“Give them some food yourselves.”

In Luke 9:11-17 is the story of Jesus’ amazing miracle of the five loaves and two fish. But there’s a big lesson attached to this story, too.

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,
and he healed those who needed to be cured.
As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”
They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”
Now the men there numbered about five thousand.
Then he said to his disciples,
“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.”
They did so and made them all sit down.
Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
They all ate and were satisfied.
And when the leftover fragments were picked up,
they filled twelve wicker baskets.

This is a story about one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, creating a feast for the multitudes out of five loaves of bread and two fish. We all know it. But there is more to this story than the miracle, as wonderful as that miracle is.

Here are Jesus and the twelve disciples preaching to the five thousand in a deserted place, when it’s suddenly time to find food and lodging. The disciples want to turn the crowd loose to fend for themselves. No, Jesus points out, “Give them some food yourself.” You can imagine how taken aback the disciples must have been. Feed these five thousand from what little we have? I suppose we could leave this deserted place and go try to buy food for five thousand ourselves. But Jesus knows better.  He has told them before they can move mountains if they just have faith.

Jesus has the disciples organize the throng into manageable groups, then He takes the little food they have, blesses it, and then breaks it up for distribution. Voila. He not only creates enough to satisfy the hunger of all those men, He creates a surplus, enough to fill twelve wicker baskets!

What strikes me about this reading besides the awesome miracle is the lesson of service to others. This wasn’t Jesus showing off his power. This was Jesus having compassion for five thousand hungry fellow humans stuck in a deserted place and “moving mountains” to solve the problem. Imagine the logistics of five thousand people hitting the small villages in a deserted area looking for food and lodging. This wasn’t a time of mass production of food. And it was likely later in the day, so there was no 24-hour food mart open — open air markets were likely closed by that time of day. How many of those thousands would have gone without food? What kind of chaos would that have created in those small communities? Instead, Jesus with open heart worked a major miracle and took care of His flock.

We live in a time in which the hard of heart think we should let people fend for themselves. That those who don’t think ahead or don’t have the resources to care for themselves should be left behind. But by His example, in stories like in today’s reading, Jesus says no, it is our duty to help each other. And with faith in God, it is possible even under impossible seeming conditions to meet every need, to even provide a surplus. When we see a need, Jesus command is, “Give them some food yourselves.”

“Call him.”

Today’s reading from Mark 10:46-52 teaches us about our role in helping others and our role in addressing God for our needs.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

I’ve read a few commentaries about this reading. One in particular struck me that remarked on Jesus’ call to Bartimeaus to tell Him what he wanted, God wanting to hear from us what it is that we want.

But what struck me was how the crowd was ignoring the plight of Bartimeaus, telling him to be silent. We see echoes of that today with the marginalization of the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the weak. People often lack compassion or sympathy, even empathy. They call those in need lazy or unworthy of help.

Jesus has always championed the marginalized and those that others disregard. He always spent time with the poor, the sick, the widows, the orphans, and the sinners. And here in this reading, Jesus stops where He is going. Instead of going over to Bartimeaus, Jesus tells the others, “Call him.” He commands the crowd to recognize this needy man, to interact with him instead of marginalizing him.

And so with the encouragement now of the crowd, Bartimeaus leaps up from the side of the road and approaches Jesus. Jesus then asks Bartimeaus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It was probably pretty obvious to Jesus, but Jesus wanted Bartimeaus to ask in His name, for whatever we ask in Jesus name will be given us. That is, whatever is truly worthy.

Bartimeaus had faith in Jesus and asked, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus healed him, saying, “Your faith has saved you.”

So two important lessons jump out at me. First, Jesus engaging the crowd in the plight of the downtrodden, the weak, the disabled, the ill, saying it isn’t just up to God to care for these least among us but up to us as well. Second, Jesus engaging the blind man, saying ask and it will be given you — then delivering. That encourages us to dialog with God when we are in need and have faith that he hears us and will answer us.

Love is seeing a need and filling it. Love is not waiting for God to solve the world’s problems, but taking action in God’s name. Love is trusting God to help us in our need and asking in His name. Love is being grateful to God and following Him on the way.

And remember, Love is the Most Important Commandment!

“For men it is impossible, but not for God”

In Mark 10:17-27, we have the story of the wealthy man who kept all the commandments save one.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.

He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”

On the surface, this story of the man who kept the commandments but couldn’t give up his wealth might seem to be about how hard it is for the wealthy to get into heaven. Clearly, Jesus loved the man’s eagerness to please God. And there is no indication that Jesus stopped loving the man though the man left torn over the idea of giving away his possessions. In fact, we never find out whether he indeed ever sold them and gave the proceeds to the poor.

But I think there’s more to this story than what appears on the surface. This isn’t just about the tendency of the wealthy to hold onto their wealth. Note that Jesus doesn’t just tell the man to sell his wealth and give it to the poor. He also tells the man to follow Him.

I continue to refer to Jesus’ answer to the scribes and pharisees who when they asked Jesus what was the most important commandment responded that it was to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. And it may be that this is what is at the heart of this story in Mark.

The man loved God enough to keep the commandments, but when it came time to sell off his possessions and follow Jesus, that’s apparently where his love ended. And when it came time to love his neighbor, the idea of selling his possessions and giving them to the poor – still his neighbors – that’s where his love ended.

The man was more in love with his wealth, his possessions, than he was in love with God and his neighbors. And that is why it is so hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. God allows us to have wealth. He may even give us wealth as a gift to share with others. When we act counter to His intentions, we show disrespect or disregard for Him. We show Him a lack of love. Where our treasure is, that is where our hearts are, as Jesus says elsewhere.

The disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus responded that it’s impossible for man but it’s not impossible for God. Everything is possible with God. And what are we to make of that? Does that mean we can ignore the whole thing about loving God and loving one another and sharing God’s gifts with each other — that it doesn’t matter if the wealthy have a hard time getting to heaven? No! It means we need to turn all things over to God, who loves us, and all things will come to us. It means give up our earthly attachments and love God and one another as God commands and all other things will come to pass. Be with God, in whom all things are possible.

God is love. It’s a pure love. He loved a man who got the letter of the law right but missed the intent of the law. I have no doubt that Jesus continued to love that man though that man failed to immediately respond to Jesus’ teaching. And perhaps what we don’t know from this reading is that the man eventually responded to Jesus’ love and sold off his possessions, gave them to the poor, and followed Jesus, even if not as a close disciple. And in that way, in God all things are possible.

It may indeed be hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, then, but it is not impossible.

 

“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”

Our world today is full of fear and hate and intolerance. So Mark 10:13-16 has special significance. If we can learn to have the faith of children, there may be hope for the world.

People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,
for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”
Then he embraced the children and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.

The faith of children is simple. The younger, the simpler. It isn’t until children become older that they begin to learn through the fear and intolerance and hatred of others to lose sight of Jesus’ simple message of love. It’s then that their faith becomes twisted.

A young child believes that Jesus loves them. “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” They see pictures of Jesus sitting gently with children. They embrace that gentle love.

And so Jesus’ message is quite clear here. Not only was He instructing His disciples to not impede the access of children to His love and care. He was also instructing the rest of us to open our hearts to Him and to others as do children.

The world is full of charlatans who would have us fear God instead of love Him. It is full of people who would have us fear one another instead of love one another as ourselves. But nowhere does Jesus teach us to fear the Father or fear one another. In fact, Jesus tells us to love God and love one another as the most important commandments. And that’s what children do: They love God and they love one another, with open innocent hearts.

“Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it,” says Jesus. “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” We really must stop fearing and hating if we expect to enter the Kingdom of God. We must emulate the hearts of young children, whom Jesus loved and embraced and blessed.

“He will give you another Advocate to be with you always”

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the day the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon us all. This reading is from John 14:15-16,23-26.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”

Pope Francis had a beautiful reflection in his celebration of this day. I hope you will read it.

As for me, what I am inspired to reflect on this day is the part of today’s reading that says, “and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,” and then farther down the page, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

Jesus was to ascend into heaven, but God wouldn’t leave us alone and without help. The Father gave us the Holy Spirit as our advocate to be with us always and to guide us. He inspires us, He informs us, He teaches us, He reminds us. Each of us.

Open your self to God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is there for you through the love of the Father and the Son. Then open your self to the Father and the Son that they may dwell in you. Then love God with of your heart and all of your mind and all of your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, for those are the commandments Jesus gave us.

If we all lived by Jesus’ commandments His peace would be with us, all of us. Peace be with you.

“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do”

Today we explore John 14:6-14 and the meaning of doing God’s work.

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”

Whenever I reflect on the Gospels, I look for something that jumps out at me, something that moves me in an usual way. Sometimes one thing stirs me. Sometimes it’s a couple of things. In this reading, it’s three things.

First, it’s Jesus saying, “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.” Second, it’s Jesus sayings, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.” And third, it’s Jesus saying, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”

The lessons in this reading are multi-fold.

Jesus reassures his disciples that he is one with the Father. It’s the Father dwelling in Him and acting through Him, doing His works. With Jesus’ appearance in the world, God seems to have switched from His focus on acting from on high, setting rules and laws for the Jews and acting against the rest of humanity to save the Jews, to now embracing all of humanity and doing so in a direct and personal way.  Through Jesus, the Father is personally touching the lives of every one of us.

And if we believe in Jesus, we should be doing as Jesus does. And what does Jesus do? He heals. He feeds. He restores. He forgives. He engages even the most downcast among us. He gives up the opportunity to judge and condemn. He sacrifices. He teaches. He loves.

Finally, Jesus promises us that when we are in need He will provide, if we ask in His name.

But this isn’t just Jesus speaking. Remember, Jesus said, “The Father who dwells in me is doing his work.” So God as the Father and the Son are acting together here, providing for us and caring for us. All of us. And He would like us to carry on His work healing one another, feeding one another, restoring one another, forgiving one another, engaging each other even the most downcast among us, refusing to judge or condemn one another, teaching each other, sacrificing for one another, and most important – loving one another. In Jesus’ name.

Sometimes we are tempted to ask, where is God when horrible things happen? God is there in our hearts urging us to intervene to do his good work. If we believe in Jesus, we should do the works he does.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word”

Do you love Jesus? Today’s reading from John 14:23-29 gives us a couple of hints into what it means to love Jesus. It’s more than saying you’re saved or doing acts of penance.

Jesus said to his disciples:
Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

Two things speak to me in this reading.

The first is the part I have used as a headline and italicized: “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” It is followed by: “and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling in him.” It is a call to listen to Jesus and heed His message with the result that the Son and the Father will be present in you.

The second is equally striking: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” It goes on to say: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Some would have this mean that Jesus gives a different kind of peace, but you could also read it to mean that He gives you a permanent peace, not one that is given then taken away, or one that is given with strings attached.

Jesus is one full of love. He often says that he is one with the Father, so as Jesus is full of love so is the Father, and as the Father is full of love so is Jesus. When we listen to Jesus, when we read His word – His full word, not some homogenized or subtexted form of it – and heed His word, when we take it into our hearts and take it into the world by our actions, the Father and Jesus will love us and dwell in us.

When the Father and the Son are present in us, they bring us peace. What kind of peace? Freedom from strife? Perhaps. But more likely the peace of love, the peace of forgiveness, the peace of hope, the peace of assurance, the peace of grace, the peace of knowing that there will be a place for us in His kingdom. If you have read the Gospels and felt a gentleness, a stillness, a lightness and a wellness in your soul, that too is the peace of Christ.

When we are troubled, we worry. We are anxious. Reading Jesus’ words can be calming. Can be reassuring. Knowing Jesus and the Father hear our hearts and our souls in angst can help bring peace to us. Imagine the Apostles hearing Jesus the Christ foretelling of the days to come of His crucifixion and death. They are confused and unsettled. But He tells them He brings them peace. They trust Him. So must we trust Him and thus receive His peace. And thus keep his word. And that is love.