Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13), 2020.
It is always important when reflecting on the Gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, as well as by Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John, that these authoritative accounts of Our Lord only began to be distributed some two, three, or four decades after the Day of Pentecost. Saint Paul’s epistles, which record his own apostolic preaching primarily about community life in and around the Cross and Sacraments, were written first, then the Gospel accounts. And what the four Gospel accounts capture are four traditions of apostolic preaching, less about sacramental community life, but about the words, deeds, and episodes in the of Jesus Christ. That is, we have the Matthew tradition, the Mark tradition, the Luke tradition, and the John tradition of those words, deeds, and episodes.
Very early on the Church decided, through guidance given by the Holy Spirit, that no fewer than these four accounts can give the full picture of Our Lord as He was preached by the Apostles. The four Gospel accounts, then, are apostolic preaching over several decades, always by the Light of the Cross, guided by the Holy Spirit, but also mediated by Scripture (what is called the Old Testament) and, it must be added, memory. For the early Church, starting in the Upper Room after the Ascension, the presence—the I Am-ness of Jesus—was made real and manifest through the prayerful process of scripturally mediated memory taught to the 120 Upper Room apostles by Our Lord Himself during that first Eastertide season. The threefold life of the Church that gestated in the Upper Room and was revealed on Pentecost is how the Church uses her scripturally mediated memory to be in communion with unfathomable mystery of God—adoring the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Son.
It was an unfathomable mystery of the feeding of multitudes that the apostles preached about. All four evangelists recorded such an episode—therefore we can be sure that this miracle was a clear historical basis. What it looked like to be there—that is, if someone had a video camera to record the event—neither you, nor I, nor anyone in the Church can say, which is precisely Our Lord’s intent. Our only access to the episode is the description recorded by the evangelists, today by S. Matthew, and the tradition of apostolic preaching based upon the active ferment of scripturally mediated memory.
And the mystery of it all is not only God’s abundant grace in the moment of the miraculous feeding, but how at the same time Our Lord declares the harmony of this miracle with the mysteries of ancient times. For despite a constantly presumptuous and stiff neck that refused to obey God’s commandments, God was always ready to forgive, gracious and merciful to the children of Israel under Moses. Despite having committed great blasphemies, they were not forsaken in the wilderness—the Holy Spirit of Christ was always given them for instruction, manna from heaven was never withheld from their mouth, and water from rock was always given them for their thirst.
This is why Saint Paul so emphatically teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—whether tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or any peril, nothing can separate us from God’s ability to bestow His nourishing and sustaining grace. Despite our stubbornness, despite our stiff necks, despite our hardened hearts that so often forget God, distrust God, and fail to call upon His Holy Name in the adventures and ordinary days of our lives, and as a result fashion idols in place of Him, God is always willing to feed with the bread of angels those who turn to him with meek heart and due reverence to the maker of all things, visible and invisible. This speaks directly to reason why Sunday worship is a true obligation: without this worship, we are not fed by God, and as a result fashion idols in our life to replace that feeding, as important to our spiritual life as air is to our mortal life. We crave the heavenly bread, and when we turn to God, God in His immense wisdom and love sees fit that all eat, and that all are well-filled.