I have compassion on the multitude
Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
READINGS BELOW: Romans vi. 19 & St. Mark viii. 1
Jesus had compassion on the multitude, and his compassion serves as an example for us. He wanted to feed those who had gathered to hear his Word. They had listened attentively for three days without eating -- perhaps so engrossed in the message of love and salvation that they had little or no desire to eat. What kind of a teacher was Jesus that 4,000 men would remain for three days without food transfixed on his words? The answer is obvious; he was God incarnate. His followers did not quite understand this, but they perceived that he was a man of God. They perceived also that he had a love and compassion for them that had not been seen in Israel before. Certainly the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests had not shown this kind of love to the people.
Jesus demonstrated his authority through miracles. On this occasion he fed the multitude from only seven loaves of bread. Seven is a key number because it represents perfection and completion. In this and on similar occasions where Jesus miraculously fed the multitudes, he provided a model for the Church's Communion of the Saints. It is a communion open to everyone who abides in Jesus. It is a supper where there is always more than enough for everyone - and all leave satisfied. It is a meal where Jesus himself feeds us. It is a gathering that acts to unify all those who share the meal. It represents the assembly of the all faithful Christians under one authority --- Jesus Christ. It is a mystery that endures through the ages.
The early Christians adopted the symbol of the one loaf to represent the Church and its Communion. Bread was the staple for the people. It represented subsistence and physical wellbeing. It was the staple for the Roman soldier as well, whose daily ration consisted of loaf of bread. I remember in my youth the commercials for Roman Meal Bread, and the image of the legionary saying that he could walk and fight all day on the one loaf. For the Church, the loaf symbolized spiritual subsistence. Through the symbolism of the loaf, the people recalled the Gospel feeding stories. The stories themselves conveyed the essential truth of the Gospel -- Jesus desires to feed us with that which will sustain us through eternity -- his Word and his Body and Blood in the Lord's Supper. Jesus said, "I am the living bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever" [Jn 6:51].
Throughout the Gospels there are stories of Jesus eating and teaching. Just as we physically require food daily, our communion with Christ and other faithful Christians provides us with spiritual sustenance. Our participation week by week on the Lord's Day, gathering to hear the Word, keeps our focus on the corporate nature of the Church and its worship. Our service includes the Word, praise in psalms and hymns, teaching, and for most Christians the Lord's Supper. Our gathering helps us to understand how we are interrelated. It represents the Communion of the Saints in a very physical way as millions of people in the Church Militant are fed at the Lord's Table. By feeding on him regularly, we are refreshed and renewed. As St. Paul said in today's epistle: "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The gift of God is freely given. It is given because of his great love and compassion for us. It is the love feast of the Lord, and represents life eternal and triumph over sin and death.
In following Jesus, we are called to compassion; that is our Christian duty. He asks us to treat each one as our neighbor - exercising forgiveness, mercy, and love. He calls us to be hospitable and considerate, especially of those who have the least. As we go forth, let us be alert to those who have need, and seek opportunities to serve God through our compassion for others. Amen
Romans vi. 19
I SPEAK after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
St. Mark viii. 1
IN those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.
Scripture from 1928 Book of Common Prayer
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