When the 4000 men together with their wives and children went out into the wilderness, they were not exercising their rights. Rights are within the realm of power and threats. Rights also have to do with justice. But our understanding of justice is that a justice is about what is fair for me or what is fair for you.
But these 4000 men with their wives and children went out seeking the justice of God. They are hungry and thirsting after His justice. His righteousness.
The justice of God is not about treating us fairly. The justice of God has to do with mercy. The justice of God has to do with the Just One was crucified for our benefit. The justice of God has to do with compassion and kindness.
So, compassion and kindness is what these people are seeking. In fact, it was compassion and kindness, it was mercy—God’s mercy—that drove them out of their cities into a desolate place where they had no shade from the sun, no speakers to hear better, nothing of comfort whatsoever. For three days, listening to Christ, and having Him heal their sick, listening to His word—that’s what drew the crowd out. They yearned to hear what He had to say. And they understood that He was speaking about not some broad concept of kindness. Rather, He was planting himself into their ears.
That is the justice of God.
Planting Himself into our ears, into our hearts, into our minds, into our very being—that produced in this multitude such great satisfaction that they did not even realize that they were hungry. They did not even realize that they had gone without food. And the touch of Christ, to heal the wounds of the sick, was no different than the words of Christ, to heal the wounds in their hearts.
That’s what these people were seeking—a gift from God. They were not demanding rights, but rather desiring this gift that exceeds all of our expectations, that is beyond anything that we could imagine.
Our holy father Gregory the Great describes it this way. When we seek the things that satisfy our body; when we wish to gratify our sexual urges; when we wish to grab with both hands and hold tightly to the things that we think we must have; when we wish to exercise control and power over certain circumstances and with certain people—then we might be satisfied for a while. But after a while the body will rebel. The body will rebel especially in terms of quantity. And it will rebel the more we feed our disordered passions. And it will rebel in such a way that we will want to do nothing more than push ourselves away from the table.
Instead, let us seek those things which satisfy the soul. For when it comes to the things that God provides for us; when it comes to those things which really sink down deeply not just into our hearts and minds, but even into the marrow of our souls; when it comes to these spiritual gifts given by Our Lord God—then we yearn for more yet without being bloated; and we hunger yet without ever overindulging.
In fact, the more that we experience the joys of the kingdom of heaven; the more we experienced holiness in Christ Himself; the more we experience God’s love and God’s body given to us in the place—the more our desire increase for these holy gifts increases. And our spirit does not repel them as our body does when we overindulge. As we receive more and more from God, our appetite increases, and we desire more.
This is what happened with those 4000 men, together with their wives and children. They desired more and more to the point that they forgot their physical desires and only focused on their spiritual desires.
Jesus, being the Just One, of course also understood that he needed to feed their bodies. So He gave them the gift of a few loaves of bread and a few fish. That was able to supply enough so that they could continue receiving the spiritual satisfaction from Him.
But in giving that gift, He also gave something to us: glimpse and foretaste and looking forward to what we receive here in this place. For what they received was bread and fish. What we receive his God’s body and blood. What they received satisfied the body for a moment. What we receive satisfies the soul. They received a little bit in order to stave off momentary death. We receive the Eucharistic gift which gets us through death into the life of the world to come.
They went out into the wilderness to receive Christ. We come here to do the same.
Sermon for Pentecost VI
19 July 2020