Pentecost 9 (B)
2 Samuel 11:1-15
“Man is what he eats.” This is how the Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann begins his meditation on the sacraments in his little book For the Life of the World. Today, our Gospel and Old Testament readings are all about eating, about hunger, about desire. Jesus, receiving the gift of five barley loaves and two fish, blessed them, and fed the multitude. And when all had had as much as they could eat, there was still an abundance left over for others. David, on the other hand, hungered for Bathsheba. David did not bless God in thanksgiving. David rather turned his eyes and his appetite toward what God had not given him. Although in truth David had everything, as soon as he desired fruit forbidden him to eat it was as though he was filled up with nothing: no longer blessed, but something lacking, a want, an appetite. Taking Bathsheba, David did not satiate his hunger. He created, rather, a vortex of scarcity. Since he could not share her with her husband, Uriah, David thus entered into what economists call ‘competition over a scarce resource.’ And David had his competition eliminated.
Did David lack wives? Did he want for concubines? Did God not bless him beyond what we would consider a rightful measure in these things? But as soon as he forgot to love God first, as soon as he forgot to put his love for God between him and what his eyes had widened for, David’s story inevitably leads in a direction opposite that of the Gospel. Instead of moving from modesty to unforeseeable abundance, David’s life falls from abundance into a confusion of lies, scarcity, violence, loss, and shame.
In For the Life of the World, Schmemann makes the Augustinian point that “Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him” (p.14). Now, our hunger can take what I like to think of as the way of delight, the way of Eucharist. This is the way Jesus demonstrates and recalls us to by the mystery of the feeding of the five thousand. But Jesus must recall us to this way of being because our hunger has taken us in another, opposite direction: the way of the Fall.
By Falling, Schmemann says, we mean:
not primarily that man ‘disobeys’ God; the sin is that he ceases to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceases to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God (p.18).
In other words, to Fall is to be primarily consumers of the world’s goods, rather than blessers of God for the goodness of the world. To Fall is to cut the blessing of the gift of creation off at ourselves. Falling, our love becomes a “closed circuit.” We seek satisfaction only of our own appetites. This way, the way of the Fall, as we saw with David, ultimately ends in a situation of lack – not abundance. That this is not merely a ‘spiritual’ concern comes home as we perceive that it is upon this situation of scarcity which our whole economic system is predicated.
But there is an alternative! An alternative given to us in Christ Jesus: the way of Eucharist – that is, the way of blessing, delight, thanksgiving.
Listen again to Schmemann:
the whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to bless God for the food and the life he receives from Him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing . . . the first, the basic definition of man is homo adorans . . . he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God – and by filling the world with this Eucharist, he transforms his life . . . into communion with God.
This is our calling, my brothers and sisters – our calling as the Church, our calling as human beings: to be the creature that blesses God in his creation. Our calling is to live the way of Eucharist.
When Jesus, looking over the crowd, turns to Philip and asks, “how are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat,” he is recalling Philip and all of us to this way of Eucharist. Saint Mark, in his version of the story, says Jesus “had compassion (on the people) . . . because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). In other words, they were hungry, but did not know where to find the food that they needed.
Jesus teaches them where to find the food they need by recalling them to the way of Eucharist. He looks and sees hunger all around him. But he does not say to the disciples, ‘don’t worry, I’ll provide everything.’ He asks rather, “Are you hungry? What have you got? Go out, discover the blessing with which you are blessed.” Andrew returns to him answering, “we are blessed with five barley loaves and two fish.” Then he adds, “but what are they among so many?” Andrew slips again into the pattern of fallen desire. Believing his hunger can be satisfied only from what he can provide himself, he sees this bread and fish only in terms of scarcity, competition. It’s not nearly enough!
But Jesus receives the bread and fish. He then models our purpose and calling as human beings, homo adorans: “Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks.” Thanks! He gave thanks – for what? This pittance? But where Andrew saw only next to nothing, scarcity, Jesus eyes were full of God. Jesus saw a gift, and in this gift the work of his Creator and Father. So he lifts up all he has received, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and has the disciples distribute the pieces among the people. And everyone has enough – more than enough. In fact, there is such an abundance of food that they gather up what remains to feed the hungry who are not there with them. There is enough – enough and more than enough – love more than enough for the whole world.
To live the Eucharist: that is the life which we are to witness. Our purpose is to love by blessing God and blessing the earth; to be the creature in whom the whole creation lifts its voice in praise. But rather than delighting in the gift laid at our feet, we covet what is not ours. If only we could eat what our neighbour eats – then we would be satisfied. But this is the great lie. By it we have fallen into a vortex of hunger, an endless appetite which we have pursued to the destruction of so much of the beauty and diversity of the world we were created to bless.
But there is an alternative! Every day and every week in this place, Jesus calls us to return to the life of Eucharist. We are to lift up to God the blessing we are given – including most especially our seemingly little, ineffectual love. We are to bring it and bless it in offering. When we do this, our little love is joined with God’s infinite love. And so bears fruit we cannot imagine – a hundred-fold, sixty-fold, or thirty-fold. Enough to feed us. More than enough. Enough to satisfy the hunger of the whole world.
In Jesus’ name.