by Fr. Dr. P. S. Samuel ChorEpiscopos
Meditation for 6th Sunday after Pentecost
The Gospel portion for this Sunday is taken from St. Matthew 15:32-39.
32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way. 33 And the disciples said to him, Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd? 34 And Jesus said to them, How many loaves have you? They said, Seven, and a few small fish. 35 And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied; and they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
The topic is the feeding of the four Thousand or the messianic banquet of the Gentiles. This is also found in St. Mark 8:1-9. Last Sunday the reading was on Feeding of the five thousand. This event is found in all the four Gospels, while feeding of the four thousand is found only in Mathew and Mark. The theme of both events is the same. God miraculously feeds His people.
The Church is repeating these readings as it did with those on the post- resurrection appearances of Our Lord, which occurred on the “first day of the week, or the eighth day”, that is, on Sundays with the ‘breaking of the Bread’. The Church wants to emphasize the fact that the death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension do not remove him away from us, but that he is an ever present reality and is with us, when we remember him in the ‘breaking of the Bread’, the Eucharist.
There is confusion among some people that the feeding of the four thousand is another version of the feeding of the five thousand. It is clear that this is not so. The five thousand were fed in the land of the Jews (Bethsaida) while the other occurs in the land of the Gentiles (Decapolis). More over both Mathew and Mark set the stage for this miracle after the healing of many gentiles and especially the healing of the daughter of the Cannanite woman (in Mathew), as it appears, after humiliatingly testing her and her people, the Gentiles. Feeding the people in the wilderness is a messianic sign “preparing a table in the wilderness” by God. Feeding of the five thousand is indicative of God feeding the Israelites with manna from heaven through Moses. Here is some one greater than Moses, the Son of God, feeding all God’s people, the Jews and the Gentiles.
The Eucharistic implication of both the miracles is clear, and the Fathers affirm this. All gospel writers except John narrate the institution of the Eucharist. St. John purposely leaves this out and gives the “washing of the disciples’ feet” instead. Why did the beloved disciple, who knew the mind of Jesus more than any other disciple, do this way? John discusses the Eucharist in his sixth chapter using the feeding of the fivethousand as a background for his discourse. For St. John, the disciple of love, humility, love of one’s brother , service to humanity (Jesus came down to serve and to die for the people) are as important as the reception of the sacrament (Christ). St. Paul complained about the rich Corinthians because they ate the meal rather selfishly. John the evangelist saw the need of reminding us that the Eucharist is related to the poor, the hungry of this world. The foundation of our commitment/service to the world is the Holy Eucharist. This is our body. And so John reminds us what Jesus said. “You call me Lord, and indeed I am. But if I wash your feet, then wash one another’s.” Feed the poor, feed the world.
Now let as look at the scripture portion in more detail. Jesus was with the people in a “deserted place.” He was preaching and healing. The people continued to stay with him absorbed in his teaching; they did not go away to find food or other necessities. Jesus knew their needs, and so he took the initiative to provide for them. He felt compassion on them. Com-passion is suffering with those who suffer. To put oneself in the other person’s place and to accept that person’s suffering as his own. This is divine and is prompted by the caring and love one feels for others. God is most Compassionate. He so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to this world. As Jesus has told Philip, “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus sheds tears any time when we suffer as he did at the tomb of Lazarus. So naturally he wants the disciples to give food to the crowd, because if he sends them away unfed, they will faint on the way and perish. It is love that exudes compassion. We see that through out his ministry Jesus was moved with compassion and he did heal, feed and comfort, to alleviate the sufferings of others. What about us? Most often we look away and pass by, don’t we?
He asked the disciples to feed the crowd. The disciples got panicky. They felt overwhelmed. Our Lord says, do not worry, bring me what you have. And they brought seven loaves and a few fish, such a small quantity, for the large crowd. We often wonder and say, how, on earth can we feed all the poor in the world? He tells us to start with the people around us, take the first step, feed the poor neighbor, and don’t over-feed your child when the neighbor’s child, your brother’s child, is starving. The community of the faithful has this responsibility. Is not Jesus reminding us of our responsibility to others? Sunday after Sunday we piously go to communion but easily forget the poor, the suffering, the homeless and the orphans of the world. Give them food and shelter. This is the Lord’s command. Be compassionate, remember the needy, pray and provide for them and then the Lord will be pleased with us.
Remember Prophet Elijah reassuring the widow of Zarephath, when she told the prophet that she had only a tiny quantity of morsel just to make a cake for her and her son. “Make a small one for me” says Elijah, and she did and that did wonders (1 Kings 17:10-16).The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD which he spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:16) Aren’t we often worried that we have very little reserves, for the education of our children, for paying the mortgage for the car and the house, for doing so many things including investing for the future, where is the money to give to the Church or to the poor? Read verse 16. God will provide , He will multiply and provide for us as well as for the poor and the needy if we are willing to share a little of what we have and entrust it with Christ in prayer.
The disciples brought what they had and Christ “took it, gave thanks (eucharistia), blessed it, broke it and gave it” to them to distribute to the people. The God who created the world from “nothing” multiplied it so that all the people, four thousand men and much more women and children, ate and were satisfied and they praised God for this miraculous feeding. This is the Lord’s banquet. It is His Table. Who does provide the bread for the banquet? The people. The women or men who cook it at home and bring it to be offered. He takes it and makes it His own, and invites all to come and participate. All the people have table fellowship with Him and with one another. He provides food for the people through His disciples ‘the shepherds who divide the word of truth’. This is the mission of the Assembly of God, the Church. Yet, at present, many among the people go unfed and hungry. Though provided, many willfully ignore the gift and perish on the way. The Eucharistic implication is quite clear. Every time we assemble in the church for Eucharistic celebration, this is what is happening. The people provide the fruit of their labor, the bread and the wine He takes their offering, He gives thanks, He blesses it, He breaks it , He gives it to the disciples and they distribute it to the people. Christ does all this through the Holy Spirit by transforming the gifts, making them the Body of Christ, and he himself (the Bread of Heaven) is being distributed to the faithful by His disciples (bishops and priests). So compassion leads to communion. Com-union, is entering into an intimate and inseparable union with the Lord. As St. John says, He abides in us and we in Him, leading us away from suffering and death, to life abundant and to life eternal. Every time the Holy Eucharist is celebrated this whole process is reenacted. Nowadays in our Church the people do not know where the bread comes from. Achen or some one makes it and brings it to the church. The people have no idea that it is their offering! Anaphora means offering or lifting up. The priest recites the Eucharistic prayers. He breaks it. We really don’t think what it means to be broken. Those who have seen the “Passion of the Christ” will definitely understand. With out braking (dying) there is no life.
We know that U.S.A is a prosperous Nation. Why? They spend their money rather than keep it in the Bank! What is the use of money or wealth when it is not spent for us and for others? Only when the bread is broken can we be fed with it.. The priest gives it to the faithful. This is communion, receiving the Qurbana. So we repeat what Christ did every time we celebrate the Eucharist, without thinking and realizing the real implication and our own part in it. Jesus feeds us and we are asked to feed others. May God bless us all, May He feed us unto eternal life. AMEN.
Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost
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