Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The story of the feeding of the 5,000 in today’s Holy Gospel is shared by the Gospels of Sts. Mark and Luke. And, if you recall, there is another similar story found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark where Jesus feeds 4,000 hungry souls, not including women and children (Mt. 15:32-39; Mk. 8:1-9). Between these two accounts of our Lord’s feeding of the multitudes, it might be easy for us to conclude, especially if we toss into the mix Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats which we hear on the Sunday of the Judgement, that the Church is called by her Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ to be a social service agency of some sort: feed the hungry, assuage the thirsty, take care of the poor, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the imprisoned. We can add to this list of corporal works of mercy, the burial of the dead – all are works of almsgiving or mercy embraced by the Church in her Great Tradition and long understood to be incumbent upon us who confess faith in Jesus Christ. In short, this is the enfleshment of the second and great commandment to love our neighbor as our self.
It is true that the Church does these things, so often imperfectly, but this does not mean the Church is called by God nor created by Him to be a social service institution, as noble and as necessary such ministry is in our fallen world. She is, however, called by her God and Creator to be His Sacrament or Mystery in the midst of the world and she does by His grace what all the Mysteries of the Church do: she conveys the saving and sanctifying grace of God and His loving Presence to all those who come to her portals to partake of the divine gifts of God and His grace. Her goal, therefore, is not to be a glorified soup kitchen or a political lobbyist on behalf of the disenfranchised. God, historically and in divine revelation, has always been the defender of and father to the righteous poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner sojourning in the land all because that has been the experience of His people from which God delivered them with His mighty saving acts (Ex. 21:1-23:9; 1 Tm. 3:5-16). The people of God are to remember from whence they have come and to what they have been called by God. They are to do social justice (Mc. 6:8), but they are not first nor foremost social justice warriors, as some overly zealous souls have tried to make the Church out to be (Liberation theologians). Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ does not take on the flesh of man in order to fight social injustice. He takes on our flesh and our lot in order to lay down His life as a ransom for many and to reconcile us sinners to God through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Rm. 5:6-11; 2 Cr. 5:18; Co. 1:19-20); to attack, if you will, the very root of social injustice which is the powers of sin, death, and the devil. It is the works of the devil, St. John tells, that our Lord has come to destroy (1 Jn. 3:8).
Like the God Who indwells her, the Church also invites all who are hungry and thirsty for God to come and to partake of Him to the full, to imbibe Him to the dregs (Is. 55:1; Jn. 6:22-59)! For the Church, like her Lord and Master, her Foundation and Cornerstone, is full of compassion and mercy. Here in today’s Gospel, we see the God-Man, Jesus Christ, “moved with compassion” “because they were weary . . ., like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). Truly, before these Disciples who had the pleasure of divine intimacy with Jesus, lay a plentiful harvest and Jesus was beckoning them, inviting His Disciples, to join Him in gathering up that harvest (Mt. 9:37-38). “’You give them something to eat,’” He says. God the Immovable One, is moved, Sacred Scripture says, in the core of His very Being at the plight of His fallen creature and His creation to have mercy. For our God is indeed good and He is the Lover of mankind. He does not take delight in the death of sinners, but instead He desires all to be saved (Ek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tm. 2:4; 2 Pe. 3:9). As a mother hen gathers her chicks, so our God yearns to gather all under His providential care, Jesus proclaims. But, alas, there are those among us who will have no part of it (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 13:34).
Brothers and sisters, the multitudes follow after Jesus and they do so, not in the ease of their cars or RV’s or plane or train. They do so on foot, the Evangelist tells us (Mt. 14:13). This, we can well imagine, involved work on their part and determination to seek out this Jesus, this God in the flesh of man. They do so even unto the end of a deserted place. I ask you, how far will you go for this Jesus? How hard will you labor to follow Jesus? And, for how long? Until the hour is late, as it was here? These crowds put me to shame in their devotion to Jesus. He knows their need for the Shepherd knows His sheep. Indeed, He can call each of the 5,000 plus by name. He has even numbered each of the hairs on their heads (Mt. 10:30; Lk. 12:7; Jn. 10:10-18)! They are hungry, these followers. They have been with Jesus all day and now they are far from their homes in a deserted place and night is coming. They have eaten of His teaching; they have drunk of His Life-giving words, words that are both Spirit and Truth. Their souls have been refreshed and now their bodies need to be replenished with sustenance.
So often in Scripture, beloved, the people of God find themselves in similar circumstances again and again and again: in a deserted place and famished, worn out and frazzled in body and soul. We think especially of our brothers and sisters of ancient Israel out in the wilderness following their divinely orchestrated escape from the clutches of Pharaoh and 400 years of collective misery. But, how often do we find them complaining to God Who saved them, Who rescued them, giving them their lives back, because they are faced with hunger, with thirst, with fear and anxiety out there in the deserted place? And yet, we know such “deserted” places are far from deserted! Why? Because God is there. God is present perhaps even more acutely than we know or dare ourselves to believe. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? And from Thy Presence whither shall I flee? If I go up into Heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into Hades, Thou art present there” (Ps. 138 :7-8). Indeed, the very Spirit of God is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” He is the “Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life.”
And so, Jesus commands His Disciples to practice hospitality out in the middle of nowhere. He commands them to do and to be as He does and is. He commands them to give the multitude something to eat. Unlike this world of “unfunded mandates,” our Lord knows full well how He will “fund” what He has commanded – His commandment to love. For this is what He is essentially asking His Church, here in His Disciples, to do: to love, to have compassion, to have the heart of God like unto the God present in the flesh, and to trust Him in all things, in His providential care. Here, then, brothers and sisters, in this feeding of the 5,000 and more, is the Word of God fulfilled uttered by the Psalmist so long ago:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; His greatness exceeds every measure. All generations shall praise Thy works, they shall declare Thy mighty power, they shall speak of the great glory that is the majesty of Thy holiness, they shall recount Thy wondrous works. They shall speak of the power of Thy fearsome deeds, they shall recount of Thy great majesty. From them shall pour forth the memory of Thy rich goodness, they shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, longsuffering and abundant in mercy. The Lord is gracious to all, His mercies are on all His works. . . . They shall tell of Thy Kingdom’s glory and they shall speak of Thy Lordship, so all the sons of men may know Thy Lordship and the glory of Thy Kingdom’s magnificence. Thy Kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, Thy dominion is unto ages of ages. The Lord is faithful in His words and He is holy in all His works. . . . All eyes look to Thee in hope, Thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest Thy hand and all living things are satisfied in Thy good pleasure. . . . The Lord preserves all who love Him, . . . let all flesh bless His holy Name from henceforth and forevermore (Ps. 144 :1-22).
But, perhaps like the Disciples, when asked by our Lord to heed His Word, we, too, may not know how we will do what He has asked of us because we, too, see with limited vision. What we so often see is our deficiencies and our inadequacies. What we too often see is what we don’t have instead of what God has already blessed us with. “All we have, Lord, is two fish and five insufficient loaves of bread. And Thou askest us to give them something to eat? Aren’t the villages a better option?,” we might ask. But what does Jesus say? He says, “’They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’”
Beloved, let us be abundantly clear here, unlike others. Jesus is God in the flesh and what we are about to experience is beyond doubt a miracle. Unlike others who surmise that Jesus through the generosity of His Disciples inspired all those gathered to break out their brown bag lunches they had been hoarding and share their meager provisions with their neighbor. As good as that might be and virtuous, it is not, however, what happens here. Jesus, the Son of God, receives the offering of victuals provided by His Church, He looks up to Heaven, blesses the bread and fish, and gives what He has blessed back to His Church to be distributed. “So they all ate and were filled,” says St. Matthew, “and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.” As God, Jesus multiplies the gifts so that all may be satisfied. Or, to use the Psalmist’s word, “Thou openest Thy hands and all living things are satisfied.” He does here as God precisely what God did in the Old Testament when He fed His wayfaring people in the wilderness with daily bread sent from Heaven, along with the meat of quails. No man had too much and no one had too little. For the Lord God provided for them abundantly, just as He provided abundantly here for the multitude of men, women, and children (Ex. 16:1-36; 4 Kg. [2 Kg.] 4:42-44).
God, our God, is the good God Who loves mankind and always provides abundantly for His people who draw near to Him in faith. His provision of grace is always more than sufficient to meet our needs, always greater than our hunger and our thirst if we but entrust ourselves to Him. Christ God has come to give us Life and to give it more abundantly, He says, than we can imagine or hope or deserve (Jn. 10:10). It is in the Mystery of the Eucharist, however, that we experience this more poignantly as the Church. When the Church hears this story and the fourfold actions of our Lord – He raises His eyes to Heaven, He blesses what He has received, He breaks the blessed gifts, and He gives those same gifts to be distributed – the Church hears in her Holy Tradition the same fourfold action at the Holy Supper when in likewise fashion our Lord took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His Disciple gathered at the table (Mt. 26:26; Mk. 14:22; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cr. 11:23-24). It is the Holy Eucharist, the very Flesh of God and His Blood, that fulfills us broken sinners, satisfies our every craving, and quenches our thirsting souls. It is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God that ultimately completes us and sanctifies us and perfects us all with the meager crumbs of bread which, in the hands of Christ God, are multiplied exceedingly unto the remission of our sins and Life Everlasting. “Thou openest Thy hands and all living things are satisfied.”
Beloved, let us not underestimate our God and His mighty wonders that He performs for His beloved flock in the deserted places. “For He is our God and we are His pasture’s people, the sheep of His hand” (Ps. 94 :7; 99 :3). Let us “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.” Let us “be thankful to Him and bless His Name. For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Ps. 99 :4-5).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 1:10-18