In the narrative of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, presented today in the Gospel Reading, taken from Luke 9: 10-17, we can observe how the many thousands of people who were following Christ found themselves in a deserted place in the evening with nothing to eat. The disciples become ever so concerned with the multitude of people and their need for food. So, they asked Christ to tell the people to go away and get food and drink in the nearest town before the sun set. Christ’s reply to this request is interesting and should be noted. He tells them, “You give them something to eat.” It is my inference, here, that Christ was challenging the disciples, putting them in an impossible position, because they had no way of getting food (enough for everyone).
St. Silouan the Athonite, a contemporary saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, writes that there are two thoughts that can destroy a Christian:
Thought 1: when a person thinks that he or she is not a sinner, or that the person becomes prideful about his or her spiritual life or spiritual accomplishments
Thought 2: when a person thinks that God will NOT accept him or her due to sin or that God will not forgive them.
St. Silouan’s words are insightful in that it provides for the Orthodox Christian a view of two spiritual perspectives. The first is someone who relies on his or her own efforts as a means to salvation. The second is someone who ends up in a state of hopelessness. The latter is what I want to focus on for today’s message.
In the Gospel Reading today we hear that Christ sends his disciples out two by two to preach the Good News, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers and heal the sick. Continuing on he gives his disciples a warning, coupled with good advice; that is, that they are going out to the towns and countryside as “lambs” among “wolves.” Christ says this because he knows the difficulties and challenges his disciples will face, dealing with other people and the circumstances they will face. These other people are the wolves who will try to deceive and cunningly attempt to destroy the ministry of his disciples. So, in turn, Christ tells them to be “wise” as serpents and “innocent” as doves. Different translations of the Bible use “prudent” “cunning” and “shrewd” as words synonymous with “wise.” Whatever word has used the meaning of the context remains the same: be smart about who you deal with and what situations you get involved in, but at the same time be “innocent” or “harmless” toward those same people.
In the Gospel Reading today we hear Jesus say to his followers, “You seek me because you have seen the signs…” (John 6: 26) In other words, Jesus is telling his massive following, who goes where he goes, and listen to his preaching, that if he did not perform miracles, they would stop following him. Conversely, he is saying the only reason why they are following him or showing “loyalty” (a special attachment toward someone or something) toward him is because they are getting something out of it—the signs and miracles. Meaning, they are not “accepting” Jesus for Jesus but for what he can provide for them.
As we celebrate the day of Pentecost, which occurred two thousand plus years ago to the beloved Disciples of Christ, we are reminded in the Gospel reading today that we are the branches and Christ is the vine and God the Father is the vinedresser. (St. John 15: 1) As residents of this area, we are not necessarily aware of plants that have vines. We are however more accustomed to seeing trees and its branches. If we were to travel to California or a Mediterranean country we would see grapevines with its branches in abundances. Observing more closely, we would see that the vine is strong yet flexible, a thick stem that has branches, which yields its fruit.