This is a Lonely Place: On the 8th Sunday of Matthew

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 29, 2012

Matthew 14:14-22 (8th Sunday of Matthew)

Fr. Antony Portrait
Photo Courtesy of Photographer Eric Limon

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I have always wondered about how Jesus responds to the disciples here when they report that there is not enough for the enormous crowd to eat. They advise the Lord to send the people away to forage for themselves.

Jesus says something that seems to make no sense. “No, rather, you give them something to eat!”

Odd. They certainly did not have enough to give them and not enough money to buy food to feed so many. 

It reminds me of the time the disciples were unable to heal the epileptic boy. Jesus gets annoyed and says, “How long am I to deal with you?” He was frustrated that they lacked the faith to do what the Lord seems to consider natural, simple, even easy.

In another place he says, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The implied answer is no, he won’t.

I have to wonder about us. The faith we publicly proclaim is so cosmic, but our personal faith is so small!  We believe in a God who is not only everywhere, but in every place!  Do we really believe that to be true?

I am just speculating here, but science has discovered that the heart, and not just the mind, is a center of consciousness. There is a whole new science now called neuro-cardiology that studies this. Amazing! We are also told these days by other branches of science that, contrary to what was once believed, all matter is, in and of itself, a center of consciousness! Yes, every atom!

It is mind-boggling, even strange, to think about such things, that everything could be endowed with consciousness!  But to the eyes of faith, specifically our Orthodox faith, is not the least bit surprising to hear this. If God is in all things, and he is the very Source and Center of consciousness, well there is the answer of faith. His presence in everything is the source.

This makes me wonder something else. If it is true that we live and move and have our being in God, why is it that we live as if we don’t?  Maybe we forget or maybe we don’t think deeply about it often enough.

We are like the fish who asks, “Sir, can you help me find the ocean, please?” Or the fish in the lake who says, “I am thirsty!”  How can a fish be thirsty? It can if it cannot see the water it lives in. We are like that.

We are in God like fish swimming in an ocean of divine love, and yet we don’t see it.  Eyes to see and cannot see. Ears to hear and cannot hear.

I think we don’t see God because we have fixed ideas about how he is supposed to look. If I cannot see him it means that there is something wrong with my perception. If we cannot hear him, perhaps it is because we think we know what God is supposed to be saying and how he is supposed to sound. Maybe God looks different than we thought and is saying something different than we suppose. Perhaps we need to just look and listen instead of imposing our desires on his goodness. Or maybe it is because we need to learn his language.

Isaac of Syria says that the language of the world to come is silence, thus the language of God is silence. How do we learn languages? We listen and we imitate what we hear. That is the role of the practice of silence. We listen to God’s language, his silence, and we imitate it as faithfully as we can. Then we can recognize his voice when we hear it. We will have learned his language.

If the disciples had seen God clearly before their very eyes, then they would not have had a single doubt that the All-Compassionate One would see to the needs of the crowd and, yes, somehow, they themselves would have been able to do what he asked of them.

But I often ask myself, “If God is so compassionate, how is it that some people die of hunger.” The answer lies in his commandment to the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” They die because we do not obey. The answer to hunger is, in the words of the Dalai Lama, simply this, “Share.”

Perhaps I am crazy here. But remember, Jesus said something about this when the disciples were unable to cure the epileptic boy. “Why could we not cast it out?” they asked. Jesus replied, “O ye of little faith. How long am I to put up with you? Bring him to me.” The faith that we need to have is that he is present. That is enough.

Yet, he does find faith on earth. He does!  The Centurion and the Syro-Phoenician Woman for example. These two who were willing to place themselves at his mercy and to go with the flow of things. The Centurion with his great faith, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed.”  The Syro-Phoenician Woman with her amazing, selfless response, “Even the dogs eat the scraps from under the Master’s table.”

There it is!  These faithful ones had relinquished the need to be in control. They were fearless in their approach to him. They knew him and they knew themselves. They placed themselves courageously in his hands ready to accept whatever result, but they knew, that they knew, that they knew Jesus would hear them and have compassion.

If we truly had the faith we proclaim, we would be at peace in all circumstances, we would fear nothing, desire nothing. We would not feel the anxious need to control or manipulate anything or anyone. Every delay in an answer to our prayers would be seen as necessary, every silence from him planned and executed perfectly and lovingly. We would know, simply know that even in the loneliest places he would feed us and care for us in a way that was the very best and most wonderful.