Cultural Context Body and Blood of Christ
May 29, 2016
John J. Pilch
geographical world of our Mediterranean ancestors
in the Faith was divided by gender into male space
(e.g., the fields) and female space (e.g., the common
oven, the kitchen).
Both genders could be in common
spaces (e.g., village square) but never together
at the same time. This makes Luke’s report that 5,000 men ate very plausible.
In the home men ate alone, and women and children ate separately and usually
earlier. Only after boys passed the age of puberty and entered the male world
did they join the men for meals.
Matthew’s comment about the women and children
correlates well with the Mediterranean understanding of space. The groups of
fifty into which Jesus directed they gather were very likely clustered by gender:
men and boys past the age of puberty were in some groups; women and children
(boys and girls) were in other groups.
Grain, oil, and wine were the three staples of this culture, with grain and its
products—especially bread—being the most important. Bread provided
about one-half the caloric intake of much of the ancient Mediterranean world,
with wheat being considered superior to barley and sorghum, the food of the poor
(see Jn 6:9).
Fish in Palestine did not become popular as a food until the first century, though
it was difficult to obtain except near the Mediterranean coast and the Sea of
This is not a lakeside family picnic but rather a story about a mind-boggling
gathering of people who live in chaos and whose daily fare was hardly more than
a subsistence serving of food.
Jesus ministers to all their needs with a warm
welcome, uplifting teaching, compassionate healing, and sufficient physical nourishment
for everyone with food to spare (twelve full baskets).
The traditional eucharistic
interpretation of this passage well accords with this cultural base.
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1996. pp. 94-96.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/