Thursday, July 30, 2020

Loaves and Fishes - a Living Metaphor of the Yamas

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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. -Matthew 14:13-21

One could preach from a Christian perspective for hours on this gospel reading.  Could it be that this is a foreshadowing story of the last supper, or the beginning of the church? Or is it about the multiplication of faith from so few to so many? Or about the Excessiveness or Possessiveness of the crowd’s desire for Jesus? Jesus doesn’t react to this in a negative or violent way but with compassion, nonviolence, and love.  He teaches them by example how to lead with love in an understated yet truthful way.  They respond to his gift of a meal in nonexcess, nonstealing, and nonposseiveness. They share and there is more than enough for all.  This story is a living metaphor or parable of living in community with others, or in yoga philosophy the Yamas.

To be clear Yamas are the five ethical rules of life for how we live outwardly towards the world and the Niyamas are the five ethical rules of life about our inward life.  I remember which is which because the word niyama contains the letter “I” so these are about me not you.

1.    1 Ahimsa or nonharming/ nonviolence is the equivalent to the yoga Hippocratic Oath.  It means do no harm.  We see this in the story of the loaves and fishes in that Jesus could have sent everyone away to fend for themselves, to find their own meal.  But he does not. Even though it is implied that he needed space, he sacrifices himself and his comfort to the greater good of the crowd. All are fed.

2.     2.Satya or Truthfulness is “being real rather than nice.” * Jesus is very real in the beginning of this passage when we find him taking a break in a boat away from the crowd. The reality of his life must have been exhausting, I take comfort in his example of taking time for yourself, to meditate or talk to God.  But the continued truthfulness beyond this moment is that Jesus is compassionate.  He is here to heal and feed. He lives his truth in a real way.

3.      3. Asteya or Nonstealing may be part of the lesson to the great crowd.   Jesus heals or cures them and feeds them.  They start off in a place that feels frenzied.   But through the compassion of Jesus and perhaps the afterglow of a great meal, they come to a place of calm, order, and love for their fellow man.  All eat, none steal or take too much. Contentment rules.

4.      4. Brahmacharya or Nonexcess shows up in the end.  They have baskets full of food left over. But we do not know if they ate to excess. We only know that there was plenty for all. Perhaps they did eat to excess and in doing so there was a shift in thinking to sharing or nonexcess, we are not told about this time while they were eating and what happened. But the results are clear there was much left, a sign that nonexcess what present in this meal.

5.      5. Aparigraha or Nonpossessiveness pairs well with both nonstealing and nonexcess in this gospel. We can assume that no one possessed more than they needed in the end. We know what they started with and what they ended with.  But how those to places are connected is not discussed.  I would like to suggest that it was through the understanding of these three Yamas that the beginning and end are connected: no one stole, no one ate to excess, and no one coveted more than they needed.  One could view this as a miracle, or that all had some food and shared, the result is the same. People moved from a chaotic state of need to a calm state of giving, they moved into their yamas, a place that Jesus lives always.

This living metaphor still teaches us today.  These ethical rules of life as stated in the Yamas and Niyamas or Ten Commandments still stand up to the testament of time. 



Picture from

*The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele

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