To Eat or Not to Eat?

Passages: Is. 10:12-19; 2 Corinth. 2:12-3:3; Mk. 6:30-44
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. Ժ 12-19; Բ Կորնց. Բ 12- Գ 33; Մկ. Զ 30-44

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

There are very few things in this world the bring people together like food. Whether it is sitting around a dinner table with family, or spending time with friends and colleagues, most human interaction revolves around food. This weekend in the United States and Canada it is Labor Day weekend. For many people it marks the end of the summer season and the beginning of the latter part of the year. We celebrate with food! In fact, as we think about the latter part of the year and prepare for fall and winter we see countless advertisements about pumpkin spice latte’s, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving Turkey, and Christmas cookies. All food! When we ask our friends for help when we are moving or something else, we offer food as a reward. When we choose to travel the world, we think about the local cuisine. What are we going to eat? As the summer is ending and all our local Armenian Churches had their festivals; when we compare how it went, we always talk about how good the food was. We’ve spoken about this in the past, but food is even part of our vocabulary. In Armenian the word for friend is Unt Ger – the person you eat with. In English what do we say about food? You are what you eat.

Food is such an important and binding part of our lives, it is even part of our faith. Scripture is full of images such as the banquet table in Heaven, where we gather every Sunday and eat the bread of life, the body and blood of Christ Jesus, which brings us into Communion with God. When we pray, we ask God to “give us our daily bread.” In today’s Gospel of Mark we read of how Christ feeds the 5,000 with the miracle of the bread and fish. We all know this story very well and in fact, this story is so important that it is found in all 4 Gospels, something unique. But it is written in 2 different ways in the Gospel of Mark. Some say it is a repeat because of editorial mistakes while other scholars argue it was 2 separate events. Regardless, a story that appears in all the Gospels already tells us how important it is, and that it requires a careful reading and understanding. The reason it is so important to understand this passage carefully is because if we solely focus on the miracle of the food multiplying, we might wrongly focus on the physical food; something we do in our daily lives as well.  All too often, we focus on the physical food, the physical reward, the material without giving deeper thought to the spiritual and divine part. Whether we are gathering with friends, celebrate an event, attend the Church festivals, or even attend Church service, if all we do is focus on the physical, we fail because we give more importance to the physical and material rather than the spiritual.

In all the Gospel accounts of this miracle we read of how Christ tells the disciples to feed the hungry people. And we know how they say they don’t have much to offer, and so Christ takes what they have and multiplies it so abundantly that everyone eats and is satisfied.  We have heard many sermons about what this means. Yet, I wonder if we have paid attention to what precedes this miracle and Christ’s command to us. We read in the Matthew (14:14) “As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.” Mark (6:34) “As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Mark (8:1-2) “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them,“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days…” Luke (9:11) “When the crowds learned it, they followed him; and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.” John (6:3-4) “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” What stands out about all these readings? All of them show how Christ saw his followers, had compassion on them and began healing and teaching them. Even in the last one, when we read it was the feast of the Passover, the Jews had come to Jesus, a recognized Rabbi, to be taught. It is only then my dears we read of how Christ tells the disciples that the people need to be fed by them. So what do we understand?

My dear brothers and sisters, Christ calls all of us to Him through His Holy Communion. Christ Jesus came into this world, to love, heal, forgive all of us of our brokenness and dying on the Cross Christ Jesus gives us new life. We learn all this where? In the Church, through the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Church Fathers. But we also learn in the Church that we as Christian’s are called to then take this message of hope, love and resurrection to the rest of the world through our lives. As St. Paul says, to be a sweet fragrance. To be an example of God’s love through the life we live; in other words, to feed others. But first, this means that we need to be fed, not just physical food but spiritual. Meaning, we need to first open our hearts, our minds, repent and confess our sinfulness to God, and then after we have been fed, feed others. Sadly, for too many of us, just like our focus on physical food likewise, our focus remains mainly on the physical acts of “religion” like coming to Church or praying “give us our daily bread”, and thinking that this feeds our soul. Yet, we come to Church only to judge, to fulfill some sort of obligation, we pray just so we can tick it off on a to-do list, to show up and show off.  Yet, Christ saw and had compassion on those who followed Him; those who had a genuine desire not to show off but to be healed. Christ fed those who were hungry.

My dears, Christ first teaches and heals those who have gathered, God blesses us with what we need and does so abundantly and then teaches us how we should feed each others in turn. Meaning my dears, Christ provides us with the spiritual food, the spiritual nourishment that strengthens our faith and we in turn then provide both the spiritual but also physical food to the rest of the world. When we gather for labor day weekend or some other celebration the food doesn’t matter – it’s the time we spend with our loved ones. When we feed our friends who have helped us move, the food doesn’t matter – it’s the fact that we took time to help one another out. When we attend Church festivals, the food doesn’t matter – it is the community and coming together that is important. When we attend Church, what we wear, how educated we are, the color of our skin, our money or statues, our weakness and failures, our success and riches – none of this matters. It is our heart, and humility that God looks to and has compassion over. It is us that God calls to Himself, to feed us and strengthen us in order to send us out into world to feed others.

Yes, food my dears, is important. We all gather around our tables, share a meal, follow specific diets, try multicultural cuisines and break bread. This feeds our physical stomachs! Yet, Christ reminds us to not forget the spiritual, the divine that is fed, each time we confess our sins to God seeking His love; each time we stretch out a helping hand; each time we volunteer at a soup kitchen; each time we sit with a friend who is going through difficulties; each time we come together in Church to pray. Our soul is fed. It is interesting to think that eating food is one of the first sins that Adam and Eve committed by which Satan broke our communion with God and yet, it is through eating that Christ gives us an opportunity to come back into Communion with God the Father. This reveals to us that when we gather to eat, it is not the physical but the divine that gives us value, the love, hope and life in Christ Jesus which heals the world of its ailments. If we are what we eat, let us eat of God; let us take what we have been given and feed others who are hungry for more. And may the grace of the Holy Spirit reveal to us how God see us, teaches us, feeds us and calls each of us to serve and feed others, Amen!

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