Session #106 Fringe Guy
Scripture Matthew 15:29-39
Summary Matthew 15:29-39 seems to be just an account of yet another feeding miracle. But, is it? Viewed in proper context, it is so much more than merely how massively the Messiah can multiply. Matthew’s message goes much deeper and broader, clearly declaring that the kingdom of God is for all. Yes, including those on the fringe. And Jesus, the Fringe Guy, demonstrates this so beautifully through the feeding of the 4,000.
Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marvelled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilder Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left. Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.
This session of Kingdom 101 is entitled ‘Fringe Guy’, which is slang, and not exactly a positive term. It refers to one who is on the fringe, not quite the norm. A fringe guy would be considered weird, an oddball. Jesus was quite a fringe guy himself, not meaning to be irreverent.
Jesus the Fringe Guy
According to the traditions, institutions and religion of His day, Jesus was not considered mainstream. He did not do the ‘normal’ stuff. He spoke about the kingdom of God and taught the scriptures, but to the people then, especially the leaders, He was odd. Jesus did not follow their traditions and their teachings and was at odds with them. Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, observed that when we look at Jesus and the claims He made, He would either be a liar, a lunatic, or really Lord. His brand of odd is a good odd because He is God and Lord of all.
More specifically, and literally, we can gather from Matthew 15:29-39, that Jesus the ‘Fringe Guy’, loved and cared for people on the fringe – those who were marginalized and side-lined in society. This should not be surprising at all because our Father God always looks out for those on the fringes. In the Old Testament times, Israel was commanded not to harvest everything in the field, but to leave the fringe for those who were living on the fringe – the poor, the stranger, the foreigner, and the needy. Israel was also reminded that they were once fringe guys in Egypt – not even second class or third class, in fact, no class at all! This is a wonderful declaration of how our God is a fringe God, which is why Jesus is a fringe guy!
However, over time, Israel missed the entire picture. They were invaded, given over to the enemy and when they came back into their own land they wanted to protect their Jewish identity, their national standing as being God’s chosen people and His kingdom. They wanted to keep the laws for themselves and became very inward-looking. Over time it became the Jews versus the Gentiles, where Israel looked out for themselves increasingly, and the Gentiles became the fringe.
Jesus came to recover and reveal what the kingdom of God is all about, to make all things right. For a start, He was going to go to the Jews first as his primary assignment. Then he would go on to His secondary assignment – to the Gentiles, the guys on the fringe. He still has a heart for them and the fringe guys have a place in God’s plan and kingdom. Matthew 15:29-39 adds to the narrative and gives us a larger kingdom picture. It is a feeding miracle but it is so much more than just another feeding miracle.
Why Another Feeding Miracle?
Matthew writes the gospel to the Jews, God’s kingdom people, and the way he writes parallels to the way the Old Testament stories were told and in some of its forms. This is so that the gospel could be easily recognized and understood by Jews. Matthew’s objective is to reveal Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. This serves as a backdrop of comparisons of this feeding miracle to the feeding miracle in the Old Testament.
There were also feeding miracle pairs mentioned in the Old Testament. Moses did the feeding of the manna in the wilderness after the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 16. In Numbers 11:4-9 there is a second feeding miracle of manna and quail. If we look at Elijah and Elisha we find yet another pair; in 1 Kings 17:8-16 referring to the widow in Zarephath and another in 2 Kings 4:42-44, referring to the feeding of 100 men. One pair is Moses representing the law, but for Elijah and Elisha, they would represent the prophets. In the book of Matthew, comes Jesus with yet another pair of feeding miracles. In Matthew 14:13-21, the feeding of the 5,000, and in Matthew 15:32-39, the feeding of the 4,000, we are led to see how Jesus is both the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
Same or Different?
Are these two feeding miracles in Matthew’s gospel the same event or are they different? Some commentators have considered the two feeding miracles as the same event but repeated twice for effect. But is this true? Both accounts are very similar but with a major difference. In the last teaching, we were in the region of Tyre and Sidon where Jesus met the woman from Canaan. We will see that the bread crumbs did not stop with one woman, but instead would overflow to the multitudes! The difference is that the feeding of 5,000 was to the Jews and the feeding of 4,000 was to the Gentiles. How do we know this?
Three points from Matthew & Mark
To substantiate this claim, we will draw three points from parallel scriptures found in both the gospels of Matthew and Mark. The first point is that Jesus leaves that region, skirts around the Sea of Galilee, and ends up in Decapolis, a Gentile territory, as recorded in Mark 7:31. Decapolis is a group of 10 Hellenistic city-states where the Greeks settled following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the area in the fourth century BC.
The second thing we see recorded in Matthew 15:31 is that the multitudes came and witnessed the miracles performed and they “glorified the God of Israel.” In instances when Jews praise God, they do not use this term because they are Israel. Since the Gentiles were not of the same people group as the Jews, they referred to God as the ‘God of Israel’. Matthew records this specifically so that we know this is a Gentile mission.
The third point is in the different use of the word ‘baskets’ in both the miracle accounts. In the feeding of the 5,000, there were 12 baskets of leftovers and the Jewish term ‘kophinos’ was used for baskets. In this feeding of the 4,000, the Greek term ‘spuris’ was used for baskets instead. As such, we can deduce from these 3 points that this feeding was for the Gentiles.
What’s the Message?
The message is that what God does for Israel, God will do for the Gentiles, the fringe guys. What is available to Israel, will be available to the rest of the world. If we compare this with the Jewish idea, it was Israel against the rest of the world, the Gentiles. This was why the Pharisees were so obsessed with the protection of Jewish Identity, to keep the laws – circumcision, food laws, and the Sabbath. However, here is the kingdom truth – it is Israel for the rest of the world. The method Jesus used was to reach Israel first, then the Gentiles. In fact, it was God who told Abraham that he will be blessed to be a blessing, a light unto the Gentiles. Does this not remind us of Psalm 133 – when there is unity in the people of God and they understand the heart of God. The blessings will then come down not just upon the head, flowing to the beard and then to the garment, it will go to the helm, the outer edges or the fringe of the garment. It is not to be kept within but to be shared with everyone, with the fringe guys too. At that point in time, it would take a while, the Gentiles would have to wait but it would be worth the wait. The woman from Canaan was willing to wait. She understood that the children get fed first but she was willing to identify as a little dog in god’s household who could get the crumbs. This breadcrumb faith opened the door to 4,000 more Gentiles. This would only be a sampling as there would be more to come.
Multitude Miracles and Manna: The King Invites All, Heals All and Feeds All
Let’s pay attention to the way Matthew structured his gospel. More than just miracles, signs, and wonders, the multitudes are pointed to the true Manna – the Messiah, the Word, the Bread of Life. When we study Matthew’s structural pattern, we see this coming through more clearly.
In Matthew 4:23-25, it’s recorded that the multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and across Jordan came and were drawn to Jesus’ miracles, signs, and wonders. After that, there was a Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 14:13-14, the multitudes of Jews came, there were miracles, signs, and wonders performed and they got into a mountain-type situation where a miracle feeding happens. Here in Matthew 15, we see a similar situation occurring, multitudes of Gentiles this time came and witnessed miraculous signs and wonders in a mountainous location and experienced a miracle feeding. Through these Matthew is introducing the kingdom both for the Jew and the Gentile. Jesus, the Bread of Life is not only for the Jews but is extended and available to Gentiles also. There will be a great measure of crumbs for the Gentiles, 7 baskets full. This is a picture of the Messianic abundance towards the ‘so many more’ fringe guys that we can reach for Jesus.
The Compassion of the Christ
In Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, and Matthew 15:32, we hear repeatedly that Jesus is moved with compassion for the people, he began to heal them and also feed them. A key kingdom ingredient is to have compassion for the people around us. The truth is that it is easier to have compassion for our own kind, those who we like and share the same interests as us. However, to be a true ‘Fringe Guy’, you need to have kingdom compassion for the fringe guys out there. We want to learn from Jesus who is both pastoral and practical. Jesus did not only look after spiritual needs but was also concerned for the physical needs of the people. We understand this principle of how our faith has to move forward into works from James 2:14-17.
Jesus did not want to send the multitudes away hungry, lest they faint on the way. That is how much our Master cares for each individual. Jesus calls His disciples and shares His heart for the people with them. He preempts the disciples before they can ask Him to send the people away. Remember Jesus asking the disciples in Matthew 14:16, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples could have been thinking among themselves: “Oh no, He’s giving us that look again. He’s going to ask us to feed them again.” They ask Jesus before they get asked: “Where would we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?” Is this a question about forgetfulness? Is this a question about faith? Or is this about the fringe?
If this was about forgetfulness, could they have forgotten their recent feeding of 5,000 people so quickly? This sounds unlikely. If this was about their faith, was it not easier to trust Jesus to feed 4,000 people with 7 loaves and a few fish, as opposed to feeding 5,000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish earlier. Or was it more about fringe phobia? Could they have been phobic about having to care for these fringe Gentiles? We have to recall how they struggled to help one Canaanite woman, yet here we have 4,000 Gentiles! They could have been opposed to feeding this fringe community, preferring to send them away and not caring for them. This hearkens to the story of Jonah who knew God’s character but his own heart was not aligned to God’s heart that wanted Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, to repent and be saved.
Let’s not be too quick to judge the disciples’ forgetfulness, faith or fringe phobia. Israel saw the miracles of the Red Sea parting, and how He miraculously provided for them. He protected them and fought for them. Yet they forgot, and every time a big problem surfaced, they lacked faith and did not believe nor obey Him. They faced genuine giants as enemies, but they forgot how big their God was. Israel was told to love the foreigner and stranger and they struggled with that. Are we the same? If we are honest, we struggle with these things just like the disciples too. We want everything for ourselves, we want multiplication for ourselves. We thank God for His blessings, but we forget that we are also to be fringe guys like Jesus.
100% God and 100% Man
In this miracle feeding, Jesus was the one who performed the miracle but it was the disciples who organized and managed the distribution of the food to the multitude. Jesus provided resources for the fringe but the disciples had to mingle with the fringe! It is easier to just pray and let others do the work, isn’t it? God will do His part but He expects us to do ours. Sometimes God will do just enough so that we can partner and compliment him, to get out to certain groups and certain areas we are not comfortable with. This is so that the work becomes 100% God and also 100% man.
Food Tasting for the Fringe
There is a final teaching point about the feeding of the 4,000. The disciples distributed the food and the multitudes ate, leaving behind 7 baskets full of leftovers. With regards to the feeding of 5,000 Israelites, Jesus explains that He is the true Manna and the Bread of Life in John 6. Later on, Jesus tells them that they had to eat His body and drink His blood. Some of His disciples were so offended that they left and stopped following Him. They could not understand that Jesus was speaking of the Passover Meal that He would have with them, and in time it would become the blessing of a New Covenant. They only understood what He meant after three days when Jesus rose and broke bread with them.
In the feeding of the 4,000, we are told that the multitudes continued with Jesus for three days. Why did Jesus wait three days before feeding them? Were they so mesmerized by His teachings? Why were they willing to wait? Maybe they knew what the Canaanite woman knew, that they had to wait for the crumbs because the Bread had to be fed to the Jews first. It was only ‘after three days’ that they were fed. We know now the significance of after three days, the door of the kingdom was opened to fringe Gentiles through faith in the Messiah. Perhaps this is what Matthew was subtly hinting, that the kingdom was opened to the fringe and they were invited into the Messianic banquet, a picture of Messianic abundance symbolized by 7 baskets full of leftovers – always more than enough. If 12 baskets for the 5,000 represent a New Israel, and 12 signifies the government of the kingdom and how a New Israel is going to bring this forward, then 7 baskets symbolize the perfection of this government. It will be complete, whole, universal. This New Israel will include both Jews and Gentiles, the people on the fringe. If they were open to this miracle, then it would be a foretaste of what is to come.
With this revelation, we know that these fringe people would no longer be fringe. After three days, the doors of the kingdom were opened to them, and believing in this fringe guy would make them fringe no more. Jesus told His disciples to go to the fringes, to the ends of the world. Let this gospel be preached. There will be no more fringe as we understand it anymore. They were once secondary, but they are now primary assignments. From fringe, they became a time known as the fullness of the Gentiles. Today it is no longer Jew or Gentile, but one new man in Christ. Sadly along the years, Israel became ‘fringe’ because the church became largely a Gentile church as it grew. This gave rise to replacement theology, and anti-semitic type feelings arose even within the church. Now we are to reach out to the Jewish fringe because Gentiles today are to provoke Jews to jealousy.
The message seems to be the same. What God does for Israel, God will do for the Gentiles. What is available to Israel, will be available to the rest of the fringe in the world. This must be our perspective too. It is not Christians against the rest of the world. It should be Christians for the rest of the world and its benefit. Do we only care for our own Christians? Or do we love the ‘Gentiles’ or non-believers too? Jesus did not ask the Gentiles to believe and convert before feeding them. Jesus is the fringe guy, he is odd and looks out for others. We should be like Him, just declare and demonstrate the kingdom, regardless of whether people will want to believe or not. That is up to God to work in their hearts.
Present Day Challenges
If we read the news and surf the internet, we will see how countries are now looking out for themselves first. They want to protect themselves and everyone else is the fringe. It is protectionism and xenophobia at work. Singaporeans are also part of this when we get overly anxious about too many foreigners taking over our jobs. Are we supposed to join in the chorus of ‘Singapore first’ and not care about anyone else?
In many other countries, it has manifested into fringe protests; people protesting on behalf of fringe or marginalized groups such as foreign workers, domestic helpers, immigrants, ex-offenders. Fringe protests include causes of the fringe such as gender-wars, race rights, ageism, women’s rights, mental health, suicide and abortion. These have become very political and are manifesting in the wrong ways. The most recent example to have come from the West is the ‘Black Lives Matter’ phenomenon. Out of this movement, this ‘Woke Culture’, an African American term, of increased awareness of social justice and racial justice, has become very negative. It has instigated a cancel culture, and the popular practice now is to withdraw support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. The way it is done now is through social media in the form of group shaming. We have to be discerning not to buy into all these.
Fringe Issues cannot be solved if these movements are rooted primarily in humanism or the way morality is viewed, or the way personal freedom is expressed. It sounds very noble but it is very wrong in the way the expression of rights is pushed forth. What is being said sounds just but the manner with which they are carried out are unjust. It just does not work without God and His kingdom ways. To be a fringe guy, we must believe in a fringe God and do things according to His fringe ways.
The Fringe Kingdom
The kingdom of God is radically fringe! When Israel moved into Canaan, they were totally radical because no one in the ancient world had such laws based on love and righteousness. No one could care less about the weak, poor, and needy. The early church was also radical because kingdoms and governments of those days did not care about the fringe. The world has benefited from Judeo-Christian values and its kingdom influence. Due to this, good government programs and initiatives are being rolled out still to cater to fringe groups and their issues. However, the problem is that this has lulled Christians into complacency because we expect the government to do everything, when once it was the church shining the light. Whether we have a good or bad government, the church exists to be the fringe guys and we are the ones who should be bringing kingdom culture and influence. It is time to be awakened, aligned and assigned so that we can be fringe guys. Fringe issues require fringe guys. People who are willing to be fringe so that we can help the fringe. People who will reach out to sex workers and pimps in the red-light districts. People who will reach out to women with pregnancies at risk and abortion issues. People who will reach out to marginalised groups like the untouchables in India. We need fringe guys to get to these fringe guys so that we can share Jesus and tell them the kingdom of God is also for them.
This teaching corrects us about our approach to scripture. The feeding miracles are not simply a promise of how God can multiply our resources, although this is not wrong. It is so much more when we see with a broader kingdom perspective. We will realize it is not about us or about God satisfying our physical needs, but about the King’s heart for the people on the fringe. Like Jesus, we are to be fringe guys! The ways of the kingdom are upside-down or even odd now and then. It is ok to be odd for Jesus, in a good kingdom way. Fringe guys are concerned for those who are on the fringe. The fringe is out there so we cannot become inward! It is so easy to huddle comfortably in our churches. It is only in Christ will fringe issues be totally eliminated, that there can be shalom peace across all races and people groups. It is only in Him that we can have restoration and healing in a broken society. That is the promise of the kingdom of God – Shalom. Our King has set an example when He fed not only the Jews but also the Gentiles. Let us be oddballs for Jesus when we all come together and become fringe guys – would that be the new normal then.