Emerson Ave. Baptist Church
3 August, 2014
St. Ignatius of Loyola created a method of prayer that engages imagination. In this way of praying we are invited into the story of Scripture. We are encouraged to let ourselves become fully immersed in the Good News of the Gospel. As we enter into the story, we are to ask what does it look like, what does it sound like, feel like, smell like, taste like – Just as Jesus is God in the Flesh – this method of prayer invites us into the story as flesh and blood. And as we encounter the story – we begin to encounter Jesus and begin to have a conversation with him. I use this method of prayer a lot. It helps me become closer to the Divine. This morning, for the sermon, I am sharing a story that came from engaging the Holy Word this way. The story is called Full Baskets.
I was sitting there in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Not sure how I got there because it was me – 21st century me, there in first century Palestine. The synagogue was not a fancy place, in fact it was literally a hole in the way with an awning – a sun-faded brown awning jutting about about 15 feet with wooden posts holding it up. There were mats on the ground. They dry and dusty ground and it was all men. I just sat there and listened as the prophets were being read – It was Isaiah. The prophet was telling us that we were to come and buy wine and milk – even though we have no money. He was telling us to eat what was good and to delight in the rich foods. Isaiah spoke of an everlasting covenant with the people of David and that that covenant would one day extend to all people. The rabbi told us that these words from the prophet were spoken to the exiles in Babylon. Those who were now in a pit of despair. Into that pit came these words of the prophet – words of ultimate triumph.
Words that were cut short when the local pharisees walked into the synagogue and began to challenge a quiet man sitting the corner. I hadn’t noticed him before, but once I saw him – I could not take my eyes off of him. He was a little larger than the rest of the people in the synagogue, but that wasn’t what made him stand out. It was that he seemed so connected to the earth. Grounded. The space he occupied was – I don’t know – sacred? Hallowed. There was something about his presence that let one know that this was a special person. And his eyes. Dark, deep, in them I could see all time and space.
These pharisees, though, began to challenge him. Taunting him with a man I noticed when I came in. This man must have had a stroke or something. His left hand was for all intents and purposes dead. Just bones covered in flesh. The tips of the fingers were turning black and gangrenous. They almost looked like the fingers of a mummy. Like the the blood flow had long ago been cut off, and now they were a dried riverbed – cracked and parched. They brought the man in front of the stranger. These pharisees knew something about the stranger that the rest of us didn’t and they asked him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Instead of being struck dumb like most of us are when we are asked a trick question – the stranger got a crooked smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. Almost like he was waiting for such a question. He responded by asking them if one of their lambs fell down a cavern on the Sabbath, would they not climb down to save it – or would they leave it until tomorrow, “How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep!” he said, “So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he told the man with the withered hand to stick it out and when he did, it was fully restored.
Then, I knew who this man was. My eyes were opened and I saw Jesus. I saw, King of Glory, but the son of humanity – reaching out and bringing God to the broken. And then Jesus got up and left the synagogue, and as he did about 30 of us joined him and began to follow him. We walked from town to town, watching him heal – doing that which he did to the man with the withered hand a thousand times over. We saw as he exorcised a man full of demons and reacted with horror as the pharisees accused him of being of the devil for being able to control demons.
For several weeks we walked the Galilean sea side. I saw how horrible life was for those who were the dogs of the Roman empire. I saw who they were referred to as fools by both the occupying forces of Rome and their own religious rulers. That seems to me to be some of the reason they hated Jesus so much – he was disrupting their view of the Galileans. He was humanizing them and beginning to give them the power the elites did not want them to have.
I saw how the priestly class – installed by the puppet King Herod, lorded all of the wealth and political power that would have given the people a sense of being for themselves. I reminded me of how powerful the corporate entities of today have become. With the money to buy our elections they are able to write laws that benefit their bottom line at the expense of those without the money. The same economic slavery that many of us are experiencing today was going on there in the homeland of Jesus.
And it wasn’t just the priestly class. It was the occupying force of Rome that continued to perpetuate a pogrom of the poor. Their system of patronage where they would provide for your well being if you obeyed them, and even the slightest infraction would lead drastic consequences. I saw fathers pulled from homes because they owed their patrons money they did not have. The weeping of children rattled my bones as they were separated from their parents to become slaves far from home. My blood ran cold as I watched the innocent slaughter of livestock and the burning of fields. All in an attempt to keep the Peace.
There in the land of our ancestors of faith, I had a hard time differentiating between then and now. I felt hopeless – the more things change the more the stay the same, I thought.
Those who were with me were following Jesus with the fervor of refugees release from pharaoh’s bondgae. Unlike the ancient Hebrews, though, they followed with a faith that was rooted in what they were experiencing. Through their tears and aching hunger. Through their punishing poverty, they saw something.
Within weeks there were thousands following him. Probably close to 10,000 – that includes about 5,000 men and then their wives and children. Families were uprooted and were following Jesus. He seemed to be about to start a revolution. SOme were talking of war – speaking of usurping the Roman Eagle. There were rumors of wars. Some were talking of a takeover of the temple – flushing out the puppet regime and reinstating the Levitical line. There was energy. There was hope. There was a fighting spirit.
A new day was on the horizon when the news came. At first we did not know what was going on, but then a buzz started up near where Jesus was and eventually the news made its way to us. Jesus’ cousin John had been killed by Herod. John had been preaching a message of repentance from one’s sins – he had been attracting crowds. He had been perceived as a threat – all these things that Jesus was now doing. Both of these men were speaking of something bigger that the temple and more powerful that Rome. And the mood of zealotry shifted to that of sorrow, fear, grief. A dark cloud cast its ominous shadow over those gathered; and the waves began to stir on the shore of the sea.
Jesus, began to retreat. Where was he going? Why was he leaving us now? Now that we needed him more than ever. Where was he going? It didn’t dawn on us at the time that he may have been trying to grieve the loss of his cousin. We were only thinking about our needs. As we always seem to do. When things seem to not be going our way – we start to look for easy answers. We look to ourselves to take care of the problems. The dark cloud that covered us there begins to encase our hearts. We miss carrying the hurt in others because the hurt in us is so heavy. As always it becomes all about us.
When Jesus began to retreat the crowd rushed to follow him, somehow I ended up near the front of the crowd. Suddenly Jesus turned around and I feared that we would be on the receiving end of a Divine Talking-to. That we would endure the wrath of a father who is scolding his sons for fighting. But when he turned around, there wasn’t rage or anger in his face. No, it was beautiful. His eyes were full of compassion. For many of us, this was the first time we had ever experienced this. When he looked at us – at me – the cloud around my heart rose. I sensed a peace so profound that it is hard to explain. It was like that moment when you come out of the water after holding your breath for as long as you can. It was that first inhalation of new, clean, life giving air. The oxygen refills the blood, and even your fingertips feel the tingle of revival. That is what it was like when the eyes of compassion touched my heart.
I could see the complex emotions in his face – the grief of loss was still there, he always was so human, but so too was a sense of Holy Peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding.
The sun was beginning to set and some of the disciples came to him to tell him to send us away so we could find food. The last thing the Romans would want was a 10,000 hungry peasants gathered in one place. It was a tinderbox for riots. It had happened before in Sepphoris. After the death of the current Herod’s father, Herod the Great, tired of being hungry and hungry for a new order a rebellion rose in the town of Sepphoris; quickly though it was quashed by the Imperial army and 2,000 of the citizens of the town were taken to Jerusalem and lined up along the road entering town and crucified. It was a real life horror story that did its job to strike fear into the hearts of the people – The disciples knew this and did not want anything like that to happen here. They wanted to send us away, but Jesus replied to their request – “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
The disciples were dumbfounded. “All we have are five loaves and two fish. We can’t feed them.”
“Bring them to me.”
I don’t know if he was talking about the loaves and the fishes or the people, but he looked toward heaven and prayed and like a mustard seed exploding into a tree which holds the birds, there was food. Lots of it. I don’t know what happened or how it happened, but he took fish from the baskets and loaves of bread – leaven bread, and kept handing them to the disciples who hand them to us and we just kept passing in on back. We took the blessing Jesus had given us and passed it along, and it just kept going. In the midst of our hunger. In the middle of our fear. In the heart beat our our grief. In the instant of our doubt. In the silence our our questioning – Jesus looks on this gathered crowd. This crowd of sinners and doubter. This crowd of poor and oppressed. Elderly and young. Able bodied and feeble. Healthy and ill. This motley crew of where when I look around the crowd I see each of you. Gathered there – receiving the blessing of the God of Compassion. The God who came to be present with us in Jesus. Jesus who in his own grief, still has compassion for us and gives to us the bread of life. Who care for our needs. Sees our pain. Knows our cries.
Jesus sees us with compassion, not pity, but compassion that transforms into blessing. That feeds us and sustains us. Nourishes out and renews us. Fills us so much that we have leftovers to share. Full baskets of leftovers. Leftovers that don’t go bad, but renew and revive. Jesus turns around and sees us. Sees us with eyes of compassion. Sees us and feeds us.
Thanks be to God.