MP3 Audio: WS330341b_Dn-Joseph_Broken.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 30, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: John 6:1-15
Therefore they gathered them together and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one. Amen.
There are many ways that Jesus could have performed this miracle. He could have prayed, waved his hands over the crowd, and “poof”, whatever food that particular person wanted could have sprung up on a table right in front of them. But he wanted everyone to eat from these common loaves that were given as a gift. He could have handled that part differently.
He could have prayed over the basket, waved his hands over it, and then – just like in a movie – you’d see these special effects. This basket would start jiggling and shaking and the earth would start quaking, and suddenly – just like Tribbles in Star Trek – these loaves would just start multiplying and go from five to ten to five hundred to a million and there’d be loaves of bread just all over the place, more than enough for everyone to eat.
It’s interesting that it says in the Gospel of John that these twelve basketfuls of fragments that were gathered up after all these thousands of people had eaten – it doesn’t say that these are fragments of thousands of loaves or fragments of hundreds of loaves. It says, “They gathered them together and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves.”
Do you realize what that means? Jesus took this gift of five loaves and two fishes, he blessed it, he prayed over it, and then, when he handed it back to the disciples, it was still just five loaves. It didn’t look any different. There was no change. There weren’t even six loaves. The loaves weren’t even any bigger. It’s just the same five loaves. And then he and the disciples start breaking pieces off of these loaves to pass out. And they just keep breaking and breaking and breaking, and, well, the five loaves are still there. You break off pieces, and so now it’s not a whole loaf, but you never run out of loaf. You just keep breaking off pieces and you feed all these people. It seems to be at the very heart of God’s Creation, this principle: The blessing and the multiplication of blessing only comes after you’re broken.
Think about the very beginning of Creation – even before sin enters the world – when God starts the family, the Church, and the first nation, all at the same time with one man named Adam. And he does something different in the creation of man than he does with any of the animals. Do you see?
God speaks and two deer pop into being, one with antlers and one without. (There is a reason God did this before there were any Gross’s on earth or we wouldn’t have any deer left by now. He had to multiply them first.) God spoke and two bears popped into being, a mama bear and a papa bear. There’s no Goldilocks or porridge yet, but he started with two bears. God spoke and there was a mama fish and a daddy fish. God spoke and “poof!” there’s two birds, one male and one female.
But God does not do this with man. God takes dust of the earth, and with his own hands he forms the very first man. And then God himself breathes life into Adam, and unlike all the rest of creation, God does not create the female separately. God didn’t get more dust and create another human and name her “woman” and bring them together. No, Adam – even before sin, even in Paradise, even in the Garden of Eden – Adam had to be broken into two pieces. “And for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall be one flesh.” See, God put Adam into a deep sleep. He took a chunk out of his side – blood, flesh, bone – and, while Adam was still asleep, God closes that up, he seals it up. This is the very first surgery; you nurses in the room should appreciate this. And God takes Adam’s brokenness, God takes this first Divine surgery and these pieces that he has broken out of Adam, and he forms Eve, the Mother of all the living. And if God had not done that, there would still just be one person on earth. For man to be fruitful and to multiply and to cover the earth, for heaven to be populated with human beings, Adam had to be broken. And out of that brokenness came marriage. Out of that brokenness came the family. Out of that brokenness came society.
Fast-forward to Noah. The entire world had fallen into sin. Almost everybody had forgotten God and had turned their back on him. And we know the rest of the story – one man is faithful, one man finds grace in the eyes of the Lord, and God not only saves him, but God saves him and his entire family in what the apostle Peter calls a “baptism”. The flood was a baptism. And we see this glorious salvation through the waters, through the ark, but let us not forget the brokenness that Noah had to suffer for six hundred years before the first drop of rain fell.
It says in Scripture that he was a preacher of righteousness. He was a preacher of righteousness – he told the people, “Look, here’s God. Look, here’s how you follow him. Look, this is what godliness looks like.” And Scripture records the fact that the only ones he ended up saving after centuries of preaching were just the members of his own family. Can you imagine preaching for nearly six hundred years and the only people that listen to you are your wife and your children and nobody else? Wouldn’t you think about four hundred years into that you’d get a little discouraged? I believe Noah was broken by the hardness of heart, the refusal to listen to his message. I believe his heart was broken by the hundred twenty years that went into the preparations for the building of the ark, the hundred twenty years with which he warned people, “Judgement is coming! Judgement is coming, the waters are going to fall out of the sky and you won’t be laughing anymore that I’m building a boat on a mountain. I’m going to need this boat.” And you see, the waters of that baptism not only saved Noah; those same waters condemned the unbelievers to a watery grave. But before Noah and his family could experience that salvation, they had to experience countless years of rejection and brokenness.
Today, earlier today in the readings, we heard multiple times about the Israelites in the wilderness, the manna from heaven, the water from the rock, all these glorious things that God accomplished. And yet, in between the Red Sea crossing and their entry into the Promised Land, for forty years, God had to make sure that Israel was broken. And that wasn’t even the first time – it was the second – because before the Red Sea crossing, before the first Passover, before the ten plagues that God sent upon Egypt, there were several hundred years during which the Israelites were slaves. They had to be broken through slavery. They had to be broken in the wilderness before they were ready to pass into the Promised Land.
Israel had some godly kings that led them into righteousness, but mostly they had wicked kings that led the entire nation into a rejection of God and his coming Messiah. In 722 B.C., the scourge of the Assyrians who we now call today “Syria”, the Assyrians led by Sennacherib, poured into the northern kingdom of Israel, carrying all ten tribes off into exile. And honestly, to this day, twenty seven hundred years later, we don’t really know what became of them. Were they all killed? Were they all intermarried with pagan peoples? We don’t know. We just know that after 722 B.C. there was no more northern kingdom of Israel. It took a little bit longer for the southern kingdom of Judah, but in 586 B.C. they were carried off into Babylon. And so there was no longer any southern kingdom of Judah. There was no longer an Israelite king in Jerusalem. Before the Israelites could meet their Messiah, they had to be broken.
Not long before Jesus met His death, a woman who had sinned much and had been forgiven much, and therefore loved much, took an alabaster box full of very precious and expensive ointment – a year’s wages. (How much money does your household earn in an entire year?) All in one fell swoop, she breaks this alabaster jar so that she can spend her entire life savings – her dowry, her entire future – to anoint Christ for his upcoming burial, because she loves Him. Jesus said that was such a good deed, that she would be remembered forever because of it. But for that to happen, the alabaster jar had to be broken.
Sometimes we look back on our own lives and just shake our heads. We think of two or three things that could have just gone a little differently, and our lives would have been so much different. “This relationship would be better,” or “We’d have so much money here,” or “My health would be so much better off if just this had gone differently and that had gone differently. But man, I’ve just been through so much!” It’s not the right way to look at it. Do you want to be a blessing from God to other people? Do you want to be a blessing to your family? Do you want to be a blessing to the world? Do you want God to multiply His blessings out to the entire world through you? If so, then just like the loaves and the fishes, you have to be broken.
You see the difficult, gut-wrenching, heart-rending things that come to us in our lives are not curses from God. If we receive them humbly, if we learn from them, if they teach us to be humble and to lean on Christ, then these horrible situations that hurt us so badly are actually blessings in disguise. They are the very means by which God brings us to our knees and brings us to brokenness – to empty us of ourselves when we have been so full of ourselves – so that finally, emptied, He can fill us with Himself. He can fill us with His Spirit. Once you are no longer full of yourself, but you are full of Him – now, God can do something with you.
Jesus continues to break the bread for us today, every time we come here to His table to partake of His body and His blood. For you see, our salvation itself is a blessing that never could have multiplied across the entire world, unless Christ Himself in the Flesh had been broken at Golgotha. Just last night, we stepped through the Stations of the Cross, reliving the journey that Christ went through in intense humiliation, and agony, and shame, and suffering, and death, and burial, for us. He was broken just like the bread that He broke when He multiplied the loaves and the fishes. And just as He gave those loaves and those fishes for the life of those five thousand, so He breaks His body for us for the very life of the world. Jesus said, “My flesh is food indeed. My blood is drink indeed.” He said, “If you do not eat the flesh and drink of the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life within you.” But He said, “If you do eat my flesh, and you do drink my blood, then I will raise you up on the last day.”
Whenever Father Michael is here and we have the full Divine Liturgy, the Mass, you don’t get to see everything that goes on at the altar like I get to see when I stand beside him. And he does not just take the little wafer and pray over it, and then eat it and then pass out bread and wine to you. Every time the priest consecrates – or I should say, asks the Holy Spirit to consecrate – the bread and the wine, changing it into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, every time that happens, the priest breaks that bread. That’s part of what is going on up here while everybody is singing. The priest takes this little piece of bread that was a whole piece and now is broken, just like the body of Christ was broken on the Cross. And it is only a broken Eucharist that is the body and the blood of Christ for the life of the world.
The Eucharist itself is impossible unless you have bread and wine. And having bread and wine is impossible unless you have wheat and grapes. But before you can get that loaf of bread, every kernel of wheat has to go through its own Via Dolorosa as it is crushed and ground into flour, so that it can be bound together into one loaf. And every grape has to go through its own personal Golgotha as each grape sheds its blood, so that now we can have wine for the Eucharist.
Everything in all creation centers around this point of humility, self-sacrifice and brokenness, so that through your brokenness, life and blessing comes to your spouse, to your children, your parents, your neighbors, your co-workers, and yes . . . the whole world.
Christ could not bless you with eternal life without Himself being broken. You cannot receive that gift of eternal life without humbling yourself profoundly, and you yourself are broken. And you cannot be a blessing to your family or to the world unless you are willing to be broken. It is a death, it is an experience of suffering, but it doesn’t end there. For, you see, these broken fragments of bread are not left for the bugs, and the birds, and decay.
“Therefore they gathered them together and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.” Why did they do this? Because Jesus Himself gave the command, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” He did not save a single whole loaf of bread. There was not one perfect whole loaf of bread that they picked up in those twelve baskets. Oh, but every fragment was picked up. Every piece of bread that had been broken was picked up so that nothing would be lost. Do you want to be lost? Do you want to be gathered up by Christ and His apostles? If you want to be gathered up, then you have to be a fragment. If you want to be saved, then you have to be one of those pieces of bread that was broken.
Christ promises us resurrection. Christ promises glory. Christ promises us to sit with Him in His very throne in Heaven. But you have to get there the same way He did. Before the resurrection, comes the Cross. Before the glory, comes humility. Before the exaltation, you come to Him on your knees . . . broken.
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, March 30, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.