Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Kairos Center co-director and national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, explains Matthew 14:13-21 in the light of Jesus’ poor people’s campaign in Roman-occupied Palestine, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967-68 Poor People’s Campaign, and the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign for today to take up the unfinished business of Dr. King:

Just like poverty stunted the lives of the people of Jesus’ day, poverty hampers, circumscribes the lives of millions of God’s children in our day …

This shocking abandonment in the midst of abundance brings to mind a Bible passage from Matthew 14. In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus has just learned that a mentor and friend, John the Baptist, has been executed by the Herodian family. He has pulled back to be by himself to reflect on this news, but the people of the villages follow him on foot. Having compassion, Jesus gets off the sanctuary of his boat and begins to cure the sick. He does this without asking for an insurance card and with the full knowledge that such people have pre-existing conditions (or they wouldn’t need his healing).

As it becomes evening, the disciples suggest that they should dismiss the crowd so they can go get something to eat and find a place to sleep on their own. But Jesus says to the disciples to let the people stay and “you give them something to eat.” What happens next is a story of making a way out of no way. The disciples only have 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Yet Jesus has his followers organize themselves in base communities and Jesus blesses the food. The people enjoy a plentiful meal and are filled. And still, when the disciples gather up the leftovers, there are 12 baskets full.

The words used to explain Jesus multiplying the loaves resonate strongly with the communion formula as he blesses and breaks the bread and hands it to the disciples to distribute. This story of abundance and community when poor people eat together, asking blessing from God, claiming that the abundance on this earth is for all and not just a select few, has everything to do with the true meaning of communion …

Fifty years later, inspired by Rev. Dr. King’s vision and the stories of our sacred traditions, grassroots organizations along with poor and impacted people are building the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival. At this time of intensifying political, economic, and moral crisis, with the lives of the most vulnerable and the spirits of all under vicious attack, people in growing numbers around the country are fighting back for their lives, communities, and deepest values.

Read the rest of Rev. Theoharis’ Bible study of Matthew 14 at ON Scripture. The piece was also recently republished at Sojourners.