He will take all you've got
Fr. WB preached this amazing sermon at St. Matthias in Dallas this morning; I wanted to applaud. Best he's ever done.
You have been formed by God and given his Spirit. The power of God in you is not meant to lie dormant.
But the apostles were tired. They needed a break. Jesus said to them “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mrk. 6.31). And they get in the boat to go to some secluded spot on the shores of the sea of Galilee, to rest in the shade. But wouldn’t you know it? The crowds – the same crowds that had been coming and going, to whom the disciples had been ministering, among whom they had been teaching and healing, wearing themselves out – the crowds see our Lord and the apostles going, and they follow them. I’m sure this has happened to you before: you’ve been running around, managing one crisis after another, with kids or at work (or at church); you’re as busy as you’ve ever been, and just when you are about to have some time to yourself, to relax…. Up pops another big emergency that you absolutely have to tend to. It’s a terrible feeling. You’re drained. You’ve been going and going, and giving and giving, and you are worn out. And now there’s this…
As the apostles are going ashore, at the spot they had picked out to get away from the “great throng” and get some rest, what do they see but… once again, the “great throng.” The same crowds among whom they had been ministering, wearing themselves out, had followed them to their weekend retreat. And rather than sending them away, Jesus has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mrk. 6.34). How the hearts of the apostles must have sank! Jesus is always having compassion on these people! And rather than sitting back, sipping margaritas in the shade, Jesus and the apostles spend the rest of the day with the crowds, teaching and working. And it gets late. They’ve had nothing to eat and they are absolutely exhausted. The apostles come to the Lord and say “Send them away! Its late. They’re tired and hungry. We’re tired and hungry. And there’s nothing to eat out here.” And what does Jesus say? “You give them something to eat” (Mrk. 6.37). “You have GOT to be kidding, Master.”
Enough is enough. They have given everything they have to give and now the Lord is asking them to do the physically impossible. One of them asks “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” A deniarii was a day’s wage. Two hundred days’ wages would buy a lot of bread. But they hadn’t taken any money with them anyway. Jesus had told them to leave it behind (Mrk. 6.8), and now he’s telling them to feed five thousand people! With what?! “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread…?” This question is dripping with sarcasm… sarcasm born of exhaustion, hunger, and most of all frustration with Jesus. Its like saying “Right, Lord. Let me just reach into my toga and pull out that six tons of spaghetti I always carry around with me.”
But Jesus, understands what the disciples don’t: that they can do the impossible through the power their Lord had given them. . . With God, all things are possible. And the disciples were with God. Jesus understands this. And he tells them to go see what kind of food they’ve got. They come back and report. They have five pieces of bread and two fish. For five thousand people. We know what happens next. But pay attention to verse 41, towards the end of the passage. It says “And taking the five loaves and the two fish Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people… And they all ate and were satisfied.”
Jesus didn’t demand from the disciples what they didn’t have. Its true, he did tell them to do the impossible, but that’s not the same thing. He did not demand from them what they didn’t have. Jesus asked from the disciples only what they had, five loaves and two fish… he took it from them, and then gave it back to them changed. This is what Christian priesthood means, and this is what the mass is all about: Jesus takes what we offer to him and he gives it back to us changed. And this is what the Christian life means: Jesus asks from us what we have, we give it to him, and he gives it back to us changed. That’s why he says unless you forsake everything, you can’t be his disciple. He only asks for what you haven, but he asks for everything you have. That’s why he says if you want to be his disciple, you have to take up your cross and follow him… because the cross is a symbol of laying everything down, of pouring everything out, of draining the dregs, and of giving up your life to him. But then you get it back, and its not the same as it was before. Its changed.
Now this isn’t easy for us. It requires trust. Remember the disciples were hungry, and Jesus was about to take from them the only food that they had, and give it away. But they trust him anyway. He’s worked miracles before, and he’s never let them down. They give him everything they’ve got, and in Jesus’ hands, and then in theirs, its more than enough. Verse 43 says after everyone had eaten all they wanted, they went around and “took up twelve baskets full of” leftovers.
Jesus never asks us for more than we’ve got. He asks for everything we’ve got, but not more. And like the apostles, we too have an impossible mission: the Lord has asked us to save the world. Jesus looks at the world we live in, at the multitudes of people wandering aimlessly, indulgently, cluelessly; He sees a world full of drunkards, couch potatoes, insolent children, abusive parents and spouses, a world full of addiction and violence, manipulation, unbelief, greed and lust and corruption and blasphemy; our Lord looks at a world full of darkness and depravity, full of lost souls… and he has compassion. Then he turns to you and he says “You give them something to eat.”
At bottom, our godless society is hungry. And it is hungry because it is godless. But thanks be to God, the Lord Jesus has taken, and continues to take, our ordinary substance and he changes it. He gives it back to us charged with his own divinity. He takes our bread and wine and gives us back his body and blood. And bread and wine are not all we offer him in the Eucharist. Remember: he asks for everything. And so we offer and present unto him our very selves, our souls and bodies. And he gives us our selves back… changed, charged with his own divinity. And then he sends us out to serve him in our world, in our own daily contexts and social networks, where many of our coworkers and friends and loved ones are living in darkness, wandering around hungry, like sheep without a shepherd.
You give them something to eat. Give them what the Lord has given you – because he’s given it to you to give to them. . . His own body as food, his own blood as drink. He’s given you the gift of his own life, an eternal life, no longer darkened, sin-stained and aimless. And he’s commanded you to give it to others. That’s the essence of your mission in the world; that’s the core of your vocation as disciples of Jesus: to set before others what he has given to you: a life enlightened with the uncreated light, a life no longer constrained by sin, no longer bound by death. The crowd of five thousand has become, in our day, a crowd of five billion. A very great throng indeed. “You give them something to eat.” To be sure, the Lord asks of you everything you have, everything that you are. But he gives it back transformed, so that you can go out and do the impossible. Offer him the sacrifice he asks: your own life, your own broken and contrite heart. Then receive back from him your changed self, and go in peace, abiding in his divine love, to serve him in this broken world. Amen.