Tuesday, March 5, 2013

They Sought to Make Him King: Thoughts on Lent 4

As the saying goes: The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Feed them well and feed them often, and they will love you. But men are fickle. Their tastes change: their stomachs insatiable, and their hearts wayward. What satisfies today is tomorrow's discontent. Leftovers are rarely as good as the food on the day of the feast. This is why we only eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and why every cooking magazine comes out with 5000 ways to serve turkey in the November edition.

The 5000 miraculously fed by Jesus with the five loves and two fish knew what they wanted. They wanted this food always. And so they sought to take Him by force to make Him King. They would never go hungry again. Their bellies would be full. They would be satisfied. And they would love and cherish, serve and obey their bread king.

But Jesus knew better. For He knows the thoughts of man. More than that He knows the very heart of man, that it is filled with evil thoughts, deceit, slander, murder, adultery, and sexual immorality. He knows just how fickle they are, how quickly they can love you one day and hate you the next. When bellies grumble so do their hearts and mouths. And if manna and quail did not satisfy the grumbling hearts and stomachs of their fathers, neither will barley loaves and fish.

Kings are born not made. Kings inherit the crown and throne from their fathers or mothers. They are not made by the people. They are not taken by force to have the crown and throne thrust upon them. Kings rule their people. The people do not rule them. This is what the 5000 wanted. It's not so much that they wanted Jesus to be their king, to rule over them. They wanted what Jesus could give them. They wanted to rule over him, to tell him what to do and when to do it.

But this is not how Jesus works. He doesn't act according man's whims or wants. He doesn't even always act out of their perceived needs. He acts from His own character. He gives according to His divine goodness and mercy. He acts from His own heart, the very heart of God. He acts out of love. And so he serves them. For He feeds them before they even ask. He gives them food before their bellies, their hearts, the mouths even begin to grumble. He looks upon the gathering crowd and shows them hospitality, even in the wilderness. He welcomes them. He invites them. He bids them to sit down, to recline, and to receive what He has to give.

He invites them to believe, to trust in Him. To believe that He is true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary. To believe that He has come into the flesh, not only to feed their bodies, but also to feed and nourish their souls. To trust that His sacrificial death on the cross takes away their sin, redeems them from death and the devil, just as He did for them and their fathers in Egypt and in the Wilderness. To know that He will never leave them, as He never left their fathers. To know His generosity, His love is without end, for they gathered up what was left over into twelve baskets full even as their fathers gathered food every morning and evening without fail.  

He does the same for us. And that makes us uncomfortable because it means that we are not in control. Faith simply receives from God everything that He gives. And it trusts that what He gives and what He does is always good, even when it is painful, even when it hurts, even when it makes us grumble. For when the body aches, when bellies grumble, when sin and evil wreak havoc in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love, the heart grumbles too.

But Jesus is greater than our hearts. And that is because He is king. Not some king that we have made and taken by force, but a true king, whose head was adorned with the crown of thorns and who willingly laid down His life to be lifted up on the throne of His cross. He is king by way of the cross. By giving Himself into death for sin so that you would not, and rising again to live and reign in eternity so that you, too, would live and reign with Him forever.

This is not an empty promise. His resurrection proves it. But we wait to realize it fully. And while we wait, He gives us a foretaste of what is yet to come. He invites you, even as He invited them, to sit down and receive what He has to give. To receive His divine goodness and mercy. To receive His love. To receive Him. And so He says: "Take eat, this is my Body. Take drink, this is my blood." This is no barley loaf or fish. This is the risen, living, and life-giving flesh and blood of the crucified but risen Lord Jesus Christ. The food from your King's work for you.

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