8th SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 14: 14-22
For the first two weeks of August, we are in the Dormition Fast which leads to the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. “Dormition” means “falling asleep” and every year at this time we commemorate the end of the earthly life of the Mother of God, after which she followed her Son body and soul into the Kingdom of Heaven. We fast during this time just as we do in Lent, for we all need to humble ourselves and fight self-centred desires if we are to follow her example of complete obedience and receptivity to the Lord. During this period, we will pray the Paraklesis service to the Theotokos, for there is no better intercessor with the Son of God for us than His Mother. We need her prayers now especially, with so much violence and hatred around the world and so many who have health problems.
This Thursday we celebrate another great feast of the Church, the Transfiguration of our Lord. The eyes of Saints Peter, James, and John were opened on Mount Tabor to behold the divine glory of Christ as He shined with heavenly light. Of course, we want our spiritual eyes to be opened also so that we can know and experience the glory of the Lord as did those apostles on Mount Tabor. We want to be transfigured so that we will also shine with uncreated light, reflecting the brilliant holiness of our Saviour just as an iron left in the fire manifests the heat and light of the flames.
We must be careful, however, to resist the temptation of thinking that participating more fully in the life of Christ is simply a passive matter of asking Him for a miracle or otherwise to help us out according to our own preferences. In other words, we have to take responsibility for doing our part in actually obeying His commandments. The point is to become the kind of people who actually do His work in the world; it is certainly not to manipulate Him somehow into following our preferences. For example, in today’s gospel lesson the disciples understandably did not want to take responsibility for feeding thousands of hungry people. They asked Christ to send the people away to buy their own food, for they had collected only five loaves and two fish. But the Lord did not let them off the hook so easily. He told them to bring Him their few loaves and fish, which they did. Then the Saviour blessed the food, had the disciples distribute it, and everyone had more than enough to eat. I bet that the disciples were as shocked as everyone else at how well things turned out that day.
Notice that Jesus Christ required the apostles to bring the offering, to give what they had, and to take responsibility for their role in feeding the people. The very same thing is true for you and me. We are all tempted at times to ask the Lord for this or that, to solve a problem, or to get something done according to our own desires. We may think that we have done our part then; of course, there are some circumstances in life about which we can do little other than pray. But most of the challenges we face daily are not like that. What we think, say, and do really does matter; we need to grow in our ability to fulfil the role to which God calls us in the circumstances we face. To let ourselves off the hook by asking for God’s help and then continuing life as usual with no changes on our part is irresponsible and a sign that we view Him more as magician than as our Lord. We will never develop the spiritual eyes to behold the divine glory by living like that.
Jesus Christ fed thousands of people miraculously, but the disciples had to do their part of offering what little they could find for the meal. He required them to provide the material for the project, you might say. Imagine what the story would have been like had the disciples refused to bring the loaves and fish to Him. What if they had been offended at His command and walked away or simply did not follow through? What if they had decided to eat all the food themselves in place of bringing it to Him? Instead, they obeyed the command: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” And through their obedience, the Saviour worked a miracle that fed thousands of hungry people and fulfilled so much imagery from the Old Testament.
No, the disciples did not earn or deserve anything as a result of their obedience. But their obedience surely changed them at least a bit. It made them stronger spiritually and helped to solidify in them the good habit of doing what Christ said and offering what they had to Him. They got many things wrong during the time that they followed the Saviour during His earthly ministry, but that day they got it right and played their intended role in fulfilling God’s will for their lives.
Though our lives and circumstances are very different from theirs, we all need to become more like them in learning that the point of our faith is not to get Christ to do more of what we want Him to do. Instead, it is for us to gain the spiritual clarity and health both to recognize what He calls us to and then actually to carry it out. In order for that to happen, we must be transfigured or changed from people who basically want God to do our will into those who want to do God’s will. We want to become like the Theotokos in her simple, honest, and pure response to the Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” That was how she received Christ into her life in a truly miraculous way as His virgin mother: through humble obedience.
Each parish is blessed by those whose obedience includes giving of their time and talents to chant, to serve at the altar, to teach Sunday School, to offer their assistance in a variety of ways, and to attend services regularly, even when it is inconvenient and requires sacrifices. We all have the opportunity to offer our lives to Christ in humble obedience when we observe the Dormition Fast, pray and read the Bible daily, come to Confession, mend broken relationships with others, and refuse to worship the false gods of money, pleasure, and power that are so loved in our corrupt world. If we are not making a serious effort to offer our lives to the Saviour in obedience to His command, we really cannot expect to grow in our participation in His life or the joy of His kingdom.
In a sense, Christ says to each and every one of us: “You give them something to eat.” Everyone we encounter is hungry for the Bread of Life. Everyone needs to be fed. And we sometimes feel like idiots with our few loaves and fish in the face of such overwhelming need. Yes, we can refuse responsibility and tell God that it is all His business and we have better things to do. We do not want to go down that road, of course, for we know that it is a dead end. Far better to be like the disciples and offer our meagre resources to Him, trusting that He will do with them what we cannot. In ways that we cannot fathom, He will use us—and heal and transform us—to accomplish His glorious purposes for our parish, our neighbours, our families, our enemies, and for those at home and abroad who bear burdens far too heavy for anyone to bear. So in this busy season of the life of the Church, let us all be like the Theotokos and the disciples, offering ourselves to the Lord in humble obedience as best we can. At the end of the day, that is what it means to be a Christian.
Fr. Philip LeMasters