Homily for 6.2.13
The Gospel Lectionary reading for today brings to our attention the only sign-miracle recorded in all four canonical Gospels. This alone should underscore its importance. The feeding of the multitude offers Jesus' original hearers the opportunity to understand his ministry as a new exodus, the fulfillment of GOD's promises to Israel and ultimately what would be the formation of a new people. And, the feeding of the multitude offers to us a visible, tangible path to practicing the Kingdom. If only they and we had eyes to see.
When we come to the miracles of the Gospels, it is important to remember what we have often said from this pulpit:
The miraculous works Jesus accomplished -- his healings, his exorcisms or as in this case his feeding the multitude -- were meant to be seen beyond the gift of the moment.
These works were meant to drive the people toward GOD's promised Kingdom. These works were meant to offer the people the conscious understanding that the King actually stood before them in the person of this young Jewish prophet, who was more than a prophet.
JESUS SPOKE ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Take note, therefore, how the pericope opens to us:
"Jesus spoke to the crowds about the Kingdom of God..."
For first century Israel the idea of the Kingdom of GOD carried within it the hopes and aspirations of the nation. Israel had long waited for her GOD to rise up, contend for her and justify her before the watching world. For the Hebrews this meant the Kingdom would be their final and full establishment, where the false claimants to the throne -- the Herods and the false rulers of the world, the Romans -- would once and for all be put under the rule of their true King, the King of Heaven, the LORD GOD Almighty.
For the Hebrews, then, the Kingdom meant the return of GOD's good world now marred to paradise, where all would be like it should have been all along. The Kingdom meant that the nation would experience a new Exodus, where the one, true living GOD would finally act on their behalf, and this action would display the Almighty as he truly was and as they knew him to be -- the King. The Kingdom also meant that the people of GOD would be vindicated and counted as the justified people of GOD before the world, so that there would be left no doubt as to whom GOD had blessed. And, while they did not understand why GOD had chosen to delay this their final exoneration, they believed to one degree or another, that GOD would indeed act and that this would culminate history and set all things right.
But, as N.T. Wright reminds us, what Israel thought GOD would do at the end of history, GOD did in the middle of history! That is, the delay was over, the King was before them, feeding them, healing them, exorcising them. In short, Jesus the Prophet -- knowing full well what he is doing and purposefully acting in this way -- stands before the people doing what the prophets of the Hebrew Bible had actually promised what GOD would do when he returned to his people.
What I am saying is that Jesus presents himself to the nation as the their King. Accordingly, this gives great power to a passage like Malachi 3:
1 Now I am sending my messenger—he will prepare the way before me;*And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple;The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts.2 But who can endure the day of his coming?Who can stand firm when he appears?For he will be like a refiner’s fire,like fullers’ lye.3 He will sit refining and purifying silver,and he will purify the Levites,Refining them like gold or silver,that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness. (Malachi 3:1-3)
JESUS DEMONSTRATED THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The point here is that when Jesus teaches the people -- "the kingdom is like this," and when Jesus heals, exorcises and feeds them, he is demonstrating what the Kingdom is like in-the-now because it stands in front of them in his person, and what the world would eventually be like one day because of the Kingdom realized, when the King finally settles all accounts.
That is, Jesus, in his Kingdom actions offers a passageway for the people to clearly practice the Kingdom in the here-and-now. Jesus offers them the Kingdom, calling them to avoid the temptation to bring about their own kingdom by revolt, which could and did lead only to their own destruction. But, if they would turn toward their true King and be faithful to true Kingdom living -- going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, forgiving those who despitefully use them for they did not understand what they were doing -- then they would find the Kingdom that had been promised for so long. Then they would discover true life and true humanness. Then they would meet the King!
Said differently, in today’s text Jesus healed sick. He fed the hungry, causing all to eat and to be satisfied. In these actions he demonstrates GOD’s love for the fallen world he still loves, even though it is out of control and against him -- both then and now. These Kingdom-actions are the path toward true life, the path toward wholeness and true humanness. This way of life opens before us the path beyond politics and violence. These actions give to them and us the Jesus-way, the narrow way, and the way to life.
WE LIVE THE KINGDOM WORK
How then are we to present the Kingdom to the watching world in the light of Jesus’ life and ministry? This really is the question, I think, for far too long we have allowed the desire for popularity (success) and cultural acceptance (power) to dictated our message and our ministry methods. This statement may seem overly harsh, but I think it can be substantially proven, but that is for a different homily.
Today, we must...
- Understand just who he is that is before us. Here we ask Bonhoeffer’s great question: “Who is Jesus for us?” It seems to me that after the great discussion flowing from this question there are only a few people left in the room: Those who accept a docetic Jesus -- that he only seems human but is really only and always god; those who accept an ebionitic Jesus -- that he only seems divine but is only and always human; or those who accept a truly human and earthly Jesus whom they “discover fits the categories of Jewish monotheism as though they were made for him.” (N.T. Wright) I confess I come out agreeing with the last statement, from which I mean to declare to you that Jesus of Nazareth is truly King of the world. He is the King who initiated the Kingdom through the victory that is his cross, his resurrection and his ascension, the one who has included us by invitation to be part of his Kingdom work, and the one who will one day appear and complete the Kingdom in a way that will surprise everyone.
- Rely on GOD’s provision. The Kingdom is GOD’s work. Or, said differently, GOD’s Kingdom is what GOD is doing in the world! In the Almighty’s providence and in the advent and movement of the Holy Spirit, GOD is the dunamis, the power at work in the world for good, for the recognition that Jesus is King, for the reclamation of GOD’s good world now marred, and for the restoration of all things in and under the name of the King. We cannot, therefore, do the Kingdom work on our own. We cannot self-rely or think that this work is ours to accomplish. GOD’s Kingdom will be accomplished in GOD’s way and under GOD’s initiative and power, and we are invited to be part of the work that is sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness.
- Give to those in need from what we have. We may have only five loaves and two fish. That is, we may have only meager gifts and little to offer in the world’s eyes. Here, the world does not matter one whit! We may see the human misery around us and despair, asking what is this that I have in the face of all human need that face us in our community? This is the wrong question. Simply, we give what we have; we determine to help those in front of us, those whom the LORD has brought our way. We do not think of our overwhelming lack; we focus instead upon giving what we have in our hand at the time, relying upon GOD’s provision to take what we have and multiply its effect.
- Meet needs in the name of the one and true King -- Jesus. This work, this Kingdom work to which we have been called, must never be done for our glory, our success or our cultural acceptance. We must never believe our own press or come to see this as our power that accomplishes the work of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is about GOD and not about us. Of course, the Kingdom touches us, for we have been changed by the King, but, truly, we must come to see that this story is about what GOD is doing in the world, and our little part matters because GOD chooses to use us and include us. This work must be based ultimately and finally upon what it truly is: grace.
Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, "Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here." He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves." They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty." They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.