Vol I No. 7

Sermon Lent IV

by William J. Martin



But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

(Gal. iv. 26)

At the very beginning of Lent Jesus said to his disciples, Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) We began our journey at Christ’s command. Long journeys are hard work, and this Lenten journey is no short trip. For nearly some seven weeks Christians are invited to walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Walking to Jerusalem is what our lives are all about. We walk with Jesus in order to see how he conquers the temptations of Satan and triumphs over sin for us. We walk with Jesus to discover that, like the woman of Canaan, we are more like dogs than men, aliens and exiles to God’s promises, and yet wholly hanging upon crumbs that fall from His table. So we learn to become humble and obedient and to persist in the reception of Jesus’ mercy and healing. As dogs, we learn also that we are, more often than not, dumb and mute, incapable of comprehending and articulating God’s Word and will in our lives until His inward Grace liberates our spiritual senses.

Our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus up to Jerusalem, (St. Matthew xx. 18) will not be easy. We learn much about ourselves on this journey, and so we become spiritually exhausted. We grow weary, peckish, and perhaps even a bit chapfallen. Lenten fasting and abstinence do that to a person. At times we become distracted and even lose our way. The pull and tug of certain temptations may well have been overcome, but seven other demons worse than ourselves threaten to consume us. (St. Matthew xii. 45) Satan realizes that he is losing our spirits, and so he attacks our bodies with renewed vigor through the elements of this world. (Galatians iv. 3) We have the best of intentions and yet feel ourselves the children of the proverbial Hagar, the bond woman –mother of an earthly bastard child. We do want to become free men, children of promise, and followers of Jesus, who go up to Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Galatians iv. 26) And yet it seems the more we try that further back we fall.

So today Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church, provide us with what we need. Today is Dominica Refectionis –Refreshment Sunday. It is also called Mothering Sunday: the day on which Mother Church asks us to sit down and rest awhile, to receive faithfully the spiritual food which will enable us to soldier on so that our fasting and praying, reading Scripture, and following Jesus Christ will not be in vain. Today we are asked to stop and rest awhile and to contemplate Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Ibid) So we read that Jesus went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. (St. John vi. 3) Jesus bids us come with Him to the mountain of His holiness so that He might strengthen us for our continuing Lenten journey. He knows that we are in danger of spiritual languor and listlessness. So He intends to provide us with that spiritual food which will give us dogged and dauntless determination to press on.…Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) St. John Chrysostom tells us that Jesus calls us up to rest at intervals from the tumults and confusion of common life. For solitude is a thing meet for the study of wisdom. And often doth He go up alone into a mountain, and spend the night there, and pray, to teach us that the man who will come most near to God must be free from all disturbance, and must seek times and places clear of confusion. (St.J.C.: Sermon…)

And so we must sit down, listen, and trust. And yet in Lent, worn out as we are, when asked by Jesus, Whence shall we buy bread that [all] these may eat? (St. John vi. 5), our minds jump back to earthly solutions to earthly problems. Jesus asks this question this morning to prove Philip, for he himself knew what he would do. (St. John vi. 6) Jesus intends to enlarge and deepen Philip’s faith. Philip has seen the finger of God at work in the miracles that Jesus has performed. Will he believe that Jesus can provide food that no man can find or afford and that can satisfy far more than the physical hunger of a paltry five thousand? What measure of faith does Philip have? Philip answers, as most of us would, as one in bondage to the elements of this world and their measuring rod. He responds that even two-hundred penny worth is not enough for this crowd. (St. John vi. 7) Philip is thinking in earthly terms and thus calculates the monetary cost of feeding the hungry thousands. Too many people, too little money, he conjectures. So Jesus intends to make outward and visible the smallness or poverty of Philip’s faith. His faith should have been in process of enlarging and expanding because the same Jesus who made water into wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee would surely be able to feed the hungry multitude. His faith should have seen too that if Christ has asked whence shall we buy bread, that Christ intended to include Himself in procuring the solution. His faith should have trusted finally that Christ alone, whom Philip has already acknowledged as Messiah –Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write (St. John i. 45), is always prepared and able to feed His people with what earthly mammon can never purchase.

Philip’s faith is small and weak because of what they do not have. Andrew’s faith is small and weak because of what they do have. There is a young lad who hath five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they among so many? (St. John vi. 9) As Philip’s faith was overcome by too much, Andrew’s was constrained by too little. To offer so little to so many could only stand to mock them, Andrew thought.

True faith can often be destroyed because we conclude that we never have enough or we complain about having too little.  Jesus tells us to sit down, listen, and trust. He asks us to remember that we are going up to Jerusalem, that we are dogs eating from the crumbs that fall from His table, and that we must not only hear the Word of God but keep it. Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. The disciples obey the Master, though as yet they have nothing to set before the guests. Nature serves her Master and so affords Him and his guests a plush, green carpet of cushioned grass. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. Before we make us of God’s gifts to us, we must give thanks. What He gives to us is more than sufficient to satisfy our hunger. Jesus asks us to entrust our wellbeing to Him as we travel up to the Jerusalem of our salvation. Five loaves and two fishes will feed five thousand. Tiny morsels, fragments, or crumbs that combine with God’s Word will always be sufficient to fill hungry souls. Andrew’s poverty becomes Philip’s plenty. Something small becomes something great. The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field. (St. Matthew xiii. 31)

Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (Ibid, 32) Jesus says, gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) Faith is fed with such spiritual plenty that fragments remain from Christ’s feast –twelve baskets full to feed twelve Apostles and the multitudes in the world that they will convert. Those who think that Jesus Christ comes to satisfy only earthly hunger are in bondage to the elements of this world. (Gal. iv. 3) They are the children of Hagar. They are like Christians who pursue earthly needs and wants to the detriment of their souls. Their faith rests in earthly things and does not enlarge to embrace Christ’s true desire for man. To them nothing remains of Christ’s desire to feed the faith of their souls. But faith’s sustenance is food for men wayfaring. As St. Hilary suggests, The substance [of the five barley loaves and two fishes] progressively increases. (The Passing of the Law: St. Hilary of Poitiers) And as Archbishop Trench says, So we have here a visible symbol of that love which exhausts not itself by loving, but after all its outgoings upon others, multiplies in an ongoing multiplying which is always found in true giving…. (Par’s. p. 213) Christ does not exhaust His loving power merely in provisions for the needs of the flesh. His love intends always to expand and enlarge that faith that will follow Him up to Jerusalem which is above, and is free. (Gal. iv. 26)

Therefore the Apostles gathered the fragments together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. (St. John vi. 13) St. Augustine tells us that the fragments that remained were the parts that the people could not yet eat. (Tr. xxiv. 6) They were not yet strong enough to eat this spiritual food. However, Jesus says, if you follow me, you will desire to eat of these fragments that remain. In the fragments that remain are hidden gifts of mystic meaning. In the fragments are contained the more of God’s food, which Jesus will give to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Jesus always provides more and better food to those who follow Him in faith. Faith sees that the more than the multitude can eat is Spirit and is Truth. Within fragments and crumbs of earthly food is the spiritual power of the loving Lord who alone can deliver man to salvation. There is more to be seen, grasped, and ingested of this Giver and His gifts, but not until the eyes of faith are opened and the believer’s heart is softened. Let us then gather up the fragments that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) We will need them, for remember, behold we go up to Jerusalem, and mere earthly fare will never feed and sustain a faith that seeks to behold and plumb the depths of that love that never stops giving. Amen.