My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
In His providence and care for our salvation the Lord constantly sets before us many and varied tables of spiritual instruction, and the divine voice of the Gospel summons all people to them. Those who are willing to receive, our Lord invites to a banquet, filling them generously and copiously with the good things set before them. In practice, however, there are few that respond to the invitation; few who make haste and come to the banquet of instruction and grace set forth by the Lord; and yet many are called, or rather, indeed, all are called, since the merciful Lord Who loves mankind calls all men to salvation on account of His goodness.
Yet few are found to heed this call of our Lord, few are found who take thought for their own salvation. This is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. And there is not a one of us who can excuse ourselves in this matter, either. We are each guilty of turning a deaf ear to the Lord, even if not chronically, nevertheless we do it. Out of carelessness and laziness we spurn blessings and opportunities of grace and do nothing at all concerning our salvation. Moreover, brethren, it requires neither pain nor labour nor the crossing of great distances for us to come to this spiritual table, nor are we compelled to bring money to buy what is beneficial; it is possible for anyone who so wishes to enjoy this spiritual banquet, without labour or pain, and to be counted worthy of gifts without payment. Yet even if we were required to pay with our labors and pains and possessions, it would still not be right for us to be “lazy and careless; (we should be willing) to do or endure anything for the sake of feeding our souls with divine bread and the blessing of Christ our God. Now nothing of the sort is required of us, but still we are neglectful, careless and resistant; hence by our sloth we are deprived of spiritual food.
But even those of us who have up to this time been lazy can still learn what is beneficial, what it blessed, what is of God, and we may, even at this late hour cast aside our habitual slothfulness and awaken the longing for the divine and saving food of instruction. Thus awakened, we, too, will wish to receive this grace with great diligence and faith, with fervent desire and limitless love.
And we, my friends, having come and gathered together with diligence and zeal, let us set the table of the Gospel today earnestly and purposefully, and let us call upon Him Who gives food to the hungry – the Lord our God – and let us fervently beseech Him to feed and satisfy our souls as He once fed and satisfied the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, as the universal herald and evangelist Saint Matthew proclaims today, saying:
At that time: Jesus saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.
Our Lord, having heard of the death of Saint John the Forerunner, had departed, as the Gospel tell us , “into a desert place apart.” The Almighty Lord departed on account of the murder of the Forerunner committed by Herod, and Herod’s intention to continue persecuting those who sought the way of the Lord. Thus our Lord did teach us that we need not always subject ourselves to trials openly. There are instances in which flight from danger is quite praiseworthy, indeed.
Our Lord, then, departed; He departed not into a city, but into a desert place, so that it would seem that no one would follow Him. Even so, the people did not withdraw from Him, but followed Him with great love; not even the death of the Forerunner John had frightened them away. And because the people showed such faith and followed Christ when He departed, they received the reward of their faith, the healing of their sick and infirm. It took great faith for them to follow Christ on foot and to endure so much without any food; therefore, the most merciful Lord was moved with compassion toward them and healed their sick.
And when it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now past: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals.
The Apostles, as merciful and loving disciples of Christ, Himself merciful Lover of mankind, show concern and solicitude towards the multitude of people, and do not wish them to go hungry; therefore, they entreat our Lord to dismiss the people, that they may buy food. The day had begun to wane, but the people yet remained with Christ, because their desire to hear Him overcame the pangs of hunger.
But Jesus said to them: They have no need to go, give you them to eat. They answered Him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes. He said to them: Bring them hither to Me. And when He had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed [them].
Our Lord wished to feed the multitude in a manner most wondrous, but He waited for others to give Him the occasion. Since the disciples were concerned and were seeking food for the people, our Lord said to them, Give you them to eat. He said this not because He was unaware of the Apostles’ poverty and privation, but in order that, when they responded with the very little that they had – a mere five loaves and two fishes – Our Lord would be seen to work a miracle out of what was brought and offered before Him, a miracle in which the Apostles, and indeed the entire multitude, co-operated with the Lord.
Our Lord did not simply say, I shall feed them, and then materialize all necessary foods and refreshement. Rather, He charged the disciples to give the multitudes food, so that when they declared their insufficiency, He might then accomplish His work to fill up what was lacking in their own meagreness and smallness.
When our Lord said to the disciples, Bring me the loaves hither, the Apostles obeyed with great diligence and prudence, since they knew the advantage and the value of hospitality, which Christ had already taught them. From this we also learn that, even if we have but little ourselves, we ought to distribute it hospitably to satisfy those in genuine need. The Apostles indeed had little, not even enough for themselves, yet they gave it all to the people.
The same can be said for us today, my friends. How often do we account as very little that which we have and that which we can offer? Yet our Lord bids us to bring forth what we have. And just as then a little was multiplied, so will the little that we have be multiplied by God’s blessing and grace.
The Lord seats the multitude on the grass, to teach us humility and simplicity, that we might not seek always to recline on fine beds and couches, but even on the earth.
Our Lord looks up to heaven and blesses the loaves to teach us and to show us that when we come to the table we should gratefully bless and thank God, Who gives us food; we should invoke a blessing from heaven upon ourselves and only then proceed to eat.
[He] brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments. And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Lord gave the loaves to His disciples both to allow them to be the distributors of all good things, and also that they might not forget the miracle at which their hands had ministered.
And they did all eat and were filled. Earlier the Lord had filled them with spiritual food, teaching them and speaking to them of the kingdom of God; now He fills them with physical food as well; but not only that. By having the people recline on the grass He teaches them the wisdom of humility; in giving them nothing other than bread and fish He guides them to abstinence, and by distributing the same to all He gives them a lesson in equality.
And they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. After the Lord had broken the five loaves, He gave them out, and the pieces were multiplied in the disciples’ hands; a wondrous miracle! The bread lasted until all the multitude had been filled, and even exceeded what was needed. There were twelve baskets full of fragments remaining, so that the twelve Apostles would each carry a basket.
Even Judas would carry one; he, however, being ungrateful and unjust, even having been a cooperator in the miracle, would ultimately betray the Lord. Let us take this as a sobering example that even those who may be offered great grace can, through ingratitude, come to a sad end.
The Lord also divided the fishes among the multitude, showing that He is the Creator of earth and sea, and from these also the Apostles gathered up left-overs. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children. This shows the great extent of the miracle, and the fact that the people followed Christ together with their wives and children is to their great credit. Since they came as families, whole families partook of the blessing.
Now, just as those people went out from their cities and followed the Lord Who had gone into the wilderness, let us, also, my friends, retire from the bustle of the world, refrain from its wicked and evil ways, and subjugate fleshly wisdom to the spirit.
If the people had not left their houses and cities and walked through the wilderness, they would not have received healing and health for their sick, and the blessing of the loaves and the fishes. In approaching so great a banquet, we also ought to display forethought, listen to spiritual instruction with great fervour, and run to the church of God. Let us with heart and soul, desire and volition, let us seek, yearn, labour and strive, that the Lord, Who gives food to all flesh give us food in due season, and deliver us from every evil, trial, wrath, and affliction; and in the age to come may grant us life everlasting.