Bread and fish: Thy will be done

The kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is so closely associated with food, even feasting and heavenly banquets.

May 10, 2019

By Anil Netto
The kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is so closely associated with food, even feasting and heavenly banquets.

Now why would this be the case? It is perhaps a continuation of the manna from heaven – bread from heaven – which the followers of God relied on during their difficult migration in the desert.

When Jesus chose to perform a miracle to feed a crowd, the items in focus were loaves of bread and fish, offered by a little boy. The boy’s act of generosity and faith sparked a miracle by Jesus, who used the occasion to feed a multitude. It also must have inspired the crowd to share whatever they had brought as well.

After his resurrection, Jesus once again appeared to his followers, who had been labouring in the dark, to ask them about their catch. Now this was reminiscent of the time when he had first invited a few fishermen to become his apostles.

“Haven’t you caught anything, friends?” Jesus sounded so relaxed and casual, and that must have been quite awkward for his followers, who were probably still uncomfortable with the way they had betrayed him just days earlier.

Something happens. In John 21:11, “Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many, the net was not broken.”

What is the significance of 153? Nobody knows for sure. Perhaps the apostles were so impressed with the large catch of big fish that they actually counted them and it stuck in memory.

Nearby lay some bread and a fire with some fish being cooked over it. Once again, bread and fish. Jesus keeps cool and breaks any discomfort his followers may have felt. “Come and have breakfast.” Breakfast after betrayal? How easily he forgives and engages in fellowship over a meal before his important words of mission.

Now, all this took place by the Sea of Tiberias, records John in his Gospel. Sea of Tiberias, did he say? Since when was the Sea of Galilee known as the Sea of Tiberias?

The ruler of Galilee at that time was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.

To impress the big man in Rome, Emperor Tiberias, who had succeeded Augustus Caesar in 14AD, Antipas had fortified the town of Sepphoris near Nazareth and built an impressive new capital for Galilee on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee. He called this Tiberias, and so the Sea of Galilee also became known as the Sea of Tiberias.

No doubt, Tiberias would have also added to Herod’s tax districts.

Perhaps we may not grasp the real hardship faced by the followers of Jesus if we don’t consider the taxes extracted on ordinary people, especially the agricultural taxes and the taxes incurred by those in the fisheries sector at the time of Jesus. These included the taxes imposed even on fish processing at a place like Magdala.

Now Tiberias was NOT one of the places Jesus frequented. Instead, Jesus’ ministry focused a lot on ordinary people in the fishing villages and towns around the Lake of Galilee such as Bethsaida, Capernaum and Gennesaret. Other fishing centres he was familiar with were Magdala, Tyre and Sidon and Gerasa.

Most of the people Jesus associated with were faced with daily economic hardships, even a subsistence level of existence, from hand to mouth.

For such families, putting food on the table would have been one of the main concerns in an environment where taxes were paid to collectors of taxes who in turned paid off the local aristocratic rulers. These local rulers probably had to pay periodic tributes – or their equivalent – to the Roman Emperor of the day.

Sometimes, the local tax collectors resorted to abusive means to extract taxes from peasant farmers and fishermen. No wonder the toll and tax collectors in the time of Jesus were not the most popular guys in town.

And no wonder when Jesus taught his mainly low-income follower to pray this way: After praising the Father in heaven and welcoming his will for us, they should next ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

At the other extreme, we have someone like Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, whom the historian Josephus described as a “lover of luxury”.

Perhaps the contrast between Emperor Tiberius, Herod Antipas, the aristocrats and the rest of those living in luxury on the back of taxes paid by the ordinary people during Jesus’ time is reminiscent of today. These days we have the top 1 per cent basking in luxury and other excesses while even the middle-class struggle to make ends meet, let alone the lower-income group.

This is not the way it is meant to be in the kingdom of God, where the resources of the earth are supposed to be justly distributed so that no one should be deprived or go hungry. This is not the will of God; at the heavenly banquet, the poor and homeless are invited from the streets to feast.

This is why, before we ask the Father for our daily bread, we are to ask for “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” so that the heavenly banquet will be open on earth to all those still excluded and hungry for justice and equity.

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