Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Miracle of God Feeding Us

July 29, 2018: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4:24–44 / Psalm 145 / Ephesians 4:1–6 / John 6:1–15
The Miracle of God Feeding Us

Christian Faith believes in a personal God who is actively involved in our world. While God is “other” ––infinite and beyond imagination so that our minds can never fully know God nor our hearts completely grasp his ways, he is also immanent. He is here.

Because God is here and actively at work, we should expect times when God does the unexpected and the unusual. [We should also expect God to act always “in character”––as Paul wrote to Timothy (2Tim 2:13), he cannot disown himself.] As Creator, God will show himself as above and in control of creation. As Redeemer, God will always be acting for good and the salvation of the world (but again, we need to remember that with our limitations––especially in contrast to God––we will not fully understand what God does and does not do; God defines “good”, not us).

One reason that God inspired the Scriptures, a written record of things he has said and done, is to help us recognize what we otherwise would never grasp. Even as God is at work for our good, we need help to see it. When what is unusual recurs in Scripture, it’s an added emphasis to help us recognize God at work.

The first reading gives us an incident that becomes a precedent for a similar but much bigger event. God used the prophet Elisha to feed a large number of people miraculously with a small amount of food. In the Gospel we have the more familiar story of Jesus doing the same on a larger scale. It is so important that all four Gospels tell the story.

As a bit of an aside, we might wonder (and skeptics often cynically ask) why God doesn’t routinely do such “miracles” (or always do them at our request). One answer is that God will not overwhelm us in order to make us believe. He wants us to learn to trust, and in trusting, to fall in love with him. Love is never coerced.

God does enough to give us plausible reason to believe. When we open ourselves to that, we begin to “see” more and more. We are always going in a direction of being more open to God or more closed. That is why Scripture tells us to seek the Lord constantly. One of this past week’s Gospel readings has Jesus saying, To anyone who has, more will be given…. from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Matthew 13). When we are growing in our relationship with Jesus, we understand more and more; if we allow our faith to grow dim, even the things we have previously believed will dim in our understanding.

This is illustrated by the underlying point of Jesus feeding the multitude. The first part of chapter 6 in John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitude. By the end of the chapter Jesus has said, I am myself the bread which has come down from heaven (v41) and it concludes with Jesus saying, The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives continually in me and I in him (v56–58).

This so startled those listening that they protested. When Jesus reiterated, John tells us that some who had followed Jesus turned away. Then Jesus asked the twelve if they were also leaving. Even the twelve did not yet understand, but they had an open faith. Peter (forever the spokesman) responded, To whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.

From the beginning this was the Faith of the Church. As the Apostles came into fuller understanding, the Eucharist (“the breaking of bread”) became the mark of the common life (koinonia) of Christian community and the pinnacle of worship. Thus it was for 1500 years. When the unity of the Church was torn apart by self-appointed “reformers”, the early leaders (notably Luther and Calvin) tried to honor in some measure the Sacrament of the Eucharist. But as they turned away from the authority of the Apostolic Tradition (the one faith in the second reading), look where Christianity is today. Many faith communities say Communion is only a symbol and they reject any idea of Sacraments. Why has this happened? To get back to the earlier point, it is because the understanding of the Faith, particularly the Eucharist, was dimmed.

Some Christians argue today that it is preposterous that Jesus comes physically and totally in the Bread and the Cup. One reason is because Modernity has sowed seeds of skepticism so well that we have watered down what it means that God is actively involved in our world.

My personal Christian faith was not formed in a community that believed in the Eucharist. That came much later. I am thankful that God’s grace is bigger than our personal understanding. Yet our Lord is always wanting to expand his life within us, and that includes our understanding.

I remember how one process of thought finally broke into my consciousness. While my early faith was incomplete (in a Catholic sense), the faith I did have was solid. I believed with all my heart (and still do) that the God who created the heavens and the earth became incarnate in the Man, Jesus Christ. Think about it: The infinite God is able to “condense” himself totally and faithfully into the person of a human being! Then it hit me: If God, the Maker of heaven and earth is miraculously able to become a Man in the person of Jesus Christ, then that same God-Man Jesus is miraculously able to come physically again and again into what looks to us like simple bread.

Jesus fed the multitude that day to get their attention. Then Jesus tells them what it really means: The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

We believe in a God who is actively involved in our world. We believe in a personal God who comes to us to save us. Jesus is giving himself to us yet again today. When we truly believe that, it is eternal life. Expect God to be at work in your life.

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