Monday, August 01, 2005

Interpretation and Nuance

It never ceases to amaze me how a Gospel reading can be interpreted in so many ways, with so many nuances. We didn't have a priest to celebrate yesterday morning, so all the Sisters went out to church at various parishes in the city. A friend of mine was preaching; in fact we had discussed his sermon earlier in the week, so I thought I knew what he was going to say. But I was wrong. (I am often wrong; at my age I'm grateful that embarrassment is not so keen as it once was.)

The Gospel reading was a familiar favorite: the feeding of the five thousand. When we first talked about the sermon, he planned to focus on ordinary people faced with a daunting task. He was going to point out that, like those disciples, some people are willing to take the first step toward an overwhelming problem, trusting that God will somehow provide the resources. Five loaves of bread and two dinky fish: over five thousand hungry mouths to feed: definitely a daunting task.

The point was also that the disciples weren't just onlookers to this miracle, but active participants. He had a specific man in mind as an example: a legend in his feeding program: an ordinary guy who cared so much about feeding the hungry that he stayed up at night inventing new ways to spread peanut butter more efficiently, to cut hotdogs in exactly one-half inch pieces. Not that this guy was anal retentive (which he may have been) but because he cared so much. This same man could be a royal pain, but that didn't alter the fact that he was in the middle of the action, participating in the miracle.

The sermon I heard mentioned most of those points, but it was not the thrust. Yesterday the focus was on Christ's commission to FEED the hungry. Our job was to keep doing this, even when the statistics pointed to an endless, thankless succession of hungry mouths. The focus shifted from inviting ordinary people to take the first step in faith, to a reminder that the church (the body of Christ) had been commissioned by The Man Himself, to keep feeding the hungry. So many interpretations, so many nuances. All variations of the same Gospel truth.

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