You are who you eat with
Though not bound by Jewish purity laws, we remain mindful of those with whom we keep company. Yet the story of scripture is that in drawing closer to God, we are brought closer to all whom God loves, which is, of course, everybody. In what ways do we close ourselves off to others (at least some others) despite Jesus' wishes that we too reach out in love to all around us?
In Jesus' culture, it wasn't just "you are what you eat"; it was also "you are who you eat with." Some of that was just a logical extension of purity observance. Imagine the scene of that spontaneous dinner party in this Sunday's gospel, and imagine that you'd just experienced that second miracle of being able to trust Jesus to provide you with food that's good. But Jesus isn't the peanut vendor at the ballpark; he didn't hurl individual portions with miraculous accuracy directly to you. Strangers brought the bread to Jesus, who blessed and broke them ... and handed them to the disciples, who handed them to others in the crowd, who handed them to others, and so on across countless pairs of hands before it got to you. Take that bread, and you're taking into yourself not just whatever was in the field where the wheat was grown and in the kitchen when it was baked, but also what was on the hands of every other person in that crowd.
That's reason enough to be skittish about who you eat with, but that's not all. There's also the business of honor, crucial in Jesus' culture. People's perception of how honorable you and your family were determined whether were willing to do business with you, to consider allowing their daughter to marry your son, to acknowledge you as a person worth acknowledging. And "you are who you eat with" was the operative rule that said that your character would be assumed to be the same as that of those you ate with. Eat impure food, and you're impure. Eat with a rebellious son or a tax collector and you're not going to be seen as being any more honorable than they are.
But along that hillside, over five thousand people were willing to receive not only Jesus and the bread that he blessed, but also the strangers with whom they shared it. Every one of them became, on that dusty hillside, one with every other. This was a completely spontaneous dinner, so there was no checking the guest list or asking for credentials. Distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, priest and tax collector -- indeed, all the distinctions around which wars were fought between nations, families, and brothers -- just didn't count any more.
A different take on the feeding of the 5,000 is in a sermon, The Story of Bread, in the archives.