In this Sunday’s gospel (John 6:1-21), after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus quickly and quietly withdraws to the mountain. Such withdrawal could seem a little unusual. Why not stay and fellowship with the crowd? Why does Jesus leave? Is it that He was exhausted? Or, perhaps, He does not do crowds after all? Or, maybe, He hates to be touched?
I would venture to say that Jesus withdraws for at least three other reasons:
The crowd’s motives were not pure. The attempt to enthrone Jesus was about them, not really Him. Saint Thomas Aquinas notes (in his commentary on this passage) that “People often want as their ruler someone who will provide them with temporal things.” Jesus wants us to approach Him out of love, not just so to get things. Jesus is not the big PEZ candy dispenser in the sky. No one makes Jesus king. He is already king, the divine king. He is king because He is God. There is no possessing Jesus. There is only surrendering to Him, and letting Him freely fill us.
In all of this, there is an invitation for us to examine our hearts regarding Jesus, regarding God:
Grateful with you,
“Quo Vadis?”, Latin for “Where are you going?” A question of direction and destiny. Where are we going? What is our end and purpose?
I would venture to say that, humanly speaking, we have one primary end: close, loving relationships with significant others. Of course, very important and often satisfying in our lives are our activities of creativity and productivity as well as our communal involvement. But, as Aristotle said back in 350 BC, and as human experience still seems to confirm, “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” (Nichomachean Ethics, chapter 7).
As Christians, we have another destiny, in addition to this. We are called to relationship with the Significant Other, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. All humanity is called to this, but we who call ourselves Christians have the privilege of more deliberately and consciously entering into it. It is indeed a privilege, not a right. It does not make us humanly better than other people; it makes of us servants who know that they are loved.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, dated approximately 62 AD, St. Paul articulates our divine destiny is as Christians. It is unbelievable—or, better, believable, thanks to the gift of faith! Below are excerpts from this Sunday’s incredibly rich second reading, the opening to the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), a flood of luminous insight:
God…has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In him we have…the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure.
In Christ we have obtained an inheritance…so that we…might live for the praise of his glory.
In him you also…were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people.
Let us happily embrace our divine destiny, thanking God for His mercy.
Yours in mercy,
July 15, 2018
At a time when there is much conversation about national sovereignty and borders and legal vs. illegal immigration, it is interesting that we have a Scripture passage (Ephesians 2:19-22) in which St. Paul speaks ofcitizenship: “you are citizens with the saints”. It is a metaphor, of course (which, obviously, entails a passing acknowledgement of the fact that there are nations comprised of citizens).
St. Paul makes use of this along with another metaphor, that of household: “you are members of the household of God”, to speak of belonging. Add to these, the metaphor of temple: “a holy temple in the Lord”, and we begin to understand how unified we as Church are to be and how much all of this is the gratuitous work of God in us. There is no test for this belonging. There is only the gift of God and our choice to receive and cooperate with it.
Beyond the reality of nations, beyond all human relationships and endeavors, we have been lovingly incorporated into something much bigger than us, that will last forever, in which God delights to dwell. Perhaps, it is best simply to let this passage speak:
You are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
in whom you also are built together spiritually
into a dwelling place for God.
Together with you as holy temple,
fellow pupil of Jesus
St. Paul makes what appears to be a terribly nonsensical statement: “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10). This defies human logic. I know that, as far as my experience goes, whenever I am weak, then I am, well, weak. When I feel helpless to assist a friend who is grieving the loss of a parent, I am weak. When I have been battling insomnia, I am weak. When I lack the magnanimity of heart to reach out to a family member in need because I have yet to forgive them a past hurt, I am weak. And, weakness is trying and discouraging.
How can St. Paul speak of strength in weakness? Is he a stubbornly naïve optimist? No. He speaks of a power not his own. He speaks of the power of Christ. He tells of Jesus’ response to his request to be relieved of particular, particularly humiliating weakness (what exactly it is we do not know).
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
St. Paul discovered that Christ comes mysteriously to meet us in our weakness. How wonderful! I am not alone in my weakness. What freedom. What strength. My weakness need not have the last word. Indeed, St. Paul goes on to say, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me”.
Let us dare hope-fully to welcome Christ in our weakness and know the freedom of the children of God.
Yours in Him,
There is much to discover about and experience of the power of faith. Hence, a string of gospels these Sundays to assist us. Last week, Jesus awoke to silence both a storm on the lake and the disciples’ fear, asking them “Have you still no faith?” This week, in the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find a woman with a hemorrhage who has been afflicted for twelve years, and who dares, in faith, to come to Jesus for relief; for healing. As we read, she approaches Jesus from behind, in the crowd, unannounced. She touches Him and is healed without a word exchanged. It is almost as though Jesus leaks power. There is so much power to share. Once they finally do exchange a word, Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
What is the power of faith? What is this powerful faith? Do you sense that faith is powerful? Do you almost levitate when you recite the Creed? Just kidding—about the levitation, not the power of faith!
For faith to be powerful, it must be more than simply a belief system. For faith to be powerful, it must be more than positive thinking, more than vague trust that life will get better. Such thinking has benefits, but faith is more.
For faith to be powerful, it must be directed to and connect us to God, Who is all-powerful. Faith does this and, by it, we participate in God’s power. Now, note that participation in God’s power does not mean taking ownership of it, and using it for our own purposes. Such participation is in the context of a love relationship, wherein we seek to be led by God, according to God’s wisdom.
God is love.
God is powerful.
God makes us of His power at the service of His love.
By faith, we are powerful to love.
In faith with you,
Fellow-pilgrim of faith
From the desk of the Rector