1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Matthew 14:14-22
As we face the great problems of our society and world today, it is understandable that we may feel like the disciples when the Lord said concerning the thousands of hungry people who had followed Him into the wilderness, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Since it had been obvious to the disciples that there was no way they could provide all those people a meal, they had asked Christ to “send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” The disciples had only five loaves of bread and two fish, an absurdly small amount of food for a large crowd. But they obeyed when “He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.’” The Savior then “blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Christ 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 Abraham and his descendants.
Christ also showed that we must offer ourselves and our resources if we are to become instruments of His salvation of the world. Remember that Adam and Eve did the very opposite by disobeying the Lord’s command and satisfying only themselves. That is nothing but a path away from Paradise, a highway to weakness and despair that leads only to slavery to sin and death. The Savior offered Himself on the Cross in order to liberate us from such a depraved state through His glorious resurrection on the third day. We unite ourselves to His offering when we lift up our hearts and offer bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy. Christ has restored and fulfilled the original purpose of food and drink to bring us into the communion of love shared by the Persons of the Holy Trinity. He nourishes us with His Body and Blood such that His life is ours as we become participants in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
When “He looked up to Heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds,” the Savior provided an image of the Eucharist. The disciples did not have the spiritual vision to see that that is what was going on when they handed over their bread and fish to the Lord on that particular day. Had they not offered what little food they had to Christ, however, the crowd would have gone hungry. If no one offers the bread and wine for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, no one will be nourished by the Eucharist. By miraculously satisfying so many with so little, Christ revealed what it means for us to live eucharistically as we offer ourselves and our resources for the fulfillment of His gracious purposes for the world and all its inhabitants. No matter how small or insignificant we think our offerings are, we can put no limits on how He will multiply them in order to bless our neighbors abundantly.
As we begin the Dormition Fast, it is important to remember that the Theotokos had no earthly prominence or power when she agreed freely to become Christ’s virgin mother by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” She offered herself fully in that moment, and thus made it possible for the Son of God to become the New Adam. 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, as we will celebrate at the Feast of the Dormition on August 15. During this fast, we say “no” to our desires to satisfy ourselves with rich food so that we will gain strength to say “yes” to the Lord, as she did.
As the Theotokos’ example shows, we must place no limits on the importance of obeying and offering ourselves to Him, regardless of the circumstances. Of course, her offering was not a one-time event, but continued throughout the course of her life, even as she saw her Son rejected and condemned and stood by the foot of the Cross as He died. Likewise, the disciples’ offering was not limited to the small amount of food they handed over on one day, for they had already obeyed His command to leave behind their occupations and families in order to follow Christ. Had they refused to abandon their fishing nets in order to do so, Peter, James, and John would not have been on Mt. Tabor where they beheld the divine glory of the Lord at the Transfiguration. The only way to participate in Christ’s transfiguration of the human person in holiness is to offer ourselves to Him in obedience, no matter how insignificant or difficult the particular offering may seem. None of us has the spiritual vision to know how God will multiply our small offerings to bless the world. We must make the offerings of which we are capable and leave the rest in His hands.
So many people are anxious, fearful, and isolated due to the great challenges that our society and world face. In the midst of so much misery, Christ says to us all, “You give them something to eat.” None of us has the power to fix today’s problems, but we all have the ability to offer ourselves in seemingly small ways to bless people by listening to them patiently, providing an encouraging word, and sharing our resources as we are able. Instead of thinking only of ourselves and becoming captive to our own worries, we can serve Christ in our neighbors by investing the time and energy to build supportive relationships and provide a sign of hope that it is possible to make any circumstance a point of entrance into the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
We will have the spiritual strength to do so only if we embrace the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, including keeping a rule of daily prayer, mindfully keeping a close watch on the thoughts of our hearts, and fasting in a way appropriate to our health and life circumstances. We must forgive those who have wronged us and ask forgiveness from those we have wronged. We must repent of our sins as we embrace Christ’s forgiveness in Confession, which we should all do regularly.
Such seemingly small offerings will shape our souls profoundly and enable us to become channels for Christ to bless others in ways that we cannot predict or control. The One Who fed thousands with a few loaves and fish still accepts and multiplies the tiny offerings of His followers. That is how He makes us participants in the Messianic Banquet when we receive His Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy. That is how He strengthens us to convey the peace, joy, and hope of His Kingdom to our struggling neighbors in the midst of problems that none of us can fix. He says to us all every day of our lives: “You give them something to eat.” To obey that command is what it means to live eucharistically as people transfigured in heavenly glory.