During the Feeding of the Five Thousand, how many people did Jesus feed?
This may seem ridiculous like the old joke, ‘When was the war of 1812?’ but it’s actually ridiculous like the surprisingly legitimate trivia question, ‘How long was the Hundred Years’ War?’
That particular conflict ran from 1337-1453, so it was actually the Hundred-and-Sixteen-Years’ War. Similarly, Matthew 14:21 tells us, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Assuming that half of the men had a woman with them, and half of those women brought a child, a conservative estimate of the grand total is 8,750 humanoids – making the miracle that much more impressive, in my book.
But I’m not sure how I’d feel about this little revelation if I were a woman.
Matthew didn’t bother counting the non-men of the crowd, but at least he acknowledged their existence as an afterthought. He did better than the rest of the Gospel guys – Luke, Mark and John all say 5,000 men were fed – not untrue but not entirely accurate, assuming Matthew got it right. Christendom compounds the omission by referring to the event as the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
As if the women and children don’t matter.
Now, the Bible tells some great stories about great women – Esther, Deborah, Ruth, Mary & Martha, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene – but by in large, the Word is about the Y-chromosomers, not X-ers.
It really doesn’t seem fair, does it? Presumably, right around half of the people who lived during biblical times were women, yet the Bible mostly discusses them as wives, mothers, sisters and concubines only – ancillary to the story.
And a lot of the most memorable Bible women were villains, or at least portrayed in unflattering lights some of the time: Eve gave Adam the fruit (he took it pretty willingly, but she’s the bad guy for some reason); Sarah told Abraham to make a baby with Hagar, then banished her and her son when their presence was no longer required; Rebekah played deliberate, unabashed favorites with her children; Potiphar’s wife (whose name apparently doesn’t matter) tried to seduce Joseph, then said he attacked her, after which he went to jail for years; Delilah hoodwinked Samson into an unholy haircut; Bathsheba watched as David had her husband murdered, then played kingmaker for her son Solomon – and don’t even get me started on Jezebel.
In the New Testament, things weren’t much better. For example, the mob of teachers and Pharisees weren’t about to stone a couple for committing adultery in John 8, but a woman. It takes two to adulterize, last time I checked. Why didn’t the man he have to be rescued from the mob by Jesus, too?
Then, in the Epistles, some passages seem downright oppressive of women:
- “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
- “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” – 1 Peter 3:1-2
- “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” – 1 Peter 3:7
- “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” – 1 Timothy 2: 11-12
Now, these passages have all been taken out of context, and really should not be looked at in isolation from the rest of the chapters they come from. And scholars are quick to put them in historical and literary context as well, explaining that first-glance understandings of the passages are often incomplete, or even inaccurate. The cynic in me might put the previous sentence thusly: An adept apologist can jump through enough hoops to rationalize an interpretation of these passages that makes them downright palatable to the feminist Christian.
But regardless of what the original authors meant when they wrote these words, they’ve been used to justify centuries (or perhaps millennia) of oppression, subjugation and marginalization of women.
If I were a woman, therefore, I’m not sure I’d have much to do with this Christianity thing.
And yet, how many families do you know where women stay home Sunday mornings while men take the kids to church? How many churches do you know of where men outnumber women? According to an article I read online about men and women and church, women are the majority in U.S. congregations in every age group!
How can that be?
This is a question that demands further prayer, contemplation and study (and discussion: What do you think, reader(s)?), but I think it’s safe to say that at least part of the reason is that the conventional characterization of women as ‘the weaker sex’ is pretty much bunk.
I can’t think of a better description of ‘strength’ than putting aside all the reasons to hate something and embracing all of the reasons to love it.
Peace be with you.