Acts 16:14), faith will flower, the Spirit will enter their lives (Gal 3:2), and they will be born anew from above (John 3:5). We do not control this process. This is between God and the hearer. Our responsibility is to preach the word in season and out of season, and let the word of God do its work (2 Tim 4:2).

It is critical we find our voice as New Zealand Christians. We find as we do that although there remains much resistance, the fields of NZ are white for the harvest (John 4:35). What is needed is people who are deeply prayerful at all times, immersed in the word who know the gospel, motivated by the Spirit with holy passion, full of agapē love, who will find their voice and let God speak through them to the lost. The time is urgent. Will we take up the challenge? My prayer to the God of nations is the same one prayed by the Jerusalem Christians after being told to cease sharing the message of Jesus: ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29-30). May it be that after we pray, that we are filled with the Spirit and this nation is shaken to its core, not with an earthquake, but the power of God. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit: Well Done the UK

Congratulations to the UK for the Brexit vote. Having seen the outcome, and having considered the discussion, I am convinced they made the right decision. My reasons are this. 

First, sovereignty. Decisions like who can come into your country must be in the hands of the citizens of the country involved not in some non-democratic government across the water. The UK has a parliament and they have to have sovereignty to preserve the best interests of that nation. If Europe is for real, and nations like the UK are to be involved, then there needs to a full elected government from the President down and a disempowering of national governments. However, as the UK is only one country among many, they put themselves in the position of being dominated by others who have a different agenda. So, the decision gives the UK sovereignty again. They can now take control of who is coming and going from their country with points systems like Australia and England. They can now work to make the society they have work, with all its diversity. This is what we have in NZ, and it is great. That will not be easy, but they can decide their own destiny.

Second, the challenge to Empire. I am delighted to see the breakdown of the impulse toward Empire that is arising in the world. Europe is a quasi-empire. Sure, it is not one formed through violent force as in many instances in history, but Europe’s union is in effect the formation of another imperial power that could easily morph into something hideous. This is especially so with the rise of right wing movements through Europe. While this can be seen as right wing, the UK’s exit actually disempowers the power of Europe and reduces the danger. It also means that if something hideous occurs in Europe, the UK can stand against it and is not swept up in it. All Empires are dangerous. We live in a world in which they are on the rise – Europe, China, Russia; not to mention the US. It is a dangerous world with forces on the rise which are threatening. I do hope more nations break from Europe for the same reason. For these reasons, I think Scotland and Northern Ireland would be wrong to opt for Europe over the UK. 

Thirdly, while there will be acrimony because of this decision, there is no reason that the UK cannot remain a strong trading partner with Europe while negotiating its own relationship with other nations like the US, Asian nations, other Commonwealth countries and more. There is no shortage of economic opportunity for a nation with as much wealth and skill as the UK. The UK might struggle for a year of five, but they can now negotiate their own relationship with the world.

While this looks like xenophobia, nationalism, or almost racism, and there are some among the Brexit vote who are tending toward this impulse, it is not necessarily this for many. One can believe in diversity, celebrate it, desire an egalitarian society rich in cultural difference, and not be racist. One can recognise a common culture that a nation holds dear, want to retain it, still celebrate diversity and welcome people who are different, and not be racist. I am not hearing Brexit proponents now saying that the UK should expel people who are different. I am not saying they want to suppress difference. Indeed, the UK is very diverse. However, surely a country should have sovereignty over its borders and be able to work toward a common culture with values that uphold decency and unity. They can be more secure, and no less prosperous. If I had been there, I would have voted to leave. They are now in a position like NZ, and this is a good position. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

ANZAC 2016, I Will Remember

Lots of my Christian friends struggle with ANZAC. They do so for good reason. The Christian message is one of non-violence. Jesus preached ‘love your enemies’ and ‘turn the other cheek. Despite claiming he could in an instant call on legions of angels to demolish the Romans, he did not do so. Rather, he went to the cross without using violent force in his defence. The closest we get to the use of violent force is Jesus in the Temple, making a whip, throwing over tables and driving animals and people out. However, these passages are carefully written to remove any insinuation that Jesus struck the people. Assuming the veracity of the biblical accounts, he was imbued with immense power, but never used his force to impress others, in answer to their requests for signs, in defence, or in compelling people to believe in him. In a ruthless world not unlike the Seven Kingdoms of the Game of Thrones, He taught and embodied non-violence.

Knowing this, many Christians are simply quiet at ANZAC. Although they respect greatly those (including family members) who gave their lives for the causes in the wars of the late 18th–21st centuries, particularly the world wars. They don’t go to the Dawn Services. They recognise the importance of what was done, they are grateful to live in a world which is ‘free,’ in the sense that it is democratic with ideals of compassion and egalitarianism. However, they are simply uncomfortable with the whole thing. The event that lies at the heart of ANZAC day, the attack on the Turks in Gallipoli, is more a reflection of the failure of humanity to test the limits of non-violence. It was a disaster, where the allies were resisted, an attack on Turkish sovereignty. It may have been justified in terms of the horrors of the Ottoman Empire, but it is still more a reflection of human failure than something to celebrate.

Part of me agrees with this point of view, I feel more sadness on this day, not just for the many lives lost on both sides of these wars, but for the whole spectre of war. It repulses me. It is horrific. I thought of that today as I rode my bike and saw the road kill that as always, litters the country roads of NZ. These men and women were ‘road kill’ in the hands of politicians seeking power. A visit to Gallipoli in 2010 hammered that home, as I reflected on graves engraved with biblical verses and the names and ages of young men in their late teens and twenties. Then down the road is the Turkish memorial, with Islamic texts and similarly aged deceased men. It is tragic.

But then again, it seems in a fallen world, even with Jesus’ ideals ringing in our ears, and his example vivid in our imaginations, there is a time for war. There are times when horrific regimes must be stopped for the sake of the living. It seems that while love usually cries out non-violence, at times love cries out ‘you must act for the defenceless.’ In times like the Holocaust in particular, how can good people merely protest or simply stand back praying? So, with deep reluctance, I acknowledge the simple truth of Ecclesiastes 3:8: ‘there is a time for war.’ There is a time where people must fight for the innocent and defenceless. That is why we should be thankful for the police, and even militaries where they are holding back evil.

So, while torn between a theology of pacifism and just war, I find myself giving thanks for those who heeded the call to fight to hold back the forces of evil. Yes, some of the wars and causes were less noble than others. Yes, many of our young men died because of stupid decisions. Yes, they were pawns in the game of thrones we are all swept up in, where powerful men (and the odd woman) decide their fate. However, they still gave their lives. I live in a nation that is while imperfect as are all nations, is blessedly free, which seeks to live out of ideals of goodness, love, charity, compassion, egalitarianism, and justice. I do so in no small part because of the courage of those who gave their lives on battlefields across the world. So I will remember them. I give thanks for them and to them.

But I will also be further spurred on to live out of Jesus’ teaching and example as best I can, renouncing violent malicious thoughts and actions toward others. I will do my best to uphold his call to the world to ‘love your enemies.’ And I will also remember our past as a people whereby we crossed the seas on wakas and through somewhat dubious means and power, we took possession of a land that was peopled by the Maori. My European forebears fought them. While we have come to place of some reconciliation, I will seek to live honouring the indigenous peoples of this nation. I will seek to embody and preach that the way ahead is the way of the cross—forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy. I will remember.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why I am Voting for the Old Flag

It seems likely that NZ will vote to retain its flag in the referendum which is on at the moment. I suspect that even if a lot of NZers might be keen to have a new flag, there is no reason at present to make the shift. It seems to me this is the sort of thing you do when and if you become a republic. As there is no reason, many people are miffed at the whole thing and the money spent. The process was poorly conceived and destined to fail from the beginning. I say this quite liking the new flag myself, but hey, many people liked the Wallabies before last year’s RWC, but they were never going to win.

On Sunday at church we were singing ‘We want to see Jesus lifted high, a banner that flies across this land,’ and we started pondering what it would be like to have a flag with Jesus on it.

After the service I thought more about it and realised that in a roundabout way we do have Jesus on the flag, four times. The Union Jack sits in the left corner. It is made up of three crosses, the cross of St Andrew, the Cross of Saint Patrick, and the Cross of St George.

Current NZ Flag  

Cross of St Patrick Ireland

Cross of St Andrew Scotland 

Cross of St George England and Wales 

Saint Andrew takes us back into the Scriptures to the brother of Simon Peter who, according to the Gospels, was a fisherman with his brother, James, and John (Mark 1). He was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Andrew in the Gospels is the one who finds the food for the feeding of the 5000 and tells Jesus that some Greeks in Jerusalem at Pentecost want to meet with him (John 6; 12). His prominence in John’s Gospel likely indicates he was known in the Asia Minor region later on—it being Ephesus where the Gospel likely originated. Andrew is associated with Scotland because legends say he helped them win some wars—dodgy stuff this may be, but his origins are less so.  

Originally a slave, Saint Patrick was a fifth century missionary to Ireland where he was known as the ‘Apostle of Ireland,’ became bishop, and is Ireland’s patron saint. The day remembering him, March 17, is a day of great festivity in Ireland and among the Irish abroad.

St George (AD 280-303) was a Roman soldier ultimately ordered to death for refusing to deny his Christian faith. In Catholic tradition, he is a key military saint. He is the patron saint of a number of nations.

So the Union Jack is three blended crosses all pointing to the one who hung on a cross to save a world and show the world the extent of ‘love your enemies.’ If only we would listen.
In addition, the NZ flag has the Southern Cross on it. 

The Southern Cross

While a natural astral phenomenon, the choice of the Southern Cross to be placed on the flag is not merely because it looks cool—it is shaped like a cross—for the Christian NZ founders, invoking again the basis of their faith, Christ crucified and risen.

The early NZ founders were almost all Christians, albeit imperfect and from a range of denominations and commitments ranging from token (nominal) to full-on faith. The Southern Cross flew on the first United Tribes Flag commissioned in 1835 and which still flies in Waitangi. Notably, it sits in the corner of a flag carrying the cross of St George (above).

The Flag of the United Tribes of NZ

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Union Jack was NZ’s flag. After this a variety of flags were developed, the current NZ flag was adopted.

So, the current NZ flag is embedded with Jesus Christ with four crosses, one a natural phenomenon from the southern sky, one linking our story to Jesus calling the first fishermen, and two linked into the religious and political history of the UK.

As I have researched and written this brief blog I have realised that whereas I was intending to vote for the new flag, I will not—not because of the politics (untimely waste of time and money), nor because of the design (the new one I like), but because it invokes in me my faith and our story which is founded indisputably on the blend of the Maori story and our European (especially British) Christian story—albeit a very marred version of the Christian narrative.

It reminds us as Kiwis that we have a history based on the Christian story. We can deny this as much as we like, blaming the worlds wars on religion, denying the bible as a lot of myth, calling the Christ of faith a fable built on a Jesus of history who may not even have existed, preferring faith in a flying spaghetti monster, or whatever—the problem with Christianity is not the Christ on whom it is founded, it is his followers (me included). His ideals rock! If only we would live them.

What can’t be denied is that we live in one of the greatest nations in the world, and one of the prime reasons for this is that it has been built to a large extent on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which at its core is compassion, love, mercy, honesty, decency, tolerance, moral goodness, justice, and egalitarianism and the like. Our systems of government, education, justice, welfare, and more, were carved out by people seeking to bring practical Christianity into being.

As a person whose life was seriously on the skids in my late teens and early twenties, my experiences of Jesus are undeniably real and he has transformed me from a drunken narcissistic arrogant twat into someone who, while still tending in all those directions at times, has become a decent person (I think). I am certain that there is no one who knew me from ages 13-23 who would believe that I would be a NT scholar and a Christian leader. I laugh myself remembering that lost soul. I also give thanks, because he saved my life.

So, tempted though I was to vote for the new flag, I am going to vote for the old one—‘cause I want to see Jesus lifted higher. Not the Jesus who is used as a pawn in political fights and wars—when he renounced such things. Not the Jesus who is used to justify bigotry and marginalization—when he hung out at the margins with the sinners and demonized. Not the Jesus who is just a nice teacher—when he is the power that transforms individual lives, communities, nations, and a world. But the Jesus I read of in the New Testament of the Bible—the embodiment of God, the lover of the lost, the healer of the sick, the transformer of the world, the compassionate and merciful Christ and Son of God who changed me and is changing a world. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sixty–Two People, Half the World, What a Stunning Statistic!

I first heard the statistics concerning wealth distribution released by Oxfam the other day with horror. According to their study, the richest 62 people in the world have the same combined wealth as the poorest 50% of people in our world ($1.76 trillion USD)—that is 1,760,000,000,000,000,000, or 1.76 million million million dollars! In percentage terms, only 8.382375298816469e-7% (0.000000083%) of the people of the world hold the same as ‘the other’ 50%.

Aside from statistics related to problems of death through violence (genocide, abortion, war, the Holocaust, etc), I can’t think of a statistic that has shaken me more. It is horrific. How has this come to pass?

I did a bit of digging on the 62 and some—like Charles and David Koch from Koch Industries, the Waltons of Wal-Mart, the Mars who make Candy (mars bars, yummy)—are from the same families, so it is a little worse; it is actually 57 people or groups who hold this wealth (see Most are from the USA (30) and Europe (16), with ten from Asia, and the others from South or Latin America (3), Russia (1), and the Middle East (1). So, the vast majority of this wealth is held by 46 people in the western world. Unsurprisingly, 54 are men—it’s a man’s world, or should I say, a ‘rich man’s world.’ Many are in the computer technology and media world, some in beauty, fashion, clothes and accessories, some in supermarkets, some in industry, and a number in investment and real estate.

This is a deterioration of an already bad state of affairs disparity; in 2010, the 388 richest people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50%. Then, by 2014 this had dropped to 80, and now 62. What will the next five years bring? The richest few are buying up the world, and the world is being enslaved to their wealth accumulation. The wealth is not trickling down far enough, only to those who serve the uber-rich. Between 2010 and 2050, the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41%, while the richest 62 gained $500 billion—nice.

Now, as I said in my last blog, I have just been thinking about Jesus feeding the 5000 (John 6). In truth, the 5000 fed was more like 10 to 20,000, as there were women and children present (like the boy with the fish), who were not counted (ancient patriarchy, sigh).

When this occurred, those present were poor and desperate, under severe economic oppression and wealth disparity. The nation, indeed the whole Mediterranean, was held captive to Rome. In Rome, life was good for the elite—with the Empire and most of the population serving them (half were slaves). In Israel, Rome had its lackeys; the Herodians, who were big on building projects and an excessive lavish lifestyle, the chief priests and others who made up the Sanhedrin (council of seventy–one), some other priests, and Rome’s tax-collectors who also took their own cut (e.g. Zacchaeus). There was also the problem of land acquisition, with the wealthy buying up land into huge holdings, while the people of land worked the land on a basic wage at best with the money going into the coffers of the rich (sound familiar). There was no real middle class with the rest of society poor struggling to varying degrees, from the wealthier artisans through to the slaves, peasants, and those who languished in squalor—the lepers, beggars, blind, lame, mentally ill, and physical disabled (such were the people at the feeding). If Oxfam are right, then our world is not that different.

We see the heart of Jesus in the feeding. He heals the sick. He feeds the poor. He welcomes sinners. He doesn’t hang out with the wealthy and elite, he avoids them. In fact, there is no record of him going to the seats of Galilean power, Tiberius, Sepphoris, or Hippos. In fact, he performs this miracle, and most of his work, in the wilderness, with the poor coming in crowds to him. He repudiated the rich, challenging one rich fool to stop building up his huge assets more and more but to be generous to God and the poor. He told a story of a rich man in hell, while the poor beggar he ignored is in heaven—a complete reversal of popular theology. He urged another to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow him. He urged his followers to follow that same pattern—live light and give generously. When Zacchaeus the reformed tax-collector gave half he had to the poor, and refunded fourfold those he had ripped off as a tax-collector, Jesus cried out that salvation had come to him and his household. Jesus venerated a poor widow who gave everything she had to the Temple Treasury. He honoured Mary who poured perfume over his feet, despite the protestations of Judas, who himself was a thief. He repudiated the Pharisees who were obsessed with wealth acquisition. Jesus would not be impressed with this statistic I am sure.

How to respond? There is a temptation to think there should be a revolution when we hear things like this. And indeed, there might be—such situations can often lead to outcry and violent overthrows of regimes (take Communism for example). The problem is that these don’t work, inevitably a fresh regime comes in that falls into the same trap—greed and oppression to fulfil the agenda! Jesus advocated something much cleverer and subversive. We see the desire for revolution at the conclusion of feeding account (John 6:14-15). After their great feed, the well-fed 5000 recognised that with the sort of power Jesus had, surely the time was ripe to storm the Romans, Herodians, Sanhedrin and anyone else who got in their way, and bring Shalom (peace). They declared Jesus the long awaited Prophet (Deut 18:15-18), sought to seize him and make him king by violent force, and then no doubt head for the Herodian and Roman bases in Israel and take back their world. Jesus took off—he wasn’t interested in a violent revolution or being that type of king. He knows that this will not work.

The kingdom he advocated is from the bottom up. This is where people recognise that the inequality of the world must be addressed, but now with violent revolution. Rather, it begins with ‘me’ and making a change from greed and consumption to generosity and giving. Such a kingdom is found where people see a person in need and respond by healing, feeding, and caring—like the Good Samaritan who stopped at real expense (money, time, and danger) to tend to a man robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Jesus himself repeatedly stopped to heal, feed, and care for people as he want about his days. In this story, he healed the sick and fed the crowds. Amazing miracles happen when people get generous.

Surely, what is now needed is for there to be an outcry against the economic oppression of our time. Globalization has enabled the smaller and smaller group of people to control more and more. The response is to become cleverer at avoiding their control. We need to become more generous. We need to redistribute our wealth, responding to need. We need to resist the empire, recognising who these people are and buying in other ways, growing our own stuff, repairing things, sharing things, and resisting. As we go to vote in forthcoming elections, we need to consider what will see the wealth of the world distributed to its workers more evenly. More importantly, we need to live out the politics of the Kingdom—heal the sick, feed the poor, care for the needy, and so on.

There is no easy answer, but it starts with us recognising what the Kingdom is about and letting that affect everything we do. Otherwise, in another five years 30 people will own the world. Then 10. Then 1. That doesn’t bear thinking about.