Numbers 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:13-21
On September 10, 1813, after defeating the British on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, Commodore Oliver Perry famously said, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” A century and a half later, the cartoonist Walt Kelly made a different point when he changed this to “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
We in the Church tend to be our own worst enemy. In fact, we have centuries of experience at it. Take for example the scene we just read from the book of Numbers. First the people reminisce about the “good old days” in Egypt when they had plenty to eat, somehow forgetting the fact that starving people make poor slaves. These same people then complain about being famished and at the same time complain about the manna they are freely being fed by the hand of God. The irony isn’t lost on Moses, who is so angered by the whining that he actually prays to die rather than lead these ingrates another step of the way. If that isn’t a house divided then nothing is.
We see a second, more subtle example in the gospel reading from St. Matthew. Jesus hears of the death of John the Baptist and seeks time away from the crowds, perhaps to mourn the loss. Is he allowed to? Absolutely not; the people follow right behind wanting more healing, more miracles which, in his infinite mercy, Jesus does. However, the disciples don’t appear angry but do seem to have had enough; they try to talk Jesus into sending the crowd away. After all, the people got what they wanted; now it’s late and they need to go. Again, a house divided.
It would be easy to dismiss this divisiveness as examples of what people only do under pressure, but that isn’t true. Time and again, history shows that when the world isn’t attacking the Church, the Church is attacking herself. We see it in every parish; we see it in ourselves. Perhaps these lines sound familiar: “What a boring homily”; “That musician is terrible”; “If I ever work on this committee with so-and-so again, I swear I’ll quit”; or “If they don’t like the way we do things around here, then maybe they should go somewhere else!”
That isn’t the way of Christ and it isn’t the way of his Church. Our business isn’t to get people out, it’s to bring them in; not to tear them down, but to build them up; and not to get fed up with them, but to get them fed.
The root of the problem is our passion and our pride. It was in his frustration that Moses cried, “I cannot carry all these people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.” God never demanded this. It was the enemy within telling him that he alone must carry the people; telling the crowd that they were starving in spite of the manna; telling the disciples that no one could feed a crowd so big.
Jesus could; Jesus did. He “took” the loaves and fish, “looked” to heaven, “said” the blessing, “broke” the loaves, and “gave” them to the disciples. If that sounds a lot like the actions of Jesus instituting the Eucharist, that’s because it is. In feeding the multitudes, Jesus showed that only God could carry the world; only God could unite a house divided. The Eucharist foreshadowed by Christ in the gospel is the sacrament of unity; it is the antidote to the enemy within that seeks to divide.
We have met the enemy, and it is us; let us go up and meet the victor, for it is Christ.