Monday, July 25, 2011

Lectionary Notebook. Homily for Matthew 14:13-21


Homily for July 31, 2011, Year A
(See TEXT below --  
Matthew 14:13-21 )









The Gospel Lectionary reading for today serves to remind us that Jesus willingly faced the human condition head-on. What we learn about the Master from the present text, as he responds to the humanity in front of him and the humanity found in his own heart, is very instructive to us. 

So we ask this question of today's text:

What do we learn about 
Jesus from today's reading?


Here we see three lessons:

WE SEE JESUS FACING LOSS

WE SEE JESUS MAINTAINING HIS COMPASSION

WE SEE JESUS TEACHING THE LESSON OF COMPASSION



WE SEE JESUS FACING LOSS

The text reads:"When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself."

We all recognize this feeling, don't we? We lose someone close to us, and we withdraw, we get away, we tend to our wounds. Jesus feels the sting from John's loss and he does the human thing, he grieves, or at least he tries to do so.

This reminds us first of Jesus' humanity. We do not here face a stoic, immutable god-figure. We are not offered someone who cannot be touched with the feeling brought on by our weaknesses. No, here is a flesh and blood human being that feels his grief and wants to get away.

Of course, the death of Lazarus is perhaps the most instructive event in this regard, offering us the weeping Jesus at the tomb of his friend.

The difference, however, is that John's death is doubly hard to take for it is the result of violence from an unjust state execution. This had to sober Jesus, and as N.T. Wright reminds us, this probably foreshadowed to Jesus what might actually happen to him (and what we know did in fact happen to him). The stakes were very high as Jesus presents an alternative to the rulers of his day, and because they brooked no rivals Jesus knew his life was in peril as well.

The deeper meaning here comes as we consider Jesus as the one who represents GOD to us and us to GOD. The sober shock Jesus experiences as he faces death as part of the human condition means that Almighty GOD is confronted in the experiences of Jesus with what it means to be human.

This maybe the most important consequence of the Christ as representing us to GOD, that the GOD-who-is-there understands the dilemma of the human condition and is moved with compassion, which opens to us our second lesson:



WE SEE JESUS MAINTAINING HIS COMPASSION

The text reads: "The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick."

Notice, when all he wants to be is alone with his thoughts and his loss, he is confronted with the needs of the crowd; he is confronted with the basic human condition: sickness, fear of death, and need, need, need.

How would he respond? Making sure his own needs were met, or would he help the crowd? We know the answer, of course. He sees and is moved to action by his compassion.

The difference here is one of distance. Pity shakes its head from a distance and says, "Oh, isn't that too bad. I hope you fare better later on." Compassion comes close. It gets down and dirty. It is moved and says, "Here, let me help you; let me become involved."

Jesus, moved by compassion, exerts healing for the crowd. He works with them all day and deep into the night. Then a new need surfaces. It has become late and they are in a deserted place and the people are hungry.

Again, Jesus acts in their behalf, offering a most amazing gift, food for all. I've often wondered what occurred during this desert party. The delight over the healings had to be joyously celebrated over the evening picnic. The sheer wonder of so many made whole, and the spontaneous meal together, had to have been the source of such laughter and gratitude.

Besides reminding us of the importance of party -- we must party at every opportunity because we know the human condition will soon snatch away the sway of joy and leave us in need again -- we must remember the gift that is the other.

Jesus, while desiring to be alone, may have actually been the one receiving ministry as he is pressed into the service of others. The needs of the group stand vivid before him, but the community and life-stories are there too. These had to feed his wounded soul; these had to open to him a renewal of mission. That is what the community does.


WE SEE JESUS TEACHING THE LESSON OF COMPASSION

Notice finally how Jesus, in the midst of life and the struggle of the human condition, manages to teach the lesson of compassion.

The text reads: "When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, 'This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.'"

It was the disciples that bring the food need to Jesus' attention. Perhaps, seeing the compassion Jesus owned toward the crowd, his followers also were moved. They too were touched in their humanity. They wanted to contribute; they wanted to help. But how?

And, it may also be true that their compassion extended to Jesus as well. They must have seen the fatigue on his face. They might have even taken notice of the reason for his departure earlier that day. So, perhaps they are attempting to intervene for Jesus.

Whatever the reason, what we must see is that they are learning the lesson of Jesus's compassion, which is the point after all, and they are attempting to apply it.

This is instructive for us. We too, as those who still name the name of the Christ, must somehow come to the place where, even in the weariness we experience from the onslaught of the human condition, we too are still willing to be moved by compassion, and we too are still willing to act, to care by action, to move close, to take the unantiseptic risk, to get dirty beside the broken.

This, above all else, maybe what the narrow road to the Kingdom really means.


_____________________________________

Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.