1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Matthew 14:14-22
In one way or another, we are all pretty good at letting ourselves off the hook. There are pressing matters that require our attention, but we would rather ignore them so that we do not have to go to the effort of actually doing something about them. We easily find ways to justify leaving it to others to do the heavy lifting because we do not want to be inconvenienced.
That is precisely what the disciples tried to do when the Savior had compassion on the sick people in a crowd of thousands in the wilderness. They had not made provision for feeding them and asked Him to send them away so that the people could by their own food. Christ did not let them shirk their responsibility, however, and responded, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” He was not finished ministering to the people that day and put the responsibility back on the disciples, who complained that they had only five loaves of bread and two fish. It was perfectly realistic for them to wonder how they could possibly provide a meal for so many people with so little food. But when they obeyed His command “Bring them here to me,” the Lord blessed their small amount of food such that there was far more than enough to satisfy everyone.
Christ not only fed a large crowd that day, but also revealed His identity as the Messiah by miraculously supplying food for hungry Jews in the desert in a way that is reminiscent of the manna from heaven in the Old Testament. The five loaves remind us of the five books of law in the Hebrew Bible, while the two fish recall the two tablets of God’s commandments received by Moses. From these small amounts of food came such an abundance that twelve basketfuls were leftover, which reminds us of the twelve tribes of Israel. Five thousand men and their families were fed, which again recalls the five Old Testament books of law. The Lord miraculously satisfied the hunger of a multitude in a way that showed He is the Messiah Who fulfills the promises to the children of Israel.
One of the lessons to learn from this prophetic sign is that Christ brings His salvation to the world in way that requires us to make an offering. For Him even to be born, a young Palestinian teenager had to agree freely to become His virgin mother: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” She offered herself fully to God in that moment and held nothing back in such a profound way that we cannot tell the story of salvation without mentioning the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. She is the first to receive Christ into her life and, upon her death, the first to follow Him—body, soul, and spirit– into the heavenly kingdom.
Likewise, the disciples had to make the offering of leaving behind their occupations and families in order to play their unique role in serving Christ and His Church. Had they refused to abandon their fishing nets in order to follow the Savior, Peter, James, and John would not have been on Mt. Tabor where they beheld the divine glory of the Lord at the Transfiguration. And had the disciples not brought their small collection of loaves and fish for Christ’s blessing, thousands of people would have gone home hungry and been deprived of the miraculous sign that showed He was the Messiah.
We see in these examples the necessity of offering ourselves to Christ in order to become transfigured in holiness through personal union with Him. That requires mindfully turning away from pleasing ourselves by offering our attention, time, and resources to serve Him in His Body, the Church, and in our neighbors. We never earn or deserve the divine mercy, but we must respond to His grace with faith and faithfulness if we want to participate personally in His fulfillment of the human person in God’s image and likeness. It may be tempting to think that nothing we could do could ever have such significance. We know our sins and personal brokenness, and how selfishness has so often kept us from offering ourselves in obedience to the Lord. The problems and needs of the people of our culture and world are so great, and we are so small and limited in our influence.
When, however, has that not been the case for the vast majority of those who have become radiant icons of our Lord’s salvation? The Virgin Mary had no prominence or power at all when she bravely said “Yes” to the strange news brought by the Archangel. She even saw her Son die as a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of the greatest world power of the time. The disciples were simple fishermen living under Roman occupation in an obscure region when the Savior enabled them to draw people into their nets for the Kingdom of God, despite their many failings. Across the centuries to this very day, the ranks of saints and martyrs are comprised largely of common people so committed to Christ that they make the ultimate offering of their flesh and blood out of faithfulness to Him. Those who are rich and powerful by worldly standards give up their earthly crowns in order to receive heavenly ones.
Before the great problems of our day, anyone with any sense will feel like the disciples with a few loaves of bread and two fish before a hungry crowd of thousands. If left to our own devices, we could not make a difference worth noticing. Thankfully, our trust is not in our own ability to accomplish anything in this world, much less to heal our own souls. It is, instead, in the One Who has conquered death for our sake, offering His own Flesh and Blood in order to make us participants by grace in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we lift up our hearts and offer not only bread and wine, but ourselves, for union with the Lord’s great Self-Offering for the salvation of the world. His Body and Blood strengthen us to offer our loaves and fish, our lives and humble talents, in order to feed those who are hungry both physically and spiritually, and to manifest an icon of the restoration of all people, and the creation itself, in the eschatological reign.
One of the worst things we can do spiritually is to denigrate the importance of the few minutes a day we spend in prayer, of the small acts of self-denial that we perform in fasting, of the seemingly insignificant offerings of a kind word to a troubled person, of a gesture of friendship to a stranger, or the sincere Confession of our sins. It may count for nothing in the eyes of the rich and famous of this world, but small gestures such as simply taking the time to attend the Divine Liturgy, conveying forgiveness to someone who has wronged us, or limiting our greed by putting a few coins in the collection plate may shape our souls in profound ways and become channels for Christ to bring abundant blessing upon others in ways that we could not possibly predict or control. Remember that He can feed thousands with a few loaves and fish and even makes us participants in the Messianic Banquet through our Communion in His Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy celebrated in this small parish.
Let us never diminish the importance of the seemingly small offerings that we are capable of making in our daily lives. Christ continues to feed the world, both spiritually and physically, through the humble gestures of those who do what they can “in the fear of God and faith and love.” Because we celebrate His Liturgy, let us live in Communion with His great Self-Offering for the salvation of the world. Let us offer ourselves to Christ in the service of His Body, the Church, and in all the neighbors in whom we encounter Him every day.