MP3 Audio: WS330300_Dn-Joseph_Feeding-the-4000.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 18, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:1-9
Jesus has mercy on the physical needs of the multitude who had been following Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
It’s interesting to notice in Scripture the times that Jesus could do a miracle and was even asked to do a miracle and He refused. It’s also interesting to notice times when He was not asked to do a miracle and a miracle was precisely what He performed.
Look at the very beginning of His ministry. After His baptism, He is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for a time of ascesis, of temptation, of fasting, and after 40 days He’s hungry, and it’s just after this that He begins His public ministry. While out in the desert, after having fasted for 40 days, Satan tempts Him, and in his mocking, in his tempting, in his trying to get Jesus to sin and to listen to the words of the devil, he asks Him to perform a miracle. He said, “If you’re the Son of God, then speak, and you can change these stones into bread.” No doubt Jesus could have done that, but He refused. He was not going to perform an extraordinary miracle just to take care of His own personal needs.
And yet just a short time later, at the wedding of Cana, no miracle was asked of Him. But His mother sees the needs of the guests at this wedding, and the need of the people at the wedding. And here’s this sacrament of God–this beautiful act of marriage–and she recognizes the need of the joy and the celebration of God bringing two people together in marriage, and yet there is no wine. And she requests no miracle, but she simply intercedes. She goes to Jesus and she asks Him to take care of things. And in response, He turns the water into wine, and shows His glory to the disciples. No miracle was requested, but a miracle is just what they got.
Now you look out here in the wilderness: He’s been teaching for three days, over four thousand people following Him—this great crowd—and they’ve been gone from home long enough, and they’re far enough from all the cities that they’re out of food. Any stores that they brought with them have been spent and they’re becoming very hungry. No miracle is requested. He simply has compassion on their human needs. He knows that they are hungry, He knows that they may faint if they try to fast, as they make this long journey all the way home—for some had traveled from far away—and in His compassion for them, He multiplies seven loaves and a few fishes into so much food that He feeds the four thousand, women and children besides, and they pick up seven basketfuls of the fragments afterward.
Same chapter, still in Mark chapter eight, the very next thing we see is Him running into the Pharisees, and the Pharisees mocking Him, as they always were, and demanding that He give a sign from heaven, to prove Himself and to show who He really is, and He refuses. He says that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, and says no sign from heaven shall be given unto it.
Here He had just been out in the wilderness; He had fed four thousand people, this huge crowd, with just a few loaves and fishes. That sounds like a sign from heaven to me. But then He goes to the Pharisees and when they demand a sign, when they demand a miracle for Him to prove Himself, he refuses.
And then later, as He is going to His death, He is taken before Herod, and remember Herod’s excited because he had been wanting to meet Jesus, because he had been wanting to see him do some miracle. He wanted to be entertained, and Jesus wouldn’t even talk to him. He performed no miracle.
Then when He was up on the cross, they asked for another miracle. Can you imagine having railroad spikes run through your wrists, and being dehydrated and being whipped and being bloody and just being weakened to the point that you can’t even carry anything—which is why He had fallen, and Simon had to carry the cross—and there He is up there, and somebody mocking Him cries out for a miracle, and says, “Well, why don’t you just come down from the cross? Prove yourself to us. Show us who you really are.”
He refused to perform that miracle. And yet He did something harder, something no one asked Him to do: He got up out of his own grave three days later.
Which is more impressive, to come down from the cross while you’re still alive, or to go ahead and die, and to walk out of your grave three days later? Which is more impressive? So often, the miracles that were demanded of Him He refused, and the miracles which were not requested are what He gave.
Think of the miracles that He refused:
- He refused to listen to the word of Satan. He refused to turn the stones into bread merely to serve Himself because He was hungry. He wasn’t going to bend the laws of physics that God had created to rule the very universe, just to serve Himself.
- When the Pharisees came and demanded a sign from heaven, He wasn’t going to do something extraordinary and outside of the created laws of the universe, just to prove Himself.
- Before Herod, He wasn’t going to do some miracle, just to entertain somebody or to satisfy their curiosity.
- And He certainly wasn’t going to come down from the very cross that He had come to die on.
The miracles that He performed, He performed for a different motive—not to serve Himself, not to prove Himself, not to entertain other people or to satisfy their curiosity. He performs miracles; He will literally take the physical laws that He created to bind the universe together, and He will bend and break those laws, out of love, to meet human need.
At the wedding of Cana, He recognized the importance of joy and celebration and fellowship whenever a man and woman are brought together in unity. He recognized the importance of honoring the reasonable requests that are made by one’s mother. He honored His mother. He performed this miracle out of love—love for the married couple, love for the wedding guests, and love for His mom.
When He fed the four thousand, He wasn’t doing it because He was—He didn’t say, “Hey, I’m out of bread. I’m hungry; I think I’m gonna make some extra for everybody else.” No, He wasn’t going to do that to serve Himself. He had spent 40 days—not three days, but 40 days—with no food, and He still wouldn’t do a miracle to feed Himself. But He had compassion.
It says in Mark chapter eight, “He had compassion on the multitude because they had been following Him.” He is the reason they were out there for three days. Now, I don’t want to say anything bad about charities and organizations like Feed the Children, Feed the Hungry. Those are good things. But they’re different than what we’re talking about here. You don’t see Jesus—at least in His lifetime on earth—set up any ministry like that, that tries to go off to some people somewhere else, and find somebody that’s hungry and feed them. In this particular case, He’s the reason they’re hungry. He knows that their hunger is not because of laziness or neglect or sin, but because they had been pursuing righteousness. They had been pursuing His words.
Remember when responding to Satan, when He was being tempted to make bread, Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” That’s how these people had been living for the past three days, following Him farther and farther out into the wilderness, giving no thought to whether they had any food or provisions left. They spent three days of their lives hanging on every word that was proceeding out of the mouth of God. And He had compassion on them. He cared about their physical needs. He wanted their hunger to end; He wanted their tummies to be filled. He cared about them. He loved them, and so He bent the physical laws of the universe to make extra bread and fish so that these dear people could eat.
The Pharisees, mocking and demanding a sign for Him to prove Himself, He refused.
The call for entertainment, He refused.
The call for Him to prove Himself by coming down off the cross, He refused.
But Him going to the cross, dying, and then rising again—one of the greatest miracles of all time. The miracle of the Incarnation, and the miracle of the Resurrection–two miracles we never asked for–two miracles which will never be repeated, and shall never be surpassed: He performed those out of love, not to serve Himself.
If He just wanted to serve Himself, He could have stayed exalted in heaven, and not come down here and embraced the humility of spending nine months—can you imagine God spending nine months in the womb of some no-name little Jewish girl, off in a farm town 2,000 years ago? That’s humility. Being born in a cave with some animals, being put in a feed trough right after you’re born. He didn’t do that to serve Himself, and He certainly didn’t go to the cross to suffer— to be tortured and humiliated—to serve Himself, and He didn’t do it to prove Himself, either. The Incarnation and the Virgin birth did not happen in such a way that everybody knew what was happening.
He could have waited a couple thousand years until we had modern medical science and sonograms and all sorts of stuff. He could have made sure there were TV cameras at every angle, doctors verifying her virginity, and her miraculous conception and birth and everything. We could have this on NOVA. We could have this on PBS at nine o’clock. He could have orchestrated that, but no. The only person who’s there at the Incarnation is an angel who goes back to heaven, and the girl who gets pregnant. And of course everybody’s going to believe her when she says there’s no man involved.
No, to this day, in the Jewish Talmud—remember, I’m talking about Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah—in the Jewish Talmud, Mary is called a whore. So when she was alive on earth, and even to this day, two thousand years later, there are millions of people who look at her as a defiled, unclean piece of trash that was just sleeping around. And Jesus, He was just a bastard [according to them]. “We don’t know who His father is.” Well, they’re right about one thing: they don’t know His Father. They don’t know His Father.
And on the flip end of the spectrum: His resurrection. He didn’t do that to prove Himself or to serve Himself, that was out of love for us. If He had wanted to do it to prove Himself to everybody, He could have appeared to everybody in His resurrected body. But Scripture is very clear: He did not appear to Pontius Pilate, or to Herod, or to Annas, Caiphas, any of those people.
He appeared to those who already knew Him, who already loved Him, already followed Him. He appeared to His apostles. Before He appeared to them, He appeared to the women who had served Him and had walked with Him. At one point, He appeared with five hundred Christians all at once. But the powers that be? He didn’t appear to the Emperor of Rome. He didn’t appear to the Pharisees. God has nothing to prove. He’s God.
He rose from the dead, for us, for our salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins. Every miracle that He performed was not self-serving, it was not to prove Himself in some way; it was not to entertain or to satisfy curiosity. Every miracle He performed was from a motive of love, a motive of compassion. Seeing us: poor, humble, broken down, unable to help ourselves, so He gives us wine. He gives us bread. He gives us Himself.
And so what should our motivation be, as we attempt to obey the divine command that we, too, be giving of ourselves to others, in alms, feeding the poor, the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are sick and in prison? You can be baptized, Chrismated, take the Eucharist every week, sit in an Orthodox church . . . and go to hell. Remember what Jesus said will happen on the last day: there will be divided before Him as the sheep from the goats, the sheep to His right hand, the goats to His left hand. And He will turn to this side and He will say, “Blessed are you. Come into the inheritance that has been prepared for you. For when I was hungry, you fed Me. When I was naked, you clothed Me. When I was sick and in prison, you visited Me,” and they will say, “When, Lord? When did we ever see You hungry or sick or naked, and take care of You?” And He said, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto Me.” Then He turns to the goats on His left, and he said, “Cursed are you. Depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry, you didn’t feed Me. When I was naked, you didn’t clothe Me, when I was sick and in prison, you didn’t visit Me, so depart.” And they’ll say, “When, Lord, did we ever see You sick or hungry, or naked or in prison and not take care of Your needs?” And He will say, “Inasmuch as you have not done it until the least of my brethren, you have not done it unto Me.”
We can dress up, we can go to church, we can play church all we want and it’s all worthless unless you are doing deeds with your hands, with your feet, with your food, with your money, doing deeds out of a motive of love for other people who are His brethren.
Now, how do we try to get out of this? How do we try to salve our conscience so we don’t feel like a goat, but still try to avoid the real pressure of such words? Well, sometimes we try to buy our way out. “Well, I’ll just, uh, you know what, I’ll just give some money to the church and they’ll take care of it.” Is that what Jesus was talking about? If you’re a rich Pharisee and you put a thousand denari into the coffer there at the synagogue, just hoping that at some point, “The priest, they’ll take care of it. The Levites, they’ll get some of that money. They’ll help the poor in some way, and–whew–got my way out of that!” Meanwhile, is there somebody in your own church whom you don’t reach out to, whom you don’t pray for, whom you don’t help? Somebody that’s a neighbor, somebody that’s a coworker, somebody that’s in your own family that you won’t so much as witness the Gospel to them, or reach out to meet their physical needs?
Another way we get out of this is by trying to overthink things, and say,
“Well, this particular person, you know what, I’ve noticed a couple of ways in which they’ve sinned. And since they sinned in those couple of ways, I’m pretty sure they deserve what they’re going through, so let me… I’ll just wait and… I want to help the poor, but I’m not gonna help that one, because I don’t think they deserve it. Well, now, them right there, I would help them, but no, I’m not going to help them for this reason or that reason or the other… I’m just not interested.”
Now, me, on the other hand, what do we think about ourselves? Either we make the mistake of thinking that we’re not poor, that we don’t need anything, or, somehow we convince ourselves that, “Okay, I was poor, I did need something, but you know, I’ve got a good heart, I deserve for God to have mercy on me.”
Friends, we’re all beggars, every single one of us. All of us come into this world naked and with nothing to give God. We’re all sinners. We all can remember specific things that we have done where we have fallen short of the glory of God. Every one of us, IF we make it to heaven, it will be by grace, not because we deserve it. All of us are here, breathing God’s air, eating God’s food, drinking God’s water, because God has mercy on us every day. God meets our needs. God gives us a home we don’t deserve, food we don’t deserve, drink we don’t deserve, clothes we don’t deserve, while we have brothers and sisters out there who are struggling, who are starving, who are having trouble finding a place to live. But do we ignore their needs because they have body odor, or we just don’t really get along with them that well, “they’re not my type of people,” or maybe because “they live too far away, they speak the wrong language”?
Let’s do some soul-searching, and ask ourselves, “What are we doing out of a motive of love?” Remember what it says in First Corinthians 13: Even if I sell everything that I have and give every penny of it to the poor, but I do not do it out of a motive of love, it’s worthless.
You can give fifty thousand dollars to the Orthodox Church, and if it’s not out of love, it’s worthless. You can work your fingers to the bone for hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and if it’s not out of a motive of love, it’s worthless. You can come serve the liturgy right up here by the altar. You can follow that ritual notes book. You can dot every i and lower-case j, cross every t, genuflect at the right times, sing the notes just perfectly when you’re chanting, and if you don’t have love and compassion for the people in our own congregation, for other Christians throughout the world, then it’s all worthless.
So I’ll say the same thing that I said a while back, and it’s both for those locally, but also for those worldwide. But locally, think of those Orthodox Christians who may be down on their luck, or even having spiritual difficulties, whether they’re catechumens and they’re not here today, whether they’re Orthodox Christians and they’re not here today, or whether there are some Christians you know who live five hundred miles from here or twelve thousand miles from here, look at your own heart and don’t tell me but tell yourself, “How much love do I have for that person? How much compassion do I have for that person? How much does my heart break for that person? How much do I pray for that person?”
And if you go down the list and you think, “Yeah, there’s this guy and there’s that woman, and there’s this guy, and there are these people, and there’s this people group over here, and I don’t really feel anything towards any of them, I just want to come here and be with my kind of people and worship my kind of way, and I don’t really have any feelings for anybody else,” remember what Jesus said: if you only love those who love you, then you’re no better than the heathen, because even the heathen do that.
Even a Muslim bomber who is planning to come blow up one of our buildings, loves his buddies. They love each other. Even the gang of thieves and rapists and murderers, they hang out together, they love each other. Gangs take care of other gang members within the same gang. Go to South Chicago, where there are murders daily, and find one of the gangs that live in South Chicago. I guarantee you, the folks within that gang love each other and take care of each other. If we only love those that love us, if we only love those who are “our kind of people,” if we only love those that we like, then we’re no better than the gang in South Chicago. We’re no better than the Muslim bombers . . . we’re no better than the atheists. A lot of the atheists hang together and love each other. Loving people who love you is easy. That’s nothing unique to Christianity.
If you want to know whether you’re a Christian, then check to see how much you personally have real compassion from the heart for people that irritate the snot out of you. If your heart breaks for them and you cry for them and you pray for them and you love them, and you want to do whatever you can for them, even if they spit on you, even if they don’t respond; if your heart bleeds love and compassion for God’s people, then you’re a Christian. Then you are following Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 18, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.