I would like us to think about the disciples and how they responded to the command of the Lord in this passage from the Gospel. Our Lord Jesus had pointed out the need to them. There was a great crowd of people and they were soon going to be very hungry and need some food. The disciples responded to the need as best they could.
What was to be done?
Our Lord Jesus already knew what he would do. But the disciples had not asked him what his plan was. He stepped forward and told the disciples to make the people sit down. What did the disciples think? What matters more is what they did. They obeyed. They left things in the hands of Jesus, and with faith and an expectation that he would once more take care of a problem that was beyond them, they started to ask everybody to sit down.
We have read what happened. The Lord took the loaves and the fishes, gave thanks for them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute, and miraculously all were fed. This miracle took place because the disciples realised that their own plans were not providing a solution to their problem. They needed to allow Jesus to step into the situation and reveal his own plan. It was our Lord who had pointed out the problem, there was no doubt that he saw the need, even before the disciples. But when the Lord made the need known the disciples had acted as if their own plans and ideas could solve it.
What was needed was both to allow Jesus to act in this situation, and for the people to sit down and wait for Christ himself to act. We can imagine that as the disciples saw the crowd beginning to take their places on the grass, they would have discovered within themselves that confidence to believe that it would be alright after all, because Jesus was there, and it seemed he was about to work out his own plan according to his own will.
Very often we face difficulties and obstacles of many kinds. In our personal lives, in our church communities, at home and at work. Perhaps we are busy developing all manner of plans and ideas to solve these problems. Perhaps having developed them we take them to Christ and ask for his blessing, or to share with him our frustration that they seem not to be able to fix the difficulty we face. Without taking away that proper responsibility we have, I do believe and have experienced myself, that very often what is required of us, especially when no obvious solution is available, is to wait for the Lord to act and reveal his own will.
When we take our own place on the grass and recognise that our own plans are not necessarily God’s will, then we can wait in peace and with patience to see what he will do. The disciples had seen the Lord perform other miracles. And we have already in our own lives, seen God provide for us in many different and difficult circumstances.
We can share their faith in the Lord. We can also sit down and wait when we have no answer, and even when we think we have the answers to our problems. We can wait for a moment and see what Christ will do. This can be our prayer. When faced with difficulties and testing circumstances. We may pray, Lord Jesus Christ, make known your own will in this situation. Grant me patience and peace that I might wait for an understanding of your own purpose in faith and hope. Open the way that I should go in accordance with your own path for my life.
There is a blessing in such an attitude and practice. There is peace in waiting for the revelation of God’s will, when our own plans have failed. And there is peace in waiting for the revelation of God’s will when we are already sure that we know what we want to do. Make them all sit down, he said. Wait for me to act, for the blessing of all. Have faith and let me provide where it seems there is no provision.
May the Lord teach us to have such faith in all that we face. So that in waiting for his will and way to be revealed we might find peace and patience, hope and an expectation of the manifestation of God’s mercy and love.
Scripture – Matthew 14
1 At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptiser. He is risen from the dead. That is why these powers work in him.” 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 For John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 When he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced amongst them and pleased Herod. 7 Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she should ask. 8 She, being prompted by her mother, said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptiser.” 9 The king was grieved, but for the sake of his oaths and of those who sat at the table with him, he commanded it to be given, 10 and he sent and beheaded John in the prison. 11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the young lady; and she brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came, took the body, and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place apart. When the multitudes heard it, they followed him on foot from the cities. 14 Jesus went out, and he saw a great multitude. He had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 When evening had come, his disciples came to him, saying, “This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 They told him, “We only have here five loaves and two fish.” 18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. 20 They all ate and were filled. They took up twelve baskets full of that which remained left over from the broken pieces. 21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, in addition to women and children. 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 After he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray. When evening had come, he was there alone. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, distressed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. 25 In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It’s a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Cheer up! It is I! † Don’t be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waters.” 29 He said, “Come!” Peter stepped down from the boat and walked on the waters to come to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got up into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Those who were in the boat came and worshipped him, saying, “You are truly the Son of God!” 34 When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 When the people of that place recognised him, they sent into all that surrounding region and brought to him all who were sick; 36 and they begged him that they might just touch the fringe‡ of his garment. As many as touched it were made whole.
From the Fathers
John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.)
We see him on many occasions “departing.” We see this when John was imprisoned and killed and when the Jews heard that he was making more disciples. For it was his will to live his life in an ordinary rhythm of interaction and solitude. … But note how the disciples of John had by now become more attached to Jesus. For it was they who told him of the event. They in fact had left everything and taken refuge in John. In their calamity Jesus makes provision for them, and in doing so he does them no small benevolence.
… The crowds do not withdraw from him. They try to follow him, as if riveted to him. Not even John’s tragic end diverted or frightened them. So great a thing is earnest desire, so great a thing is love, that it overcomes and dispels all dangers.
[There are two aspects in this commentary by St John Chrysostom. The first is to note that the Lord Jesus himself had a rythym about his life made up of times of withdrawal and times of engagement. As man, while remaining God, it was necessary for him to renew his humanity in times of quiet and with the Father. How much more is this necessary for us. We do ourselves harm when we do not find time apart.
But he also speaks about the power of love to push on through difficulties and fears. This also is necessary for us. In the search for union with God in the path of Discipleship, it is our increasing love for God, and the experience of the love of God, which keeps leading us onwards.]
In the next phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, we read and pray, lead us not into temptation. We should never imagine that God tempts people to evil, or wills that we should be tempted to evil. Nor does this phrase only have to do with temptation to personal sin. It also has in view the idea of trials and difficulties. It is sometimes translated as do not allow us to face hard testing.
God will always provide a means for us to overcome temptation and to remain faithful in every difficulty. But we should be clear and careful in making this phrase part of our earnest prayer with warmth and attention. On the one hand, it recognises that we are easily led into temptation by Satan and easily fall into sin. We need the strength and grace of God which we ask for here if we are to resist. But we also often face difficult circumstances that can lead us to fall into despair or doubt. This phrase also encourages us, each day, to both recognise that we should always pray to be preserved from such situations, but also that each day we must pray to be preserved in such situations.
1. Be sure to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and evening, with warmth and attention.
2. Prayerfully read Psalm 1 in the morning. This is part of the traditional Coptic Orthodox prayers of the morning.
3. Pray the Jesus Prayer in the morning and evening. Prayerfully repeat the words of the prayer to 25 times in the morning or evening.
4. Read the Gospel again carefully, and listen for the words that come alive by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Write this in your notebook and reflect on them through the day.
5. Do not forget to pray for those on your intercession list in the morning and evening, with warmth of heart and attention.
6. Pray Psalm 134 again in the evening. Here are the words once more,
Behold, bless the Lord,
All you servants of the Lord,
Who by night stand in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,
And bless the Lord.
The Lord who made heaven and earth
Bless you from Zion!
Turning for the last time to the teaching of St Cyril of Alexandria on Baptism. These words were given to those who had just been baptised. He says,
After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, no longer sees, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in the descent, as in the night, you saw nothing, but in ascending again you were as in the day. And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother.
All of the teaching of St Cyril shows very clearly that the Orthodox Church continues to teach and practice baptism in the same way as the first Christians. Those who wish to receive the new birth are baptised by immersion, by going into the waters, and at the same moment, as St Cyril says, you were dying and being born. It is in the waters of baptism, and not only by faith, that we receive the death of the old self, separated from God, and the new birth, in union with God, which is what salvation really means. It is God himself who instructs us to receive new life in this way, and in the sacrament of baptism in the Orthodox Church it is not so much about what we are doing for God, rather it is all about what God does for us.