Sunday, July 31, 2005

Proper 13A: Take, bless, break, give

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds…”

There are four key words in today’s gospel reading: Take, bless, break, give. Four simple, one syllable words. Four words we have all used and will use many times in our lives. You have probably already realized that they are also four of the key words in the Eucharistic prayer. When I consecrate the bread and wine at the altar, I will remind you that Jesus took bread and gave thanks. In Hebrew to bless and to give thanks are virtually the same thing. And that after he had given thanks and blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to his friends.

Take, bless, break, give. Four ordinary words. When Jesus fed the five thousand and later when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, why didn’t he do something elaborate, something memorable, something that would have attracted attention? Why didn’t he wave his hands or swirl the air with a magic wand? Why didn’t he say a long, complicated formula – something in Persian or some other difficult and relatively unknown language? Why didn’t he make people do something special before they could receive the bread, like handstands or somersaults? Instead, he just took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. Just like that. Nothing special at all.

C.S. Lewis says somewhere that the gospels have the ring of truth about them because they are so ordinary. Of course, Jesus performs miracles but as miracles go, his are not all that dramatic. Rather, his miracles are … His miracles do not run counter to nature; they enhance nature. Think, for example, of the water that became wine. St. Augustine pointed out that water is always becoming wine; Jesus just speeded up the process. Or take any of the healing miracles. Even without divine intervention our bodies are engineered so that they heal themselves most of the time.

There are four canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – but there are other non-canonical gospels. The difference between the canonical and non-canonical gospels is vast. In the non-canonical gospels the boy Jesus turns his playmates into birds, he has a cherry tree bow down so that his mother can pluck the fruit. The Jesus of the canonical gospels is someone you can imagine having a conversation with; the Jesus of the non-canonical gospels is someone you would see on a stage in Las Vegas!

The extraordinary thing about Jesus is his ordinariness. God took human flesh and came among us not as a king, nor a warrior, nor a wealthy merchant but as a simple, ORDINARY peasant. A man who took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his friends hundreds of times in his life.

First and foremost, the gospel asks us to be faithful in ordinary things. The gospel asks us to be thankful for our food and clothing; it asks us to love our neighbor, that is the person in need whose path crosses ours, and most of the time that is the person in our own families.

The most extraordinary thing that the gospel tells us is that if you want to meet God, you do not need to cross rivers and oceans and climbs high mountains; the gospel tells us that God meets us right here in the ordinary, simple, and commonplace. That God is here in the bread and wine, in the hearts and lives of the persons seated around you, that God is here in your own heart.
Someone has pointed out that it would be more accurate to call the story the division of the loaves, rather than the multiplication.... This may seem to be a distinction without a difference, since the important point is that everyone gets fed, but there is a significant contrast: multiplying the loaves suggests just a change in quantity, whereas dividing the loaves implies a change in quality. Jesus makes do with what is a hand. Blessed and broken, touched by the power of God, it is these specific loaves which are now able to feed the multitude. Jesus doesn’t need to clone more loaves; rather, in breaking open the bread he brings forth as no one else could the possibilities and capabilities hidden in the depths of what is already there. And so of course he does with us as well. He breaks us open so that we have the capacity to be, and to do, far more than we otherwise could. He transforms us by making us more fully ourselves, by revealing that identity of which we ourselves are not fully are, the unique, unduplicatable way in which each of us is called to the image of God." (From "Model homily," Good News 26 (8): 274 (Liturgical Publications Inc., 2875 South James Drive, New Berlin WI 53151), 1999. Quoted by the Rev. Jerry Fuller in his sermon for Ordinary 18, Year A.)