Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Healing and feeding
August 5, 2014, 8:27 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at St John’s, Clevedon, Sunday August 3rd.

pantocrator 1At the beginning of today’s Gospel, our Lord has received bad news. His cousin John, who had done so much to prepare the people for Jesus’ own ministry, had just been brutally murdered in the dungeons of King Herod. Our Lord felt every human emotion that we would feel. What more natural than that he would want to get away from the crowds, and find a quiet place to grieve, to think and to pray? You and I can well understand that.

How frustrating it must have been, then, to find that the crowds would not leave him alone, would follow him into the desert, with all their noise, all their requests, all their needs! You or I might want to just run away further, or break down in tears of anger and frustration. But not Jesus. He did not waste time feeling sorry for himself, or sorry for John. He felt sorry for the crowds, like sheep without a shepherd. They came to him because they needed him. They came with all their own troubles and sorrows and anxieties: and he healed them.

The disciples, on the other hand, saw another problem. What were the people to eat? The Lord might deal with their spiritual hunger, but what about their bodies? “It’s getting late,” they said. “Let them go into the villages and buy some food.” “No,” said Jesus. “You give them something to eat.” He doesn’t rebuke them for being concerned about others’ material needs. He just implies that they already have the resources to deal with them. And they don’t argue. They just bring him what they have: five loaves and two fish. And from that pitifully inadequate supply, Jesus feeds five thousand men, and goodness knows how many women and children. And there were still twelve baskets of left-overs.

To us, familiar as we are with the Mass, the Eucharistic overtones of this miracle are obvious. Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples to distribute. Matthew uses the same words here as he does in his narrative of the last supper. We are meant to see it this way. So: how can we relate this Gospel to our situation today, and especially to our Sunday worship? Like Jesus, we have come apart from our everyday concerns, possibly seeking comfort in some great sorrow, We have come to a place apart, separated, dedicated to the service of God. This is the root meaning of the word “holy”.

But when we come away, we do not in fact escape from the cares of the world, or from our responsibilities regarding them. Notice that our Lord’s first action, even before the feeding, was to heal. As Christians, we are called to be healers, reconcilers. How may we do this, at Mass? Well, at the beginning, we make confession and ask for mercy. I would like to suggest that, when we do this, we do not simply bring before God our own petty offences. In the Book of Common Prayer, the confession at communion contains the words, “The remembrance of them is grievous, the burden of them is intolerable.” It is difficult for most of us (unless we are saints) to say such words with complete sincerity.

But suppose we recall that we are a priestly people, representing the whole of sinful humanity before God’s throne. And suppose we recall the vile and hideous acts we see daily on the news bulletins, the grievous and intolerable crimes that are committed around the world every day. These things are committed by people as human as we ourselves. We are all shamed by them. So, as we come to Mass, let us take seriously our duty of asking for God’s mercy on the human race. Let us ask the Father to soften and to turn the hard hearts of so many of his children, and give them the grace of repentance. Let us ask him to save us from the anger and greed and selfishness that cause such evil. This is how we share in the ministry of healing. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!

But then we should remember that the world is hungry, not just for material food- though that is a basic and continuing fact that must be addressed. The world, even the outwardly prosperous and successful world, is starved of love, starved of meaning and purpose. Led astray by Satan, people seek fulfilment in all kinds of things that can never satisfy them. We bring these needs to Jesus; but he reminds us that, as members of his Body, we already have the resources to deal with them. I don’t just mean that, living in a relatively well-off and comfortable society, we could do much more to relieve the material hunger of the world. No, we possess a spiritual food, a spiritual treasure, that can satisfy the deeper hunger. That food, that treasure, is Jesus himself. But too often we lack the confidence to share it with those who need it (but don’t always know they need it).

Our personal spiritual resources of faith, hope and charity are, of course, pitifully small, like the loaves and fishes of the disciples. But if we only let Jesus operate on and with these resources, even our weak faith, wobbly hope and hesitant charity can work wonders. For the last few Sundays we have been hearing parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like this, like that. But the kingdom of heaven is not somewhere else, in time or space. It is what things are like when Jesus is recognised as King. He is King by right, but he is only effectively King when he is recognised as King, and that means in the minds and hearts of human beings, and that means starting with us. We recognise Jesus as our King, we are his subjects, his disciples – even his friends. If we do not show the world what this means, who will?

This world we live in, with all its troubles, all its agony, is our desert. But we are the companions of Jesus whom he uses to heal and to feed. If we bring to him, day by day and week by week, the little we have- right here at Mass- then he will multiply it and transform it. He feeds us here with himself: with that holy food we can feed the world, with whole basketfuls to spare.


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