On Saturday morning as I was getting up I heard on the radio an advert for broadband. If you contract with this particular company there will never be an occasion when you will find you’ve used up your allocation – no matter how many films and music files you download, or photos, data, texts – you will never breach the limit because there is no limit. I remember some months ago there was a furore because adverts of this sort seemed to be misleading – the providers were saying you had unlimited access, or ‘all you could eat’, but the contract did specify a limit, and the ‘unlimited access’ was only avaiable up to the limit. That doesn’t sound unlimited to me, but it seems that the Advertising Standards Agency had approved these adverts. So I did wonder whether the same was true of the one I heard yesterday morning. As is often the case, the advert did end with someone speaking so quickly that I couldn’t hear what was said – so there must at least have been some ‘terms and conditions apply’!
What a contrast we have with the passage from St. John’s Gospel which we have heard today. A multitude of people followed Our Lord, impressed by the signs he gave by healing people. We might think that such generosity would be quite enough for the time being, but Our Lord sets about feeding them as well – and offering far more than is needed, so that, at the end, twelve baskests full of the scraps are collected after the people have eaten all they wanted.
Unfortunately, although the people were quick to accept Our Lord’s generosity, it seems that they were much slower in understanding what he was teaching them. They had already seen some miracles, but they had not connected up the healing in their bodies with their need for spiritual healing as well – the response to God’s offer of a better relationship, through the One whom he had sent to them. They accepted Jesus as a wonderworker, but they had not (on the whole) got much further than that, to accept him as Lord and Saviour. At the end of this passage, when the people have been fed all that they could want – and without them asking for it – we hear that they acclaimed him as the prophet sent into the world by God, which sounds as though they are on the right track. But prophets were not usually comfortable people to have around – they tended to question and criticize what the people were doing, and call them to repentance. The multitude appear to think that Jesus was the sort of prophet whom you could have as your own possession – to do what you wanted, and when you wanted it – and that he could be their earthly ruler, which he was certainly not going to accept. So we hear that, as a result of his generous actions, they were about to take him by force and make him king: and with such a terrific piece of misunderstanding by this great crowd of people, Our Lord’s response was to escape back to the hills by himself.
How good are we at understanding Our Lord, and how good are we at responding to him? If we think carefully about the Gospel which we have heard, we might be struck by the way that he told his disciples to collect up the remaining pieces ‘so that nothing gets wasted’. It is unlikely that the people as a whole thought about this at all: for them, Our Lord was a wonderworker who could feed them at any time without them even having to work for it. In that case, why any talk of waste? Surely he could just work the miracle again? But for Our Lord himself, the pieces left over are part of the gift of God, and who would want to waste what God has given?
Do we waste what God has given to us? Do we take our faith so much for granted that it doesn’t really matter that much if it isn’t all that strong? We confess our belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is Our Lord and Saviour, who leads us to the Resurrection and eternal life, and no doubt we do try to lead good lives and look after our families and be kind to our neighbours. Do we run the risk of assuming that that will be enough? How strong is our relationship to our loving God?
Among the most important gifts we have received from God are our fellow men and women. Later in St. John’s Gospel we hear Our Lord praying in thanksgiving for those that his heavenly Father had given him, those to whom he had proclaimed God’s word, and he prays that they may be united as intimately as Our Lord himself is in union with his heavenly Father. So just as he instructed his disciples to gather together the pieces of bread and fish, gifts from God, so that nothing should be lost, so also he has gathered together his followers, acknowledging them also as gifts from God, and they also must not be lost.
How careful are we with the God’s gifts to us of our fellow christians, members of our community? Do we take them for granted to some extent? Do we take for granted that the community will always remain intact, and that there will always be a place of worship where the followers of the Lord can gather together to praise him and glorify him? Do we take for granted that there always will be a leader for our worship, a leader for our gathering, a leader to ensure that all God’s gifts are preserved and that nothing goes to waste? Do we take for granted that, when we are unable any longer to join the community in person, there will be those who are willing and able to come to us and to ensure that we are still honoured as fellow christians and as members of the communion?
Bishop Malcolm takes very seriously his responsibilities to those God has given to him, which is why he is consulting so widely at the moment with ‘You Are Living Stones’. He does ask us to join him in this process, so that he will preserve and care for God’s gifts,and thatnothing will be wasted of allthat God has given to this diocese. So please do reflect on allthe issues that Ihave been raising for these past two months.
What do we need the priest for?
What do we want the priest to be doing for us?
How do we wish to look after our priest?
What do we do for our priest?
How would this parish maintain itself as a Christian communion
without a resident parish priest?
if we had to relocate elsewhere?
Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
Father Ken O’Riordan, who was a good friend of mine, and who died ten days ago, always invited the congregation to spend a few minutes talking about what he had said in his homilies, and reflecting on the passages from Scripture which they had heard. I’ve never yet had the confidence tofollow his advice. Butnow I’m wondering whether that would help us all to reflect and to make our reflections known to Bishop Malcolm.