The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 14:14-22
For all the time that the disciples had spent with Our Lord Jesus, they were quite slow learners. Over and over again we see them thinking rational, human and worldly thoughts while the Lord is completely distinct in His thoughts, His goals, His motivations and His behavior.
After a long, tiring day dealing with many thousands of people including those who were very ill, the Sun set and everyone was tired and hungry. Most of us do not know hunger, we take food for granted. Food and water are the most important material needs. We are confused people. We think we need expensive toys and big televisions and cars with fancy symbols. We don’t. Materially speaking, we need food and water, shelter and clothing and in our day and age a means of transportation is also needed. These people were actually hungry and thirsty.
The disciples rightly recognized the need in front of them but they perceived the wrong solution. They thought in human, rational, worldly terms and neglected to seek the Master’s thoughts. I wonder how often we act similarly. In my life I do it every day. I see a need and I think of the human way, the common sense way of dealing with that need. What would happen if I held off on my own wisdom and went to Our Lord first, in prayer? No doubt, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are not our ways. Am I honest with myself? Do I ever ask God before I undertake any work or make any decision? We say “O Lord and Master of my life!” I wonder if we mean it with our whole being or only with our lips?
Next Our Lord Jesus Christ shares a powerful truth with the 12 disciples. When they ask Him to send the people away to get food, Our Lord replies “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Out of nothing but a few loaves and fish more than 10,000 people, maybe even 15 or 20,000 were fed. If this is true on the material, physical level. If it is true that God could feed the people through the disciples, imagine the spiritual implications! When the Lord ascended after the resurrection He sent the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, why? So that they would feed the people spiritually and multiply the work He had started!
In Scripture there is a plain meaning to the text and as we dig through the word of God we find that there are other symbolic and powerful lessons being taught. What was said to the disciples here regarding physical food is also symbolic of what Our Lord tells us regarding spiritual food. The modern man looks at all manner of problems and thinks of solutions that often separate people from God and from the nourishment that is offered only by the Church of the Living God. So let me give you a list of problems and we’ll see if we bring them before God or deal with them in human and worldly terms.
When someone has a marriage that is in trouble where do they usually go? Marriage counselor. Not only does the marriage counselor cost too much, but they often give awful advice that leads to divorce. What should have been a matter brought to the attention of the priest at the first sign of trouble, is given to outsiders who may not even respect the sacred bond of marriage. Or when our children are ill-behaved where do we go for help? Do we go straight to a therapist or psychiatrist? Do we ask questions before we agree to put children on strong prescriptions? Do we look to the Scriptures or the teaching of the Church regarding raising and disciplining children?
When we have our own mental or emotional issues, do we bring the issues to God in tears, or listen to the teachings of the Church regarding prayer and fasting, confession and communion? Or do we go straight to the doctor for a prescription. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with doctors or psychiatrists, but the problem is that they are the first answer instead of the last resort. Man is not merely a body of tissues with some chemical imbalances, Man is blessed with a soul that was breathed by God! The soul has a direct correlation to everything that happens to us and with the way that we feel and engage with the world around us. If we have soul problems, we are not at peace.
Orthodox Christianity is not a to-do list but Orthodox Christianity is a living encounter with Christ and that encounter means a change in our day to day decisions and behaviors as a result of this encounter with Him. The disciples were like us, they recognized the need in front of them but they perceived the wrong solution. They missed the important aspect of the situation even though He was literally staring them in the face! They neglected to bring the problem to the Lord.
When we’ve neglected the daily reading of Holy Scripture and the lives of the saints, when we’ve neglected to ask for spiritual disciplines from our priests, when we’ve neglected the life of silence and prayer for endless distractions, and when we’ve neglected the sacraments of the Church we feel hungry and we start to look at self-help books and charismatic churches and strange religions. In all of this the Lord says to us “You need not go away, the Church will give you something to eat.” My brothers and sisters, we are like these people who were in a deserted place. We are in a spiritually deserted place and we are hungry and tired and thirsty.
The Lord showed the disciples that to leave Him was to leave the source of food Himself! That would be crazy. That would be like leaving a spring of fresh water to go to the store and buy bottled water. It would likewise be crazy for us to leave the source of spiritual nourishment for lesser nourishment. God loves you, why should you run to other places? Why should I sit back and leave the sheep in the hands of wolves? He is merciful and He’s given us the Church as a house of prayer and as St. John Chrysostom says “A spiritual hospital.” Come here first. Not only when there is trouble, but daily and throughout your lives. Come to the Christ and His Church and you will be like this multitude who experienced first-hand the mercy of Our redeemer. We are told that “they all ate and were satisfied.” May the Lord satisfy your every hunger! And Glory be to God forever AMEN.