Lent 4 2009

John 6:1-15

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

The Lord said, “‘You shall not eat of the tree of knowledge. ” But we did. We sought to be our own ethics committee, to discern for ourselves what is good and what is evil. And as is the case with almost all ethics committees, the first thing we failed to notice was our own evil. Instead we twisted in on ourselves and on our rights. We thought God was evil. God had told us that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was not fit for food. But we thought that we could see for ourselves that it was. Was it not pleasing to the eye, good for food, and capable of making us wise? Look at us now. How wise we have become!

The devil always lies. He never delivers. His promise of wisdom and being like God was a lie. We dnot get what we expected. We were misled, deceived. The wisdom he gave was simply the painful knowledge of the devil, Hell, and death. The Lord said you shall not eat of it. But we did. Now the ground is cursed for our sake. We ate of the tree of our own accord, with lust and greed, so now we eat of the cursed ground, by toil and sweat, all the days of our lives.

All our food comes from the earth and can be traced back to the sun. The sun energizes the grass. The cows eat the grass. We eat the grass and the cows. We are omnivores, so selfish that we consume everything. But our consumption comes always by toil, and not only that, it is not only in toil that we eat of the earth, but also all the days of our lives. We cannot live without constant food. In just a few hours our stomachs start to grumble. The children come home from school, just 3 or 4 hours after lunch, and declare: I am starving. They are not starving. But they are hungry. And they will be hungry all the days of their lives. This is the lot of fallen men, of those who toil upon the cursed earth and eat of it.

But even in the curse, there is mercy. Adam and Eve do not starve or go naked. More significantly, they do not die. Death has entered into the world. But death passes over them. The serpent is sent to eat the dust of the earth and to wait for the time when he will collect his ransom and bruise the Heel of God. And thus does the Lord multiply bread in the wilderness, to feed the hungry, without their toil. He has compassion on fallen men, on Adam and Eve in their sin, on us in all our troubles, self-afflicted and otherwise. He feeds them, and us, because they, and we, need it.

After the miraculous feeding, the crowd knew that He was the Prophet who to come. They sought to seize him and make Him King. They missed the point.

Their perception was not completely false. They did not substitute something evil for good. They substituted a lesser good, the prophet like Moses, for the greater good, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They took one piece of the Messiah, his power for miracles, and decided that was the chief thing. They felt His compassion, but failed to recognize its depth. It is as though they walked into a symphony hall with a full orchestra and heard only a single flute, and for the sake of that flute denied all other music.

They tried to make Him their king. This gives irony to the trumped-up charge brought to Pilate. Jesus resisted all efforts to make Him a king. He was after all King without their approval or vote. But the people who yelled crucify had tried to make Him king. They yelled crucify and pledged their allegiance to Caesar. “We have no king but Caesar,” they said. It is crass resentment on their part, like the fox declaring the grapes he could not reach to be sour. Jesus refused to be their King. So they charge Him with trying to be King. Yet He refused only because His compassion ran deeper than their desire. Thus they delivered Him to His destiny and mission, to His desire for them. Pilate plays his part by placing the title “King of the Jews” over His head. Then the Lord is lifted up from the earth to reconcile all men to His Father and to draw them to Himself.

The crowd’s perception was not completely false. The problem was that they failed to realize that this is only one part of His role. He did not come so much to heal diseases and multiply bread and fish. He came to be a Sacrifice, to lay down His life as a ransom, to pay the price required for sin. His miracles are like ripples in the water. They are like the twilight that precedes the dawn. The Creator is present in His creation. It falls back into place, re-orders itself, around Him. It does this because of the Blood He will shed, because creation is also redeemed. But the people see only the miracles, only the ripples. They don’t see the Blood. They are like children playing with empty boxes on Christmas morning or filling up with store-bought cookies before the meat is brought to the table.

St. Peter makes this mistake when he tries to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. That is why he is so harshly rebuked: “Get behind Me, Satan. You have not in mind the things of God, but of men.” Peter’s motives weren’t evil. He wanted Jesus to teach. He wanted to be His disciple. He wanted Him to live. Those were good things, but they were lesser goods. This is the way of all heresy that arises in the Church. For it never says “God is evil.” But it always chooses a minor note instead of the symphony. It always emphasizes and applies what is good or true but it twists the good like unto the crowd that was fed by Jesus demanding He be their king.

Of course, this did not stop Jesus. He fed the crowd even though He knew they would turn on Him. He was not moved by their worthiness but by true compassion. He enriched their lives. The boy gave Jesus five loaves and two fish. That was faith. And it was risky. He might have lost it all, gotten nothing in return. He gave up what he had and Jesus multiplied it. Everyone ate and was satisfied by this boy’s gift. And twelve baskets overflowing, perhaps even going to waste, were left at the end. The boy did not go home empty-handed. He himself was fed and satisfied, as were those with him.

This is how our lives are lived in Christ. We often call it stewardship. The Lord provides for us through our neighbors. We bring our imperfect and risky offerings. They are sanctified and used for the Kingdom. They are pleasing to God. We do not go home empty-handed. We are fed and satisfied, so are those with us. Our lives in Christ are centered in the Sacrament of the Altar, where Christ, Our Lord, feeds our bodies and souls with His Body and Blood. This is our strongest connection to the Lord. It is where He forgives our sins by physical means and joins us to Himself, the holy angels and the saints. In this Sacrament we proclaim His death and are joined to the cross and raised in the resurrection. The Sacrament of the Altar is the epitome and the source of our life in Christ. We live from Sunday to Sunday, from Altar to Altar. But there is more to our lives in Christ than the Sacrament. There is more to our lives than the forgiveness of sins or the holy liturgy. Our lives in Christ include the good works we perform at home and in the world. He gives us a share in His kingdom. He used the boy’s bread and fish to feed the crowd. He uses your offerings and good works for His Kingdom.

Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the Prophet who is to come. He has compassion on the physical ailments and distresses of this world. He leads us out of slavery. He is the Son of David who rules in perfect justice, but by mercy. Yet His compassion is still deeper. He is also the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, who was bruised by Satan and laid to rest in the earth, who gave up His life to have us. He is our own High Priest who ushers us into the inner counsels of the Holy Trinity so that we boldly pray, “Our Father,” and also know that the Holy Spirit Himself prays for us. He gives us a share in His kingdom according to grace. He is the Way of Salvation, the Truth of God’s love for us, and the Life of those who love Him. Rejoice, O Christian: Jesus loves you.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

* I am indebted to the Rev. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, for the insight of heresy choosing the lesser good over true Good. But I cannot now remember where it was that he wrote that.

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