SERMON – Pentecost IX
July 29, 2012
+In the Name…
“Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do” (St. John 6:5-6).
We jump out of the Gospel readings from St. Mark (which predominate in what is known as Year B in the three-year Common Lectionary) for a few Sundays to learn from the Gospel of St. John what Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. To begin that this morning, we hear what St. John tells us about Jesus’ miracle of the “Feeding of the 5000.”
As a review and to put things in context, we have heard the past few Sundays of how: first, Jesus did not have much success in his hometown of Nazareth because of their unbelief in Him; second, that he sent His disciples out on their first missionary journey; third, that after their success, He called them away from the people for spiritual refreshment.
What happened next is before us today. Again, we jump to the Gospel according to St. John, but St. Mark has basically the same chronology.
Jesus, while with His disciples away from the crowds of people who sought Him, sees that a “multitude” is approaching. He has concern for their physical needs as well as their spiritual well-being, so He decides that they must be fed – all of them. We’re told that He knew what He was going to do to feed them, but He asks Philip how this could be done. We’re told by St. John, the Gospel writer, that Jesus asked Philip this question to “test” him: “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
In other words, Jesus wanted to know if Philip and the other Apostles had come to the point of believing that no matter what the situation was for themselves and others, did they believe that Jesus could and would provide what was needed?
Philip, thinking in worldly and practical terms, answers our Lord’s question: “Two hundred denarii [a denarius being a day’s wage for a laborer] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." He is right in that assessment, but the assessment was minus the power of the Lord.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, takes things to a new and better level spiritually in saying to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish." In so saying, He reveals that he has a degree of belief in Jesus in him that something bigger just might be able to happen; but Andrew adds, “…but what are they among so many?”
Andrew reminds me of myself, so many times, as I believe in the power of our Lord, but a bit of doubt creeps in, dampening my faith. It’s the old and nearly-always-present challenge of spiritually facing what the world deems as impossible with faith that I am called to believe in the impossible. I would venture to say that all of you share with me in that challenge.
Back to the story, there is the un-named lad who surrendered the five loaves and two fish he had (which are of great value for himself and his family) to the hands of Jesus. Wouldn’t you like to know what went through the mind of this little boy when asked to give up what he had?
What we know is that once the five loaves and two fish were taken into the hands of the Incarnate Son of God, a miracle occurred where 5000 people were fed to the degree of it being “as much as they wanted,” with twelve baskets, “… filled with the fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten."
The late Pope John Paul II commented on this: “Jesus relied not on a sufficient supply of material goods but on the boy’s generosity in offering the little he had…What human reason could not dare to hope came true in Jesus through the generous heart of a young boy.”
In addition to this story being a prefiguring of the Eucharist in which Jesus promises himself as the nourishment for the soul (The Navare Bible commentary), it is a teaching for followers of Jesus then and now; a teaching that (according to the Navare Bible Commentary) means that for our Lord’s Apostles and disciples, “they are to trust in Him when difficulties arise…they must embark on their [that] apostolate as best they can, even if they lack sufficient resources… He will provide what they need.”
For us, with what little we may have, be it of resources or of faith, and if it seems to us not to amount to much, when we render them to the Lord’s disposal, He can put them to good use. We give all we can of what we have, and we pray, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief,” as the man asked Jesus whose son was possessed by an evil spirit.
And if we have much (by His blessings upon us), the more we give, the more we receive, in knowing that it is offered for God’s greater glory beyond ourselves for the benefit of others. There is a principle in Christianity from the Scriptures that we are to claim as absolutely true, and it is this: “Give, and it shall be given unto you." In other words, if you want to receive good things from the Lord, you need to give to the Lord.
We may think that we have not much to offer of ourselves and of our resources for the Lord’s work, but if we give what we have cheerfully and with thanksgiving that we have something to offer; and if we offer it because of our love of the Lord and for the use of the Lord, He receives it with thanksgiving and uses it for things beyond our reckoning.
As Pope John Paul II stated, “What human reason cannot [could not] dare to hope came true in Jesus through the generous heart of a young boy." Our Lord waits for generous hearts to offer gifts to Him.
The greatest gift, in the words of our Anglican liturgical tradition, is “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee." As that great Hymn states, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
Coterminous with such an offering of “our selves, our souls and bodies” is the offering of contrition and repentance to the Lord, as the Prayer Book calls us to express: “…we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." The Psalmist teaches us: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise” (51:17). This is why a heartfelt sacramental confession has such a valuable place in our Christian pilgrimage.
You see, the Lord looks upon the heart to see what is there in intent and desire. He honors what is given to Him in sincerity and trust that what we offer and give is pleasing to Him, and from what we offer and give to Him, grace is given by Him, for our good and transformation, for others, and to His glory. Our time, talent, and treasure. Our love, prayers, contrition, repentance, and our growing faith.
+In the Name…