Sunday Next Before Advent 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, as we celebrate together this day the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Imagine the scene that is recounted in today’s Gospel, and I suspect you will see that it is not all that different than what could happen in our times. A large multitude has gathered around Our Lord in the heat of the day. His reputation has spread by a word of mouth that is almost as immediate and all-consuming as when news goes viral in social media. Indeed, the stories about this wondrous miracle worker, whom some insist is a Prophet or even the promised Messiah, sound a lot more reliable to them than the innuendos and half-truths we twenty-first century people get daily in our social media, because the folks back then are hearing about all this from their neighbors and friends. For all the buzz about this Nazarene, this is still a local affair for the most part, and yet that makes the clamor surrounding Jesus that much more combustible. What Christ Jesus says and does, and the movement that is starting to coalesce around Him, matters to these people, their community, their livelihood. The multitude cannot so easily change the channel to some other human-interest story on cable news. For this reason, the multitude are more inclined to invest in Him. They will follow Him over many miles, notwithstanding the oppressive heat and the growing hunger; and like we do with those larger-than-life personalities to which some of us cling nowadays, the more they invest in Him and His movement the more they will project onto Him their own half-baked ideas and petty prejudices about what a miracle worker, or a Prophet, or even the promised Messiah should be. What may have started out as an enthusiastic, and in some cases pious, focus on Christ Jesus degenerates into a crowd mentality not far removed from a riot. One suspects that the heat and the hunger have kept the multitude from either literally picking up Christ Jesus and proclaiming Him a King or tossing Him in a fit of ecstasy into the Sea of Galilee. With a mob there is a fine line between triumphant proclamation and irrational violence. When the Gospel says that Christ Jesus lifted up His eyes and saw a great company come unto Him, we should not presume that the mass of people was approaching Him in an orderly and respectful manner. He may not have seen a riot in front of Him, but Our Lord surely knew that a heated and hungry crowd always dances close to the edge. More to the point, Our Lord would have known that the ersatz mind of the crowd, more irrational with every passing moment out here and still for the most part untutored in the faith, would get all the more lost in itself, if He did not impose order and open their eyes to the uncluttered truth of Himself and His work for mankind. This is no time for a parable where truth may be discovered and internalized over years of prayerful reflection. This is no time for arcane theology to be debated by well-bred ecclesiastical scholars at an ecumenical council. Like when God struck down the multitude trying to erect their Tower of Babel to Heaven, the multitude at this time and place must not be given the free rein to replace Our Lord’s ministry with the half-baked one they would contrive. Now is the time for decisive action. Now is the moment to feed the stomach and the soul. If after the Feeding of the Five Thousand, some within the multitude decide that they will no longer follow Christ Jesus, which indeed turns out to be the case, then at least their rejection of Him will be clear eyed and unambiguous. Christ Jesus gives us plenty of time with His parables to come to terms with who He is and what He is asking of us, but the Feeding of the Five Thousand makes clear that when the moment of final decision comes God will feed us directly, straightforwardly, filling us bodily and spiritually. If we reject Christ Jesus even then, then there will be no doubt that we are rejecting Heaven for Hell and life for death.

Notice that Christ Jesus first inquires as to whether or not there is enough to feed the mass of people. He knows the answer, of course; but He wants His disciples, and by extension the rest of us, to see that without Him we cannot do enough to meet our needs. Without Him, what we can muster up is paltry – five barley loaves and two small fishes. The boy has enough food there for himself, but in comparison to the multitude it is infinitesimally small. The lesson is clear for all to see: Even if we think that we can care for ourselves, what we have and what we do cannot be enough for anyone else, our family, our community, let alone the multitude, if we are trying to make do without Christ Jesus. Moreover, in the end, what we can do for ourselves really will not be sufficient either, for we are meant to care for our families, to be in communion with the faithful, to be citizens of the Father’s Kingdom. If we only care for ourselves, then in fact we are leaving ourselves behind as much as we are leaving everyone else behind.

Christ Jesus fixes this problem by first organizing the mass of people. Instead of being a heated and hungry multitude with no particular identity, they are now the “Five Thousand.” There is a kind of communion in that. It is a hint of the communion of the faithful which will emerge over time, but it is enough for the people to calm down and to behold Christ Jesus before them with open eyes. What little and transitory communion this is will be sufficient for Our Lord to reveal Himself unto them. Give God an inch, and He will take you countless miles into Himself and His loving heart. Sit down as a group of five thousand even for a moment, and He will feed you all your body and soul needs, and there will be baskets full of leftovers. God acts with a generosity way beyond how parsimonious we are with Him and with one another. God does not meet us halfway, or measure for measure, but offers unto us so much more than we can imagine trying to offer unto Him. He lifts His eyes and blesses the food He is about to give us, and by extension blesses us as well, for in feeding us more than we need He is saying that we are good and most loved in His eyes. We are redeemed and made perfect whenever He blesses us, for Christ Jesus has bridged the gap between ourselves and Our Father in Heaven. If only we do not fall away in sin, then we shall remain as whole as when He blesses us. If only we do not heed the devil’s sad temptations, then we shall remain as full as when the baskets of leftovers are gathered up. God feeds us, heals us, loves us, completely and unreservedly every time, no matter how numerous the times nor sordid the ways we stumble away from Him. He will never fail us; and if and when we finally give ourselves over to Him without reservation, then we shall hunger no more.

Our lives are meant for others, not only for ourselves, and this means that we can never really find joy unless we are in a communion of love and support for other men and women striving, like us, to do the work of God. There is nothing wrong with having our own private space, our own distinct thoughts, and hopes, and dreams; but if we want to be as blessed and as happy as God wants us to be, then we must never put our individualism up on a pedestal, nor imagine that our highest state is to live as an island unto ourselves. The faithful Christian may live out his years as a recluse in a hermitage. He may take a vow of silence and avoid interacting with other men and women as much as possible. But if he is truly a man of God his hermitage will not become his own private little island where he imagines his own private little god. He will be in active communion with all the Saints, those still alive and those who have died, in his prayers and in receiving Holy Communion. Whether living in a cave or painting the town red, a Christian must remain aware always that his life is dedicated to God and to his neighbors. In this light, we also celebrate today the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story as recounted in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James is that her parents had been unable to conceive a child. In receiving a heavenly message that, indeed, they would have a child, they dedicated Mary to God and brought her at a young age to be raised in the Temple. There is an artistic image of the young girl, Mary, walking up the steps to the top of the Temple. Her parents stay below, while the High Priest waits for her at the top. In Pietro Testa’s famous painting, the faithful on Earth and in Heaven are on both sides of the long steps aiding Mary in her walk up to the High Priest. Her life, like ours should be, is a dedication to God. It involves leaving part of her past behind. It involves a long trek to an uncertain future. And yet, the whole time, she is not alone. As she will be for the faithful, so the faithful are there for her. This will be as true for us, if only we permit Our Lord to organize our lives and to feed us His love and His joy as He did the Five Thousand.  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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