Devotional Thoughts for Sunday June 23rd
- 5th Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost:
Feeding the 5000: Luke 9:10-17
Three main events are focused on todays gospel. (1) v10 is a continuation of events described in verses 1 to 9 of chapter 9. The apostles came back and reported what they accomplished in the ministry they were sent for. Jesus departed to Bethsaida together with the apostles for private meditation. Meditation is like charging a battery and converting it into a source of energy to perform the intended task. (2) Verse 11, multitude followed Jesus. Jesus received them and preached them the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. Here a rare virtue, Jesus gives priority to the needs of others forgetting his own. (3) The miracle of feeding the 5000. Specialty about this miracle is that this is the only miracle mentioned in all the four gospels though conspicuously, there are variations in the details.
As this is a widely read and spoken miracle I wish to mention a few points for meditation:
1, People grew weary after day long sermon. Here, weariness is physical; but the spiritual level was really high so they listened to the words of Jesus day long. These days situation is dead opposite; material abundance has caused spiritual lethargy. People have become too busy to devote time for prayer, meditation, worship, not to mention sermon. Clergies are trained to go with the crowd rather than with Christ and St Paul. As a result sermon during the service is almost faded away; I shudder, what would be their countenance when Christ sits on the Judgment seat and ask to give account? As darkness drew near the apostles requested Jesus to send them away so that they could go and eat and rest in the nearby villages. Many commentators blame the apostles for (1) lack of concern for others, interpreting the request to send them away, differentiating between physical and spiritual needs, and trying to escape from the problem, and (2) lack of faith in Jesus, (Thiruvachana Bhashyam, Luke, p123, Mark p 65). But the truth is that the apostles compassion impelled them to request Jesus to send them away; with all human limitations, they were not yet able to fully discern the heavenly mysteries. Equating Jesus and apostles is an error, apostles were still learning from Jesus. Apostles themselves being Jews knew well the high sense of hospitality, strangers who came into village after sunset were invited to rest and fed in the house. Surely apostles were kind and compassionate and we have no reason whatsoever to blame them.
2, You give them something to eat, v13. Jesus had a plan which was hitherto unknown to the apostles. By performing each miracle Jesus was teaching them a lesson concerning the Kingdom of God. Jesus never performed a miracle for the miracle-sake that is what distinguishes Jesus from the so-called wonder workers of our times. Jesus told them, You give them something to eat. Here, Jesus was pointing to physical food for the sustenance of body but it also points to spiritual food; that the apostles are entrusted with the task of feeding the flock, John 21. This command is for the whole Christendom. Each of us who are called Christian ought to be compassionate to the needs of suffering brethren. Christian ought to remember that they are responsible to their brethren, the question where is your brother, Gen 4:9, is not only to Cain but also to all of us, Gods children. It is not a Christian virtue to turn a blind eye to those who are in dire need of sustenance, food, shelter and clothing. Poverty in the world is not due to want of necessities but want of proper distribution, for which Christians are basically responsible. USA often poses the world police, protector and redeemer on one side and on the other wastes billions of tons of food grains every year, while one out of seven people starve in the world and even a dismal assistance is given to those who supports all the evil designs. It is political ploy not out of compassion. America is the richest nation in the world but a recent survey shows that 16% population live under poverty line, more than 10% is homeless. So where are all the riches we talk about? 98% of wealth is horded in the hands of 02% population which never come to the aid of the needy, great injustice indeed! As if the Government is oblivious to the ground reality, they give billions of Dollars in aid for a simple reason, oil, to countries who continually work to destroy world peace. Obliterating Christianity from the face of earth is their cherished goal and USA to its own peril is supporting them. Can there be a greater contradiction! Most programs aimed to uplift the poor, elderly, homeless and uninsured benefit the wealthy few by easy manipulation rather than needy because of the systemic error of capitalism and greed. Economic recession is artificial creation mostly of the Wall Street and vested few money scavengers. After each recession, numbers of billionaires and numbers of poverty stricken low income people, both are on the increase. If the wealthy and influential few grow in Christian virtues gap between the have and have not will decrease, without which no matter how rich the nation is, it will never be a welfare state. When immorality strikes the core of social strata the whole nation fails.
3, five barley loaves and two fishes: barley was the staple food of the poor people. Quantity was so meager it was barely enough for one man. The insufficiency of food the apostles felt was logical and reasonable. But when it reached in the hands of the Lord, it multiplied and satisfied more than 5000 men (women and children if counted the total people fed were more than 20,000) and took 12 baskets full balance. Consider tithe in the olden times, which started with Patriarch Abraham. Orthodox Christians, except a negligible few, think that tithe is for fools, yet others think it was a system of a primitive society, yet others think they need not part with what is gained through hard work, and yet others think that tithing reduces their resources. But those who tithe will undauntedly vouchsafe that no one in the world can out-give God. God gives back tenfold to the devotee who tithe, not only material prosperity, but also wisdom to manage the resources and contentment with what one has, in other words, God blesses his devotees with alround prosperity. Lack of stewardship sense is the reason why people hesitate to tithe. One who believes that Gods grace is the cause of health, wealth and talents, that God is the actual owner and the possessions are entrusted to us for good stewardship shall gladly and willingly tithe and more. So the need is a shift of understanding from ownership to stewardship. Jacob fled out of fear of his brother Esau empty handed. On the way to Labans house he rested in Luz. He saw a vision, a ladder extending to heaven and the angels climbing up and down from heaven. When he woke up and said, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, Gen 28: 17. He named the place Bethel-meaning house of God. Then Jacob vowed unto God, Of all you give me I will surely give a tithe to you, v22. Imagine how Jacob was blessed, So the man became exceedingly rich and had many cattle and oxen, male and female servants and camels and donkeys, Gen 30:43. It does not end there, God caused Esau and Jacob reconcile and remove Jacobs fear of Esau forever.
4, (a) Theological implication of the loaves: Syrian fathers interpreted that five loaves represent five sacraments which are essential for salvation, namely, (1) Holy Baptism, (2) Anointment of Holy Mooron, (3) Holy Confession, (4) Holy Eucharist elements-not mere attendance but eating/drinking the holy Body and Blood of Christ, (5) anointing the sick. (b) Two fish represent two sacraments which are not essential for all; that is, Sacrament of Marriage and sacrament of Priesthood are optional. Caution: let us not misunderstand that Orthodox Church has limited the sacraments to seven but it means only that seven sacraments are essential.
5, Make them sit down in groups of fifty, v14. Jesus teaches us to do everything in an orderly fashion. God is not a God of confusion, he fashioned the creation in orderly manner (cosmos) with set in natural laws, which are constant forever, Ps 148.6. St Paul admonished, Let all things be done decently and in order, 1Cor14:40. Orthodox Church has a glorious system of singing hymns in worship service, in two groups and reading prose portions systematically, by celebrant, acolyte and people by turn. Men on one side and women on the other. Mor Ignatius Noorono of Antioch, according to tradition, saw a vision of the heavenly services same or similar to St John the apostle that angels and saints stood in reverence on both sides of God chanting hymns of praises. He wanted us mortals to emulate the heavenly order and first introduced it and the church which continues even today. No wonder, Orthodox worship has an unparallel and divine appeal; unfortunately many of our faithful do not capitalize the greatness and harmony of our worship.
6, (a) He took the loaves and two fish blessed and broke, and gave to them to the disciples: v 16. This is a very important point to ponder. The same procedure Jesus adopted while establishing the holy Eucharist took, gave thanks, blessed, broke it and gave to disciples. Thus multiplication of bread and fish and feeding the five thousand is a precursor to the Holy Eucharist. Both the sign of multiplication of loaves and establishment of Eucharist are well interwoven in St Johns gospel more clearly than in other gospels. Apostles least doubted when Jesus said, This is my body, eat it, and this is my blood, drink it, because they witnessed the miracle turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, etc. (b) Why Jesus did not himself distribute or why he did not give the blessed bread to some others than the apostles to distribute? Nowadays, people are fatally mislead to think that anyone who is able to fluently read the bible and make extempore prayers are authorized to start their own groups calling it church and exercise holy Eucharist and other sacramental services. Jesus has not ordained any of them. For the one wishes to discern the truth, it is simple, that Jesus conducted the Passover feast, after which he established the Holy Eucharist, only with his 12 chosen apostles, did not include even his beloved mother in this function. Thus the authority to conduct the holy Eucharist, distribute the holy elements only to the worthy, the authority to baptize, anoint with Holy Muron, remit and retain the sin, to interpret and teach the mysteries of heaven, to ordain and commission the Church ministries and successors by laying hands are given only to the 12 apostles. Apostles gave that authority, to their disciples for example, Peter to Mark, John to Ignatius and Paul to Timothy and so on and the disciples to their disciples and thus handed down to this day by imposing hands and breathing the Holy Spirit upon the candidate for the ministry. So the faithful must discern that all whoever read or pray are not duly ordained by a lawful prelate and hence unauthorized. The free for all situation among those who pollute the Scripture is the invention of the devil to detract them away from the way of the cross, salvation. Hold on to the holy Church not because the leaders of the Church are faultless or immaculate but for the sanctity of the word of God.
7, 12 baskets represent 12 apostles. It is a mark of abundance that all apostles are equally gifted with authority to feed and satisfy the faithful, that none other than with the authority of apostolic line is authorized to preach or teach or do the functions of the holy Church, that in the Orthodox Church there are more than enough blessings to satisfy a true seeker, he/she need not go somewhere else and that he/she has to stay connected to the undefiled line of apostles and that there no salvation outside of the one and only holy apostolic Church as St Jerome said. May Christ who quenched the hunger of the masses quench our thirst and hunger, both physical and Spiritual. God bless you,
(From Rev. Fr. K.K. John, Philadelphia)