Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, the subject of our gospel readings for the last two Sundays at Mass and next Sunday’s readings as well, has been on my mind these days. The disciples’ complaints “We don’t have enough!” when they’re asked to feed the crowds echo the complaints of the Jews who journey through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. “We’re all dying of famine; at least in Egypt we had plenty to eat,” they say. (Ex. 16, 2-4)
The complaints aren’t only about food. They touch upon a deeper hunger for something beyond food and drink.
The psalms express that deeper hunger so beautifully. “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.” “My soul is thirsting for the Lord, when shall I see him face to face.” The same sentiment is there in the wonderful words of St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.”
Often, though, we’re looking for a more immediate god.
The flamboyant black evangelist “Rev. Ike,” who promised people they could get all the money they wanted through positive thinking, died July 28th in Los Angeles. “Close your eyes and see green,” he said, “Money up to your armpits, a roomful of money and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool.”
He wasn’t ready to wait. To the thousands crowding his United Church Science of Living Institute in Washington Heights, New York City, he would say: “How many here gave a $100 in the collection? Stand up for a blessing. How many $50? Stand up and get blessed. How many $20, $10, $5? How many gave nothing? You get a special blessing. Bring me something next week.”
“Change makes your minister nervous in the service,” he would tell his congregation. His own high life style exemplified the “gospel” he preached.
We may smile, but his pitch isn’t far off from what appeals to us. In a softer version we’re told to look for the gifts all around us, maybe not just money, but friends, health, family, love and so on.
But what then?
The Feast of the Transfiguration we celebrate today has it right:
“Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (Anastatius of Sinai)