Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily for The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)

H-61 Trinity 7 (Mk 8.1-9)


Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

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

In times of need, and in times of plenty, your Lord provides you all things good, beneficial, and needful to your body and soul. As you walk through the valleys of your life, always in the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads and guides you to His font of living water and to His life-giving banquet, even in the presence of your enemies – sin, death, and Satan. Before His Incarnation, He provided the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, holy manna in the wilderness, and water from the rock which St. Paul tells us was the Christ, Jesus. After His Incarnation, in two distinct and unique events, Jesus fed five thousand, and then four thousand men with a small amount of bread and fish. In each event, basketfuls of leftovers were collected after the masses had eaten their fill and were satisfied. Then, on the night in which He was betrayed, in fulfillment of the Passover, Jesus fed His disciples with bread and wine, in, with, and under which were His life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith by the power of His performative and creative Word. And, your Lord has left you His meal of sustenance in your times of need, and His feast and banquet of joy in times of plenty, that you would be provided all things good, beneficial, and needful to your body and soul until the day He returns and you will, once again, eat from the tree of life in the presence of God in a day upon which the sun will never set.

Today’s Gospel lesson is the account of one of these miraculous feedings, the lesser celebrated, the Feeding of the Four Thousand, recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel, chapter eight. Likely, some of you were not aware that there was a feeding of the four thousand, but you know only of the feeding of the five thousand. And, likely, some of you have been instructed, or believe, that these two accounts are but two tellings of the same event. But, this is not the case.

In the first place, St. Mark’s Gospel contains both accounts – both the feeding of the five thousand in chapter six, and the feeding of the four thousand in chapter eight. In the second place, the details of each feeding are different and unique. In the feeding of the five thousand, the crowds were not far from towns and villages where they could easily purchase food to eat. Nevertheless, Jesus instructed His disciples to feed the crowds in the desolate place where they were. St. Mark tells you that the people sat down in green grass in groups, as at tables at a banquet. There is no sense of urgency or desperation in the feeding of the five thousand as there is in the feeding of the four thousand. However, in that second miraculous feeding, the crowds had been following Jesus for three days, presumably with little food or drink, and many of the people had come from far away. They could not simply be released to purchase food in nearby towns and villages, for the people were weak and would faint on the way. Again, Jesus instructed the four thousand to sit down, not on green grass, but on the ground in that desolate place. There is no mention of the four thousand being seated in groups, as in a banquet. In contrast, in the feeding of the five thousand, the Lord had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, but, in the feeding of the four thousand, the Lord had compassion on the people because they had nothing to eat.

No, these two accounts of miraculous feedings are not one and the same, rather, they are to be contrasted and compared, their similarities and their differences, that the Lord’s constant presence and providence may be revealed. In those times in your life when you seem to have all that you need, when it is easy to believe that you are the master of your life and the provider of your own sustenance, then the Lord continues to provide you all that you need for your body and life. Though you may take His providence for granted and fail to return thanks, your Lord invites you to His feast and banquet of the finest of wines and the choicest of meats. And, in those times in your life when you are in need and want and you do not know how you will overcome the challenges, deadlines, and debts that lie before you, and you are tempted to despair and hopelessness, your Lord provides you a meal of sustenance to carry you through the lean times, for He has compassion for you and He will not let you perish. And so, this continuing miraculous meal of the Lord’s body and blood is at every serving a banquet and feast for some and a meal of sustenance and survival for others. Thus, Jesus says to you, eat and drink of it often, for, in times of plenty and in times of need, at all times, His flesh and blood is what you need for your body and soul.

But there is also a connection to creation in these miraculous feedings. In both the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus had placed both His disciples and the crowds in a situation where the very best of their efforts were not enough. In the feeding of the five thousand, though the villages and towns were not far off, Jesus insisted that His disciples feed the crowd in the desolate place where they were. Considering only their own meager offerings of bread and fish, the disciples despaired of their ability to obey Jesus’ command and feed the crowds. Similarly, in the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus had led His disciples and the crowds three days into the wilderness and there had arisen a crisis situation where they were hungry and there was no food to be found. In both cases, the only hope for the disciples and the crowds was the miraculous providence of Jesus. However, in both cases, also, Jesus performed the miracle through the ordinary work of His disciples. He did not wave His hands in the air or utter grand poetic incantations, but Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people. And then He blessed the fish also and had the disciples set them before the people. And, in the distribution, they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces that were left over – twelve basketfuls in the feeding of the five thousand, and seven basketfuls in the feeding of the four thousand.

So, what is the connection with creation? Well, first and foremost, your Lord Jesus created and provided what was necessary for the life and sustenance of His people by the creative and life-giving power of His Word. What was, and is, impossible for man, is possible for God who created and still sustains man and all things by the power of His Word. But, second, the numbers in the accounts of the feedings are meaningful – the number of the days, the loaves, the fish, the leftovers, and the crowds. In general, the numbers of the loaves of bread and the fish fall short of an important Christological number, eight. It is the number seven that is prominent in the feeding accounts – there are five loaves and two fish in the feeding of the five thousand, and there are seven loaves and a few small fish in the feeding of the four thousand. While the number seven is an important biblical symbol indicating fullness and completion – as God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh, proclaiming it a Sabbath day of rest – after the fall into sin, the number seven is no longer sufficient, but it must be fulfilled and superseded. That brings us to the number eight, a number singularly connected with the resurrection of Jesus Christ – who was crucified, died, and was buried, and, on the third day (or, the eighth day) rose again from the dead. The significance of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday, the third day after His death on Friday, or the eighth day when taking into consideration the entire seven-day week before it, is that Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and command on behalf of fallen, sin-wrecked man and the former creation, and He died, He fulfilled the Sabbath by resting in the tomb, and He rose again, in the flesh, at the dawn of a new day, the first day of a new creation, a day on which the sun will never set.

Jesus had intentionally led His disciples and the crowds to end of their own providence, to the point where they realized their dependence and turned to Him for help. In both feedings, Jesus worked through and with the bread and fish and the hands of His disciples to provide for His people. He fulfilled all things, and there were abundant leftovers – twelve basketfuls in the feeding of the five thousand, and seven basketfuls in the feeding of the four thousand – for, with Jesus, there is always more – more forgiveness, more sustenance, and eternal life and salvation for anyone and everyone who will not reject Him and His gifts.

For you, to make that three-day journey in this wilderness life is to leave you depleted, empty, faint, and dead – still in your tomb. Your seven loaves – your work, your toil, and your sweat – earn you only death. But, Jesus has taken your death into himself and, in exchange, He has given you His life. For, He is the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, as both sustaining manna in your wilderness life, and as a rich banquet feast of abundance and plenty, giving eternal life in heaven. In Jesus Christ, you have been fulfilled. Therefore, in Jesus Christ, may you also find satisfaction from want or need in your life, but also abundance from which to share and give to others.

In that regard, we are blessed today to celebrate with the Church God’s Saint Mary Magdalene. Jesus had cast from Mary seven demons – a number, perhaps once again, representing the fullness of sinful corruption. In humble repentance, thankfulness, and love, Mary later, at the house of Simon the Pharisee, kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with costly ointment. The Fathers of the Church, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, and St. Theophylact, explain Mary’s actions in this way: From her tears, the Lord Jesus notices a humble heart, troubled by sins committed. From her kiss, He notices her faith and trust. From the anointing, He notices the intention of her heart, that from now on she will use everything that is precious to her for the glory of Christ. Moreover, He praises the thankfulness of her heart that she showed through many signs of love; He says, “Her many sins are forgiven, on account of which she has loved much.”

May you so cling to Jesus in faith and trust and love and so receive His comfort, strength, and forgiveness to complete your journey through the valley of your life, surrounded by the shadow of death. For, you are not alone – you are never alone – but the Lord, your Good Shepherd is with you, guiding you, providing for you. And He has passed through this valley before you and for you and has emerged victorious over death in new and eternal life. He knows the way. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life – even the Life of the world. And He is present here, now, in this meal of sustenance for you who are famished and fainting from the travails of life in this sin-wrecked world, even as He is present in this banquet feast of plenty and joy for you whose needs are fulfilled at this present time. He is for you, He is for all, that you may be satisfied and full, with an abundance of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to spare, to the glory of God the Father, in His holy Son Jesus Christ, through His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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