Sermon – Eighth Sunday of Matthew
The Eighth Sunday of Matthew
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
August 11, 2019
The Church Fathers interpreted the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand heard in today’s reading as an anticipation of Holy Communion in which Christ offers Himself to us as the heavenly bread. In the book of Exodus (16:4-16) of the Old Testament, when the Israelites had escaped from Egypt but then faced terrible hunger in the wilderness, God sent food to satisfy His people. In the days of Jesus God again acted by sending His Son to feed His people not only with bread but also with the truth of His teachings.
The Church Fathers point out that just as the Israelites were miraculously fed in the wilderness, Jesus miraculously fed the multitude that followed him. However, what is not similar about these two events is that the miracle of the food that was provided for the Israelites in the wilderness was not enough in and of itself to cause them to follow the Law of God and to obey His commandments. Their experience was not something that helped them to seek anything beyond their physical hunger in the wilderness. Unlike the event of the Israelites in Exodus, the multitudes that followed our Lord were drawn to Him and were motivated with a hunger to hear Christ message. They sought Him with no thought of their need to eat a meal.
In the New Testament Jesus declares Himself to be the True Bread from heaven given by the Father, and so the food in the desert and the bread of the Gospel miracle are both signs of that True Bread. In a section following the account of the miracle of the five loaves and fishes in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (verse 35). Your forefathers ate in the desert, yet they died. But there is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever. This is my flesh which I give for the life of the world” (verses 49-51).
The Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew, chapter 6, provides us with another phrase that helps our understanding of what this means. …give us this day our daily bread… The expression “daily bread” should not be understood as merely pertaining to the bread of this very day; the bread that sustains our life; rather: It is the bread for the eternal day of God’s Kingdom – what sustains us fir immortal life. It is the living “super essential” Bread – Christ Himself: The Bread of Life.
Immediately following this lesson our Lord teaches His disciples about fasting (v. 16ff). We happen to be entering the period of the Dormition Fast (August 1-14). One of the purposes of the fast, as with other periods of fasting in the church, is to remind us of the words of our Lord who said, [Do not labor] for the [food] which perishes, but for the [food] which endures unto everlasting life which the Son of Man will give to you (John 6:27). And in the words of St. Paul (Romans 14:7): The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Important to our understanding about the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood as Orthodox Christians, is that we believe and understand that when a person is united to Christ in receiving Holy Communion, he or she does so acknowledging being united with Christ’s teaching. The two are inseparable. Unlike other Christian traditions, in our church, Christ’s teaching is not a subjective matter or the subject of one’s personal interpretation.
If we read further into the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we hear these words: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. …as the living Father sent me..., so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (verses 52-57). It is also recorded that it was precisely at this point that the Gospel records that many of the disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
And so, my beloved, our Tradition, I must be honest with you, is not as accommodating to our temporal desires. Its purpose is not to temporarily pacify or satisfy our earthly desires. Surely, you and I ask God for many things… But it can be very liberating for you and I when we discover that being members of God’s Kingdom pertains to all that is beyond our personal wants and temporal needs: unlike the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Our liberation focuses upon Christ as our Source and Bread of Life. He, who illumines, renews and regenerates, forgives and heals, purifies and sanctifies. He is Who saves and sustains us; all who are repentant sinners, the sick and down-trodden.
The Church is first and foremost the Body of Christ. Its success is not centered or focused around human personalities. Perhaps in the case of the Israelites it was Moses. We just heard in today’s epistle another very important lesson regarding the divisions that arose among the faithful and that the Apostle Paul messages about. It involved the various personalities that had become prominent leaders and who obviously had a very successful following. It may have been that they were good speakers; charismatic personalities. But the Apostle reminds them something that we too cannot forget: The message is Christ’s and it is He in whose name we are baptized and it is He who saves us.
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, You blessed the five loaves in the wilderness, and from them five thousand were filled. O Bread of Life, feed us with your Word. Nourish us with wisdom. Grant us your blessing and multiply our resources that we also may be merciful and generous at all times, especially for those who are in need. For you, O Christ our God, do bless and sanctify all things, and are also the Heavenly Bread, and the Fountain of immortality, and to You do we give glory, together with your Eternal Father and Your life-giving Spirit, now and forever. A-men.