Friday, April 16, 2010

God leads us towards a greater and fuller understanding of ourselves, of life, faith, and our vocation (Friday, 2nd Week of Easter, John 6:1-15)

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he as performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.

* * * * * * * *

Every gospel has an account of the multiplication of the loaves. Matthew and Mark have two in fact: one in which Jesus feeds four thousand, the other five. Luke and John only have one account, recording five thousand people fed.

Of all the accounts, though, John’s is unique. After having asked Philip where they could get food to feed all the people, John adds an editorial line in verse six:
“He said this to test Philip, because he already knew what he was going to do”.

In the three other gospels, Jesus is reported as having asked a real question: “Where are we going to get food?” In John he is made to ask something like a trick question that was meant to test Philip, because Jesus already knew beforehand that he was going to multiply the loaves and fish.

What does this difference in John tell us? The early Christian church’s understanding of Jesus wasn’t stagnant. Nor was it complete from the very beginning. Instead, it grew, evolved and matured, such that by the time John’s gospel was being written—towards the end of the first century—the early church had a far greater and deeper understanding of Jesus’ divinity and power.

In John, he is presented as being able to read people’s minds and predict their reactions. In John, unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is far greater sense of the fact that Jesus is not simply human, but truly divine.

One of the things that has always moved and amazed me during year-end evaluations is the realization of the tremendous growth that takes place in the lives of seminarians. It’s a growth—in two, threee, or four years that’s a result of God’s grace and a young man’s openness, docility, and humility before God, and patience with himself.

For the past 12 years now, I’ve seen young men who came to seminary—excited, anxious, even nervous, some with goofy and strange ideas, or even not-so-pleasant attitudes—leave as mature, confident, humble, and hopeful persons who are ever-more willing to be led by God into a deeper awareness of themselves, of life, faith, and their calling.

The story of the church’s growth, and its gradual deepening of its understanding of Jesus, mirrors our own. God leads us, always towards a greater and fuller understanding of things.

To those of you here today who are looking forward to leaving us soon: be grateful, be confident. God will continue to guide you: whether as a priest or as a faithful layperson. To those who have yet to journey with us: continue being open, willing, docile, humble, and patient. Just as the Spirit led the early church to a fuller understanding of things, so will he lead you to a fuller understanding of yourself and your vocation.

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love him”, Paul tells us. Trust, have confidence, be patient, and believe. God has great things in store for you.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)