|43 - Feeding of Five Thousand (with audio)|
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I Corinthians 1:10-18
It says (Mat 14:13) that the crowd followed Jesus away from the cities into a desert place where He was by Himself. This has the shape of the Exodus. The “cities” is Egypt and later, the Babylonian captivity. But, the biblical history of Israel shows the shape of the inner life of those who have passed through the waters of holy baptism. Our Gospel this morning, as every Gospel, then, shows the shape of our soul’s inner life.
The “cities” is the world or Egypt ruled by the Pharaoh or the “prince of this age”. He holds us in bondage to the fear of death through our idolatry (Heb 2:15). His angels or demons are the rulers of the power of the air working even now in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2) through the idols the sons of disobedience live for.
Note well, then: they followed Jesus into a desert place after having heard He was there. In biblical spirituality, hearing is perhaps the most important of all the senses. “Hear, O Israel!” “This is My Beloved Son, hear Him!” (Mat 17:5) We follow the words we listen to, either the words of the Word of God or the words of this world.
See how Eve lost her divine beauty when she listened to the words of the serpent. See how Israel became covered with wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores when she listened to the words of her neighbors and embraced their idolatry. (Isa 1:3ff.). So also, are we not bruised and broken and covered with putrifying sores in body and soul when we listen to the words of the idols of the cities?
Note, then, that it was those who heard that Jesus was in a desert place, and who followed the word they heard to come away from the idols of the cities and into the desert place where the LORD was who were healed of all their infirmities (Isa 1:18). This is the shape of the soul’s inner life when she lives the ascetical life of the Church. The LORD delivered them from all their fears and troubles. He filled them and they had no want (Ps 34:1-11). He satisfied their stomachs, i.e., even our carnal desire (epithumia) with good things (Ps 102:5 LXX).
Note that this healing by the LORD takes place in a desert place outside the city. It takes place in the heart when the soul comes out of her idolatry to the place where the LORD is: the tomb of her heart. I said that this has the shape of the Exodus. The feeding of the five thousand in a desert place where the LORD was has the shape of another meal that took place in the Exodus: when the elders of Israel appeared in the place where the God of Israel stands, in the foothills of Mt Sinai that was in the desert, and in His presence ate and drank (Ex 24:9-11). This meal took place after Moses had sprinkled the people with the “blood of the covenant” (Ex 24:8) and they had heard the words spoken by the LORD and vowed to do them (Ex 24:7).
So also, we hear the Word of God. But we are not sprinkled with the blood of the covenant. We eat and drink it in Holy Eucharist. Moreover, it is not the blood of bulls and goats; it is the body and blood of God incarnate, Our LORD Jesus Christ. Do you see how this feeding of the five thousand, which has the shape of this meal of the elders on Mt Sinai in the desert outside the city is the shape of the Church’s Holy Eucharist?
After this meal of the elders on Mt Sinai, it says, Moses went up with Joshua (Jesus) into the “mount of God”. The elders were commanded to “pray and wait in inner stillness” (hesychazete). Moses and Jesus (Joshua) went up to the mountain and the Cloud of the Glory of the LORD, i.e., the Holy Spirit, came down and covered the mountain. Its appearance was of burning fire (Ex 24:16-17), and there on the mountain in the desert is where the LORD gave to Moses the Law written on tablets of stone.
After the LORD’s Supper, our Joshua, the LORD Jesus, ascended the Cross on Golgotha. Dead and buried, He rose from the dead and went up into Heaven, and while His holy disciples “prayed and waited in inner stillness”, His Holy Spirit, the Glory of the LORD, came down and filled the Upper Room and rested on His disciples as burning fire. And there, in the Upper Room, is where the LORD gave to His holy disciples His Holy Spirit written on hearts created anew and washed clean.
All of this is the shape of our coming this morning to the Church, the place where the God of Israel stands (Ex 24:10). He stands on the Cross in the Glory of the Holy Spirit that comes down on us as the uncreated fire of God that burns away our dross and makes us children of Light.
But, there was another meal of the Israelites in the Exodus, showing the shape of the world. When the people tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the Mount, they forged in the fire an idol of a golden calf and cried: “These are the gods that brought you out of Egypt!” Then, “they sat down to eat and drink and they rose up to play” (Ex 32:4-6). They were in the desert, but you can see that their heart was in Egypt, worshipping the idols of Egypt. And, it says, three thousand were slain by the sword at God’s command.
This morning, our feet came out of the city and into this desert place where the LORD stands. Did our mind and heart follow? Where are we in our heart this morning? Where are we in our heart during the week? Are we at table with the elders of Israel and the holy disciples in the desert place where the LORD Jesus Christ stands? Or, are we with the Israelites eating and drinking where the altar of the golden calf stands?
They followed Jesus, it says, out of the city and into the desert place where He was, and He healed all their sick (arrostos). Curious, St Paul uses this same word when he says: “Because many of you eat of the Bread and drink of the cup unworthily, you are sickly (arrostos) and many sleep” (I Cor 11:27-30). How is it that many who come and eat the Bread and drink the Cup of the LORD are not healed, but are made sicker?
Look more closely at what St Paul says: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD unworthily is bound (enochos) to the Body and Blood of the LORD…and this is why many of you are sickly.” Moses says to Israel: “The LORD Our God is a consuming fire” (Dt 4:24). Isaiah says: “The LORD shall kindle under His Glory a burning like the burning of a fire. And the Light of Israel shall be for a fire, His Holy One for a flame, and He shall burn and devour Israel’s thorns and briers (the sins of her idolatry) in one day.” (Isa 10:16-17)
When we eat the Bread and drink the Cup of the LORD, we bind ourselves to the Body of the LORD that has destroyed death by His death. We therefore receive into our bodies the Glory of the LORD that burns away the thorns and briers of our idolatry. It is the Word of God that penetrates all the way to the division of soul and spirit to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12). If in our heart we have not come away from the idolatry of the city, and we eat and drink the Bread and Cup of the LORD, we are binding ourselves to the burning fire of the LORD’s Glory that destroys the idolatry we have bound our hearts to, and so we will be consumed by the fire of the LORD along with our idols.
But, if in our heart we are following the LORD out of the city and into the desert place where the LORD stands, when we eat and drink His Holy Eucharist, we bind ourselves to the Fire of His Glory that burns up our idols, leaving us cleansed, healed, and deified, for, uniting ourselves to Christ, we ourselves become fire.
The lesson here isn’t to stay away from the Chalice but to come away from our idols into the desert place of the Church where the LORD stands on His Holy Cross outside the city. Listen! Give ear to the words He is crying out in His tender mercy: “Come all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Everyone who is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (Jn 7:37). The Spirit and His Bride say: Come, let him who hears say, Come! Let him who is thirsty, come, and whoever will, let him drink the water of life freely! (Rev 22:17) Hear the Word of the LORD, O faithful, and come out of the city to the desert place where He stands in the Glory of His Cross that heals and makes alive! Amen!
For audio of the Adult Bible Study on Sunday morning, Aug 14, 2016, when Fr Paul explores the biblical "Back Story" to this morning's Gospel of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, click here