I read two articles in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, both dealing with how America goes to war which I recommend others to read. As a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship I am interested in conversations in this country of political leadership which questions our over eagerness to plunge into war. As Philip Giraldi sardonically notes, “Washington insiders have only rarely seen a war that they didn’t like.” Questioning the way America goes to war means questioning how America funds it wars and supplies it warriers – for these become part of the profit motive of war in America, and congressional leaders always want these dollars to flow into their districts, so constantly need military activity to keep the money flowing. Even those who call for smaller government and less taxes find “supporting the troops” to be highly profitable for their districts and popular with their voters. Politicians know not to bite the hand that feeds them, and the military lobby feeds most of them.
Droning On by William Lind, director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, D.C., questions how effective the American military’s love for hi-tech and highly expensive weapons systems is when fighting a non-conventional war such as in Afghanistan. He compares the American war in Afghanistan to the fight between David (the insurgents) and Goliath (the well armed U.S.) and asks how many people in the last 3000 years have taken up cause with Goliath? Thus he says wars are not simply about using expensive technology, they also are about being morally right and winning over hearts and minds which he says America simply is not doing. The military he says loves expensive weapons systems because it keeps the money flowing into the Pentagon (and no doubt into congressmen’s districts as well).
War Without End: Gen Stan McChrystal and the Never Ending Conflict by Philip Giraldi of the American Conserative Defense Alliance argues that the new commander, the new plan in Afghanistan and the new administration are relying on the same old faulty ideas and persons who guided recent past administrations and thus continuing the same mistaken path about how in recent years America goes to war.
8th Sunday after Pentecost 2009 GOSPEL: Matthew 14:14-22
At that time when Jesus went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
This Gospel Lesson (Matthew 14:14-22) is a timely lesson for Christians today, for indeed we are exactly like the disciples in vs. 22 whom Christ has made to get into the boat and He has sent us “to the other side.” For we often sense that all the miracles and glorious things of God happened “over there” and “back then” while all we can do is tell people of the glorious and miraculous signs that Jesus did “over there.”
Why doesn’t He still do these things now? Why doesn’t He feed the 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread – homeless shelters and soup kitchens could use that kind of help today. Then they wouldn’t have to rely on donations, the generosity of the weary or grudging public, or on taxes which they hate paying even if the money goes for charity and works of compassion.
Chrysostom in the 4th Century in one of his sermons apparently faced a similar question, to which he said that in the days of old as recorded in Scriptures they needed miracles and signs because they didn’t have a clear knowledge of God. But he says to his flock that now “ordinary things shout aloud and declare the Lord.”
He points to anything that happens on a daily basis as being parts of the marvels and miracles of God for those who have eyes to see. Following Chrysostom’s logic, we today might point to the works and discoveries of science as revealing to us the marvelous universe of the Creator God. Just think about the photos of the Hubble Space Telescope revealing the mysteries of the vastness of a 14 billion year old universe. Or the discoveries of DNA and what that has revealed about the marvels of the unfolding of life on earth. Macroscopically and microscopically science reveals to us the marvels of the universe which we do not see revealed in our Scriptures. As the Akathist Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things,” has it, scientists are the new prophets of God revealing what God is doing in the universe.
So we stand on “the other side” not just of the Sea of Galilee, but across an ocean, and on the other side of history, where we can tell people about what Christ did “back then” and “over there” and marvel and give thanks. However Christ has stayed on the other side, and left us to be the heralds of His Kingdom, before He comes to join us.
Some will say but Christ and the Holy Spirit are still active in the world, and miracles happen daily as attested by saints and countless Christians. But the claims of God’s actions in the lives of believers is met with total skepticism by those who do not know God – the miracles seem lame, lacking real evidence, anecdotal, and not ending the real problems of the world which continue unabated except for what science does to deal with them.
The miracles of Christ as reported in the Gospel were all signs of the Kingdom of Heaven. They were intended to make people aware of this other reality, a life beyond this life and a Kingdom not of this world. Jesus did not feed 5000 daily. He did not open a free restaurant and distribute food to the hungry every day. In the Gospels there are only two references to Him performing such a miracle. This would tend to indicate that though He had miraculous – divine!- power, He used that power judiciously. He was not mostly a miracle worker as such miracles were done sparingly. They were used to give people a foretaste of “something other,” of heaven breaking into this world, of God’s Kingdom touching this earth, but not yet fully revealed. He was, however, the one in whom the the Kingdom of God had been united to the people of earth.
The crowds were satisfied with what Jesus gave them – the bread and the fish, at least. Would they have been so satisfied if all He gave them was a promise of a Kingdom which was not yet but was to come?
They did crucify Him in the end. A king with no army to conquer the world wasn’t all that attractive to them, as Isaiah had predicted (Isaiah 53). The bread and fish satisfied for a day, but when it wasn’t given to them daily, they had little use for the impoverished itinerant preacher of love and an upside down kingdom. Maybe that is why the disciples wanted Christ to send the crowds away – they wanted the Kingdom and its marvels, but they were uneasy about the crowd (for whom Jesus had only compassion) and how easily the crowd’s mood does change. It’s as easy for the crowd to crown as it is to crucify their king. Many an American politician has experienced that.
We who have been sent “to the other side” without the miraculous multiplying bread and fish, were sent to be witnesses (Greek: martyrs) of what Christ did long ago. We know the story. We know what it reveals. Are we willing to live accordingly? Are we willing to take the loaves and fishes, few as they may be, which we have received from God, to share with a hungry world? Our hands must not just be stretched out to God begging to receive blessings from Him. We are to stretch out our hands offering to the world what we have received from God.
The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away – they barely had enough nourishment, resources for themselves. Instead Jesus takes from the disciples what resources they did have and says, “the crowd doesn’t need to go away, you feed them.” Our task as disciples, our test of faith, is to see whether we are so willing to be completely and cheerfully generous with what we have been given to make sure the crowd knows the marvels of God’s love and sees the signs of His Kingdom breaking into their reality today. Our own hearts must be changed first, before we can expect the crowds to want to follow Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us Christians how we are to live in relationship to one another – in love and service to one another. No Christians are exempt from this way of life. All come to church, not supposedly to see what they can get out of it, but in order to imitate Christ – as the one who serves and looks to the interest of his/her neighbor before his/her own interest. Two quotes from the saints below about how they think we should be living if we are following the Gospel commands which Christ gave to us. The first by St. John of Kronstadt on “the Kingdom of love”:
Dislike, enmity, or hatred should be unknown amongst Christians even by name. How can dislike exist amongst Christians? Everywhere you see love, everywhere you breathe the fragrance of love. Our God is the God of love. His kingdom is the kingdom of love. From love to us He did not spare His only-begotten Son, but delivered Him up to die for our sakes, “to be the propitiation for our sins.” In your home you see love in those around, for they are sealed in baptism and chrism with the cross of love, and wear the cross; they also partake with you in church of the “supper of love.” In church there are everywhere symbols of love: crosses, the sign of the cross, the saints who were pleasing to God by their love to Him and to their neighbor, and Incarnate Love Itself. In heaven and upon earth everywhere there is love. It rests and rejoices the heart, like God, whist enmity kills the soul and the body. And you must show love, always and everywhere. How can you not love when everywhere you hear love preached, when only the destroyer of mankind, the devil, is eternal enmity!
The second quote is from St. John Chrysostom in which he offers us an ideal for the church. However, Christianity is not mostly about ideals, but rather about love incarnate. We are supposed to realize the ideals! Here is Chrysostom on the unity of the Church:
He [Christ] brings us into unity by means of many images…He is the Head, we are the body;…He is the Foundation, we the building; He the vine, we the branches; He the Bridegroom, we the bride; He the Shepherd, we the sheep; He is the Way, we they who walk therein; again, we are the temple, He the indweller (enoikos); He the First-begotten, we the brothers; He the Heir, we the co-heirs; He the Life, we the living; He the Resurrection, we those who rise; He the light, we the illuminated. All these things indicate unity; and they allow no void interval, not even the smallest. For he who removes himself but a little, will go on till he has become very distant.