Sunday, July 30, 2017: 8th Sunday of Matthew; Silas, Silvan, Crescens, Epenetus and Andronicus the Apostles of the 70, Julitta of Caesaria
Think about this for a moment.
How serious must the situation in Corinth have been that the Apostle Paul was grateful to God for not baptizing people? Paul’s comment in this morning’s epistle is reminiscent of what Jesus says about Judas:
The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24, NKJV).
Better, Jesus says, that Judas had never been born than that he betray the Son of God. Likewise, better say St Paul, that he never baptize someone–that he never exercised his apostolic ministry–than that the sacrament becomes the excuse for division in the Church.
Compare this to what we see in the Gospel.
There are gathered around Jesus “ five thousand men, besides women and children,” all of them tired, all of them hungry. And yet, while it was clear that there wasn’t nearly enough food to feed all of them–”only five loaves here and two fish”–everyone sit quietly on the grass and wait patiently to have their meal.
The difference between these two scenes could not be more stark. In Corinth, the faithful–clergy as well as laity–take their eyes off Jesus while the “great throng” in the Gospel doesn’t.
In Corinth, the faithful are divided against each other because they have lost sight of Jesus Christ while the “great throng” are able to lay aside the concerns of the body because they treasure in their hearts the Word of God.
What should especially concern us, however, is the way in which for the Corinthians the things of God become the cause of their estrangement from Christ and each other,
How does this happen? How do I become so separated from Christ that like the Christians in Corinth even the sacraments become, if I may dare put it this way, the occasion of my fall?
St Augustine (Sermon CIII) says “But you, St Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace.” The bishop of Hippo goes on to say that while Martha’s work in caring for Jesus was “admittedly a holy one” it was not something that would last.
Rather, he asks her to consider whether “when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarreling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?”
However important, and even essential, are the things we do in this life we need to remember that “there will be none of these tasks” in the Kingdom of God. Rather like what Martha we “will find there is what Mary chose.” In the Kingdom of God “we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed” by Jesus Christ the Word of God.
And so Augustine concludes “what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness.”
And just after Jesus fed the multitude the disciples gather the leftovers, in her life Mary gathered the “fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, ‘Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.’”
No matter how wonderful the grace we are given in this life, it is still only a foretaste of what is to come. What God gives us in this life, He gives to inspire in us a holy hunger and desire to eat and drink with Him in His Kingdom.
Listen to what Jesus tells His disciples when He catches them squabbling over who is the greatest among them:
…he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:26-30, NKJV)
Even that which is best in this life is only an invitation to the Kingdom. When we forget this we can turn even the things of God into weapons.
And we use these weapons not simply against others but ourselves. Who among us hasn’t been made to feel ashamed by someone’s appeal to the Gospel or the tradition of the Church?
And who among us has not tried to shame another in the same way?
And who among us, having been hurt in this way or having hurt another in this way hasn’t experienced a deep wound?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us imitate the “great throng, and wait patiently for Jesus to act in our lives.
Let us imitate Mary and set at Jesus’ feet listening to Him so that, unlike Martha, we not become anxious and distracted by our many cares but instead comforted and strengthened by what God says to us (see Luke 10:38-42).
And let us finally, imitate the Most Holy Theotokos who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (see Luke 2:19).