Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Feeding of the 5000

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Our Gospel Lesson from Matthew [14:14-22] describes the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. This is perhaps one of the most familiar and least understood miracles in all the scriptures. Although our holy fathers in the faith understood the purpose of this miracle quite well and were universal in their agreement as to its meaning, there are literally millions of Christians today who have lost touch with the historic faith and teachings of our ancient Christian ancestors and thus are truly “in the dark” as to what this miracle points to.

The explanation most commonly given today is that Christ simply sought to demonstrate His deity to the world, since only God could perform such a work. That’s a nice, rational answer, and easy to understand. But it falls far short of the answer that Christ Himself gave. In John chapter 6, as the multitudes continued to follow Him in order to receive more food, He revealed to them the true purpose for the miracle. He declared, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you…I am the bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”

This was an answer that many of the Jews who had been following Christ up to this point did not find rational at all. In fact, if you read through John 6 you will see that on three separate occasions the people objected that His words made no sense, and each time they did so Christ came back, not with comforting, reasonable explanations, but with even bolder statements. He declared, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” As the people reeled over this statement, Christ then made what must have seemed the most outrageous claim of all saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day”.

As we know, many of the thousands of people who had been following Jesus right up until this moment suddenly turned away and left Him over these words. On the basis of human reason alone they simply could not accept what He had said.

Unfortunately there are many Christians today who also cannot accept Christ’s words, but rather than abruptly leave Him, they simply reinterpret what He said to derive a meaning that is much more in accord with rational thought. They see communion as little more than a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s death and not as His literal Body and Blood since such a belief seems irrational to them.

We should note that the words of Jesus are not irrational. They are what we might call supra-rational, or in other words, they rise above the limitations of mere human reason alone and require also the gift of faith to help us experience and participate in them. Our holy fathers understood that the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 pointed directly to the Holy Eucharist. Just as five loaves of bread were multiplied at the hands of His disciples to feed everyone present with twelve basketsful left over, so today five loaves of prosphora are multiplied at the hands of His priests in parishes across the world to feed millions with the Body of Christ which is “broken, yet not divided; ever eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof”.

Of course it is tragic that there are so many today who still will not believe the words of Christ, especially in light of His warning that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in ourselves. But we must understand that it is not just post-modern rationalism that robs people of the full meaning and power of the Eucharist; for many Orthodox Christians a simple lack of faith and piety routinely does the same.

I wonder what impact we contemporary Orthodox believers might have on our world if we developed a much deeper and more reverent appreciation for the Holy Eucharist. Across this land, Orthodox Christians have by and large set a very sloppy example of respect for this life-giving and holy sacrament. A large percentage of us do not prepare ourselves properly to take communion each Sunday. We do not go to confession regularly, we may not pray the prayers of preparation beforehand, and perhaps we do not even fast prior to taking the Body and Blood of Christ. In many parishes if a mid-week liturgy is offered, very few people attend. And on Sundays there are still far too many of us who habitually stroll into church half-way through the liturgy, as if somehow we got extra credit for arriving at God’s banquet “fashionably late”.

Frankly my brothers and sisters this is shameful. Let’s turn things around for a moment and look at them from God’s perspective. If you spent all day preparing a special and expensive meal for your friends, but your guests of honor wandered in an hour late and stuffed because they had stopped off at McDonald’s along the way, you would likely not be pleased. If they briefly sat down and ate a bit from your table without thanksgiving and then immediately got up to go socialize with the rest of the guests without even acknowledging you…well, you might think twice before inviting such ungrateful people back into your home.

Far too many Orthodox Christians behave exactly this way toward the holy things of God. Is it any wonder then that so many of our parishes lack spiritual vitality, that so many of our young people leave the faith at their first opportunity, and that Orthodoxy overall seems to have so little an impact on American culture and religion? I don’t mean to paint a completely bleak picture because things do seem to be changing for the better in many parishes, thank God. Yet it is clear that we still have a problem in this country, and very much need to bring piety and faith and reverence back into the Orthodox Christian experience, particularly in regard to the Holy Eucharist.

If the Eucharist is truly life-giving as Jesus claims and the “Medicine of Immortality” as our holy fathers faithfully described it, then it is easy to see why our enemy the devil would wish to do everything he could to encourage disbelief in it or impiety toward it. We must do our part to overcome the devil by approaching this sacrament with the fear of God, with faith and with love. Only then will we be able to receive its benefits, and from it gain the life eternal that Christ promised us.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 7/18/2007 1:01 AM , Blogger Kungfupower said...

Man, oh man do I love your sermons! Mighty stuff. It's always a source of great edification for me. I had never heard this interpretation before, but it makes so much sense when presented this way. Thank you for posting it.


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