Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily for Laetare–The Fourth Sunday in Lent

H-34 Lent 4 (Jn 6.1-15)


John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

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

After the five thousand were miraculously filled with bread and fish, they were ready to take Jesus by force and make Him king. I’m sure you can understand why. How often have you thought, if only God would perform some amazing miracle before you, then you would believe? If only God would do something that would irrefutably prove His existence, His goodness, and His power, then all the world would believe. But then, you wouldn’t really trust in God or in Jesus or in His Word, but you would trust in the sign, the miracle, the bread and the fish, or whatever. If you eat, you will be hungry again. God performs miracles for you every day, and yet you don’t believe, still you clamor for more. So too, Jesus taught His disciples, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God has set His seal.”

The bread that Jesus provided for them was just a sign of the True Bread from heaven that gives life to the world. That bread was not mere bread for the belly, but that bread is Jesus Himself. That is why Jesus had the disciples gather up the leftover fragments of bread, twelve basketfuls – He didn’t want the people to horde the bread, to trust in the bread, but in the provider of the bread, God, and the True Bread He has provided, Jesus. The same was true with the children of Israel in the wilderness. There, God daily provided them bread to eat and instructed them to gather only enough for the day. If they gathered more than a day’s bread, He caused it to spoil and to breed worms so that they would not trust in the bread, but in the provider of the True Bread, the Word of God. That is why, when Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread and feed His belly, Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” It is a kind of slavery to trust in bread, wealth, flesh, and the knowledge of the mind. Therefore, your God, who would have you live free, takes from you the chains that you permit to bind you: bread spoils, wealth is stolen and decays, the flesh grows weak and dies, and knowledge cannot save you from death.

Allegorically, St. Paul compares your slavery to created things to the covenant of the Law symbolized in Hagar and her son Ishmael. God had promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a son of promise whose descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and from whose seed would come the promised Messiah. However, trusting in the flesh and not in God, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, and conceived a son with her, Ishmael, a son of slavery. Still, God kept His Word and promise, and Sarah conceived and bore the son of promise, Isaac. Paul states, “This may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. […] She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”

Abraham and Sarah were enslaved under the covenant of the Law to trust in their works. They did not trust in the Word of the LORD, that He would provide them a son, but they trusted in the works of the flesh to produce a son according to their will, in opposition to the will of God. Indeed, Hagar did bear a son, but he was not the son of promise, but a son of slavery. There was no blessing in Ishmael, but there was instead a curse – Ishmael and his descendents persecuted Isaac and his descendents. Likewise, trust in works, no matter how good they may be, cannot save but they lead only to slavery and death. But, you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. Therefore, trust not in the works of the flesh or in any material, worldly, created thing, but trust in God, His Word by which a man may live, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ who is the bread of life come down from heaven which a man may eat and truly live.

Interestingly, the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each have an account of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, but John does not. Or, does he? Yes, indeed He does, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand is the beginning of it in chapter six. Throughout John chapter six, Jesus teaches His disciples that He is the true bread come down from heaven saying, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John tells us that the Jews who listened to Him understood Him literally and they grumbled saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus answered them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

The Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, is the only source of life. You scramble around in the darkness of spiritual ignorance trying to feed your bellies, trusting in your ability to earn bread and in the ability of bread to give you life, while you neglect the source of all life, the one thing needful for your body, soul, and life. You make yourself a slave to stuff, and to the desire for stuff, thinking that these will give you life, while you are dying, while you are literally starving yourself to death because such food does not last. If the fruit that brings knowledge also brings death, then what have you gained?

Come, eat. Come, drink. The LORD has provided. The LORD continues to provide daily bread that you may eat and drink and live. For, you are no longer “children of the slave but of the free”; therefore do not submit yourself once again to a yoke of slavery under the Law demanding works of the flesh, but trust in the Word of the LORD, His Word of promise. All your striving to attain your daily bread by the works of your hands serve only to fill your belly for a moment, which eventually ends in death. Jesus is the bread of life come down from heaven; Jesus is the bread of promise, a new covenant of grace that you may eat and be satisfied, that you may drink and never thirst again, that you may live eternally in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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