Sunday, August 06, 2017

Bring Them Here to Me

“Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me, ‘Give us meat for our food.’ Numbers 11:13

Then he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:18

Father, give us this day our daily bread. Jesus, receive us as you received the children, the crowds, and even the thief crucified next to you so that we might be satisfied with the blessings of your hands.  Holy Spirit, give us “enoughness” rather than the longing instilled by a culture that tells us to want more, more, more. Amen.

The people we encounter in today’s readings range from the grumbling crowd of the Hebrew Bible to the satisfied masses of the New Testament.  Not only that, after Jesus satiated five thousand men PLUS uncounted women and children, there were left-overs. The story of the miracle of the desert dinner did not start with the people grumbling like the Hebrews.

Jesus did not ask the crowds to gather around him. He was actually trying to get away from the crowds to mourn the execution of his beloved cousin. The crowds willingly followed him into the king of wilderness that was home to John’s preaching. While the political leadership rejected John’s message, the rank-and-file now follow Jesus and devour his every word.

When the disciples wanted the Jesus to send the crowds away, the Good Shepherd decided to feed his own flock. “Bring them here to me,” says Jesus. He is speaking both about the people as well as of the five barley loaves and the two, dried fish. Lord, it is good that they are there…the people, the fish, and the bread.

“Feed them,” he said, and did, in a miraculous manner. In the end, no one went away grumbling. Not even the disciples who initially were skeptical.  Michael Card (in Matthew: The Gospel of Identity) explains that the word used in Greek for the collection baskets was “kophinois.”  He says these are small baskets, about the size of a lunch pail.  After feeding five thousand people with the loaves and fishes, there was enough left over to fill twelve lunch pails – and to give each of the twelve disciples a share, too.  

Contrast Jesus’ inclusive approach to this banquet with the exclusive banquet given for Herod’s birthday celebration. At that other event, Herod tried to satisfy Herodias (the wife of his brother Philip) and her daughter Salome through the violent of execution of John the Baptist grotesquely served up on a dinner platter at a party.  Jesus, on the other hand, more than satisfied the many with his preaching, his healing and the peaceful blessing from his hand. Any wonder why the people followed Jesus and not these grotesque rulers?

In yesterday’s selection from the rule of St. Benedict, the chapter treats the disposition of letters and gifts.  St Benedict instructs: In no circumstance are monastics allowed, unless the prioress or abbot says they may, to exchange letters, blessed tokens or small gifts of any kind, with their parents or anyone else, or with another monastic. They must not presume to accept gifts sent them even by their parents without previously telling the prioress or abbot.

In her commentary on this passage, Sr. Joan Chittister explains, “The purpose of monastic life was to discover that the possession of God was far more satisfying than anything we could receive from family or friends, that it was freeing, that it was enriching far beyond what we could collect for ourselves.”

We live in a culture that sees having things as the measure of our success. We strive for a life that sees eliminating things as the measure of internal wealth. Enoughness is a value long dead in Western society. Dependence on God is a value long lost. Yet, enoughness and dependence on God may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root diseases of a world in which everything is not enough and nothing satisfies.

The Queen and her daughter already lived in abundance. They were at the king’s birthday party. Yet they wanted more. They did not need more food, clothing or jewelry so they asked for something else. They wanted to be above the law but John refused to acquiesce to their demands. Killing John, sadly, did nothing to change the law that they continued to violate.

By contrast, the people following Jesus out into the desert lived a subsistent life in the ancient Palestine.  Farmers.  Sheep herders.  Fishermen. They were contented with what they had and the gifts they got. They were totally dependent upon Jesus. He gave them what they did not even seek.  

Can we be like these desert people, contented with what we have and turn our backs on what Madison Avenue and Hollywood are trying to sell us?

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