The Feast Of Herod, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531
Transcription of Homily
Translation of the Epistle for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost.
Brethren, all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ: Knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God: So do you also reckon, that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark
At that time,
when there was a great multitude with Jesus, and had nothing to eat; calling his disciples together, he saith to them: I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off. And his disciples answered him: From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And he asked them: How many loaves have ye? Who said: Seven. And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, he broke, and gave to his disciples for to set before the people. And they had a few little fishes; and he blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled; and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand; and he sent them away.
The saving words of the Gospel
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Aristotle tells us that acts follow essence. In other words, from our nature come our actions. What we are determines how we act. An animal can only act as an animal; can’t act outside or above its nature. We, having a rational soul, can decide if we want to act below our nature. That’s the price of freedom, but with God’s help, obviously, with the life of grace we can also, and we’re expected to, act above our nature. In other words, a supernatural existence. We’ll get to why I mentioned that.
We see our Lord here in the desert. And people have come out to Him. And the desert is a place that the Jews tried to avoid, obviously, for obvious reasons. Right? It’s a place of death, of danger. And it’s not a normal meeting place. And nonetheless, it becomes, because of the Lord’s presence and those who are docile to the action of grace in their souls, it becomes a new place of communion with God. And so our Lord, through His presence, He transforms things.
Now, how did He get there? It is as if this were not planned initially. So it seems He hears word that Herod has executed John the Baptist, and so our Lord takes off, it’s not His time, and He goes out to the desert. And on the way there, you see in Mark Chapters Six and Seven, you see a number of events. He walks on the water. He heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman. He has a disagreeable encounter with the Pharisees. And all of this is on the way out to the desert, something that seemingly wasn’t planned. And He gets out to the desert to be alone, and what happens? They follow Him. So notice what occasioned this.
It was, ultimately Herod’s passions. He was a puppet to his passions. His libidinous eye sees his stepdaughter, his stepdaughter dancing. He lusts after her. He makes all sorts of feverish oaths. He has anxiety. And then he has this half-hearted execution of John the Baptist. He’s just a pathetic character who is a puppet to his passions. Notice that begins with his eyes. In contrast to our Lord who sees the suffering people and has compassion. In other words, when He sees He absorbs what He sees and makes it His own. And we know that because the word here we heard, I have compassion on the multitude, which is okay, as a translation. Misereor as in Latin. But there’s a lot going on in that word. In Greek, it’s just one word. σπλαχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai). In the root of σπλαχνίζομαι is σπλάχνα (spláchna) which means, the guts, the bowels, or a womb. So our Lord, He sees suffering, and He has a visceral, physical response to it. He appropriates it, makes it His own, and suffers with those who suffer. And we could also say that His suffering is perfect. And given the root of that word that Mark uses, Matthew uses the same verb, notice that all four Gospel writers speak about this multiplication of loaves. That this σπλάχνα, the womb, then, is a place that gives life. And so from our Lord’s compassion, from His mercy, comes new life, which is the life of grace. So notice this stark contrast between Herod’s eyes and everything that follows on the heels of that and our Lord’s eyes when He sees suffering, and all of the things that follow on the heels of that. Now all of this is leading somewhere if it’s true that acts follow essence.
Well, our Lord, as the eternal Logos, is always going to act according to His being. He’s not at odds with Himself. He’s not like Herod who is a puppet to his passions. Passions are blind and they blind. Rather, everything works in function of His mission, of His identity. And this is leading to what Isaiah prophesied in Chapter 25: the Heavenly Banquet. We notice that whenever our Lord fulfills something that was in the Old Testament, for example, Moses feeding the starving Jews in the desert, through his prayers, obviously, and the manner that fell from heaven, when our Lord fulfills it, it’s done and it makes a statement about His identity. But this is different. Why? Because this miracle is responding to a definite need, but then it works in function of several other things. It’s a preparation on the heels of those other things that just happen; walking on the water, the miraculous healing, and now this multiplication of loaves. All of this is leading towards the Eucharist. So He proves that He has absolute sovereignty over the laws of nature, He has absolute sovereignty over Himself, so that, as you see in John’s Gospel in his treatment of this miracle, it’s preparation for the Bread of Life Discourse. So He’s showing us that what He has just done before the Bread of Life Discourse is now described in the Bread of Life Discourse and is going to take place in the Last Supper. So all of this is working towards something; this Heavenly Banquet that awaits us in Heaven but is also present to us in each Mass. We also see a reference to the Good Shepherd here, where it says that He makes them lay down on verdant pastures, right, and the Good Shepherd feeds them. So all of this is working towards something.
Notice that when you act according to your identity, things that go against you, things that are, crosses, unexpected detours like this, they don’t get in the way of one’s identity. They just become an occasion to reveal it again. So did our Lord plan all this? It doesn’t really matter. What He’s going to do is what He’s going to do.
If you are old enough to remember the crazy ’70s and the evil ’80s, crazy ‘70s and an evil ‘80s That’s kind of the way it worked. So from insanity to malice. Well, you probably heard that, “Actually He didn’t multiply the loaves. What He did was he got the people to share.” And we’re all supposed to say, “Yeah, well, I guess that is the greater miracle, isn’t it?” Well, no, that’s not. Our Lord was not installing Himself as a chairman of a party to carry out an exercise in wealth redistribution here. Okay, that’s not what’s going on. There is a real miracle and all of the Gospel writers attest to it. And the proof that this is not some political gesture, is that they try to make Him a King at the end of it. Then He, again, tries to escape them to avoid that. So in other words, they didn’t understand Him as a wealth redistributor because you don’t make somebody like that your king. This is a miracle, and it works in function of satisfying a present need, but also it serves this other purpose that we alluded to. Notice, too, the verbs “and taking the seven loaves” so taking, “giving thanks” εὐχαριστήσας (eucharistēsas) by the way, “he broke the bread, gave it to His disciples.” Our Catholic mind ought to be pinging like “wait a minute, I’ve seen those words before. They look kind of familiar.” He took. He blessed. He broke. In Matthew, it says that He raised His eyes to Heaven in a further sacerdotal gesture in which He lifts up His eyes to God before the blessing. So all of this is pointing towards the Last Supper because we’re going to see those same verbs in the Last Supper where He takes, He blesses, He breaks, and He gives.
Notice, too, that He works through His disciples. So, this is also a further preparation for what He’s going to do through the Church. That our Lord wants to confect the Eucharist through His ministers.
The challenge we have is presented to us in the Epistle. Our Lord, obviously, is not challenged. He’s the Divine Logos. He’s doing quite fine, thank you. We, on the other hand, you know, we’ve got this, sometimes, this interior battle within us of, “Do I live up to my identity?” But Paul addresses this. He tells us, “You’re baptized. How is sin part of the program?” We can respond to him, “Yes, Paul, but what you don’t understand is I have, I have the effects of fallen nature. I have passions. I have all of these things.” We can come up with all of these reasons to try and excuse our sin. But at the end of the day, Paul is saying, “You’ve been baptized. So, what’s your point?” If we’ve been baptized, that means we’ve died, and we should have died to sin. And our passions, our temptations, they don’t carry the day if we don’t want them to. They become further occasions for us to manifest our identity. If I have been baptized, if I’ve been washed with the blood of Christ, if I’ve been forgiven of my sins, how am I going to go against my benefactor? How am I going to betray one who loves me so much? And so passions temptations, they become opportunities to reveal our identity. To say, “Lord, I love you infinitely more than these passing temptations. You know my weakness, but I also know your strength.” In other words, we’re not set up for failure. Our Lord gives us all of the means we need, and then some. He gives us the life of grace. He gives us Himself. What more do we need?
When I was playing football in the Pop Warner League as a kid, we had a sign on the big cabinet, like a medical cabinet and there were these untrained nurses who used to, you know, try to fix broken limbs and things like that. And, there was a sign on it. It said, “We supply everything but guts.” Well, that’s pretty much the program here. Our Lord supplies us everything but our will. That’s what’s missing. And so, our glorious task is to continually decide to continually choose. And when we do beautiful things happen, because we’re not set up for failure and God’s grace does carry the day.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger