The Double Dynamism of the Triple Banquet, First Wednesday of Advent, December 4, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Memorial of St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church
December 4, 2013
Is 25:6-10, Ps 23, Mt 15:29-37

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today the two main coordinates of Advent intersect. First Advent is a double-dynamism: Christ comes to us and we are called not to stay where we are but to go out to meet him. The second set of coordinates is that there’s a triple meaning to Christ’s Advent or coming: his coming in history (Bethlehem), in mystery (prayer and the sacraments) and in majesty (at the end of time or end of our time on earth). Today we see these two sets of coordinates, these two principle ways of understanding Advent, intersect in the readings the Church gives us.
  • First we see the double-dynamism. In the Gospel, Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and then up a mountain where he waited for the vast crowds to follow him. It would have been much easier for him to stay at the sea shore, but he wanted to have the people make an effort to climb a hill to be with him. Through his incarnation, he came near to us because he wanted to make the encounter with us easy. On the other hand, he didn’t want to make it too easy. He wants us to sweat. He wants us to overcome our inertia. He wants to train us in little ways to be faithful to the pilgrimage of earthy life which is an uphill Way of the Cross following in his footsteps. We see a similar theme at work in the Responsorial Psalm. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls us by name and leads us into dark valleys, where we’re called to follow him on the path to verdant pastures where he will give us repose. Jesus doesn’t take us by a short cut or an easy route. Dark valleys can be frightening. But it’s by journeying through them following Jesus that we grow in faith.
  • And we see in the readings what Jesus prepares for us when we catch up to him on the mountain for the encounter. He gives us a banquet. Isaiah tells us in the first reading that this is mountain banquet features “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” In the psalm we see that the Good Shepherd, after leading us through the obscure, scary ravine up hill to the green fields, “spreads the table” before us and makes our “cup overflow.” And in the Gospel we see the first of three fulfillments of these prophecies when Jesus feeds the crowd of four thousand with 7 buns and a few fish. This is one of two miracles of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (the other was a crowd of five thousand, that multiplied five buns and two fish and the leftovers of which filled twelve baskets, more than the seven here). St. John called this miracle a “sign,” meaning that it points to another. The first banquet signified is when Jesus would take bread and wine in the Upper Room and totally change them into the richest food and choicest wine ever known, his own Body and Blood. But even that was a sign pointing to the eternal wedding banquet, for which the Eucharist is a foretaste.
  • We see, here, that the encounter with Christ after his movement and ours happens in a three-fold banquet. The first banquet is the actual multiplication of the loaves and fish in history. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a place that means “house of bread,” and he is the Father’s answer to the prayer Jesus put on our lips, “Give us today our daily bread.” The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish is the first fulfillment of Isaiah’s and Psalm 23’s prophecy. The second fulfillment is in mystery, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the perpetuated Last Supper through time. The third is fulfilled in majesty, in the eternal wedding banquet. In Advent we prepare for each of these three banquets. Christ comes to set the table for us in each of these three ways and we’re called to go out to meet him at all three, in a sense simultaneously.
  • But for us truly to make that journey to meet Christ in the way he wants to be met, we need to meet him with charity and humility, as the readings show us today. First, charity. St. Matthew tells us, “Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.” Jesus didn’t merely have them hike up a mountain to be with them. But he had them bring the handicapped with them. Many of them likely would never have beheld this great miracle unless they loved their neighbor, their family members and friends, enough to guide them, or carry them, up the hill to Jesus. Likewise if we’re going to show up properly prepared for the banquet in history, mystery, or majesty, we’re called to show up with charity, to bring others, to lead others to the healing and transformation Jesus wants to give. One of the signs of the Messiah, as Jesus announced several times, was that he would make the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak and the prisoners experience liberation. He does that in all three banquets where we encounter him. We are called to bring others to experience this unbelievable gift. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium released last week, told us that when we seek to share the faith, we’re not seeking to put people in straight-jackets, burdening them with obligations. Rather we’re sharing the joy of our encounter with Jesus with them, we’re opening them to “horizons of beauty,” and we are inviting them to a “delicious banquet.” So we’re called to bring people to receive banquets here on earth, like we fed so many on Thanksgiving Day, and even to our homes, as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel. We’re supposed to invite them to the banquet of delight that is the Holy Eucharist. We’re called to invite them to the path that leads to the eternal wedding banquet, willing to carry them up a mountain to do it. We may not make the banquet, we may not meet Jesus where he’s at, unless we’re seeking him on this path of love of neighbor.
  • But the path to meet Christ is also a path of humility. We are called to see ourselves in the blind, lame, deformed, and mute. Spiritually we are so often blind and incapable of seeing Jesus in his generosity behind our material bread; truly present under the “super-substantial Bread come down from Heaven,” which is the Eucharist; in the distressing disguise of others; in the events of every day. Jesus wants to cure us. We’re also lame and in need of the help of others to see the Lord Jesus. We can’t get there on our own and need to be humble enough to ask for help. We’re often deformed, in desperate need of reform, getting back into spiritual shape; and we’re frequently mute, feeling unable or, better, unwilling to use the gift of speech to speak to or about God. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, wants to give us through material, mystical and eschatological food, eyes to see him, ears to hear him, legs to follow him, opened tongues to proclaim him and reformed lives to witness him.
  • That’s what Advent is all about. Jesus the Good Shepherd has set before us an incredible, delicious banquet, and we are invited by him to go out to meet him in the day-to-day reality of our world, in the great gift of the Sacraments, and in the deepest desires of our hearts, the eternal nuptial banquet. Today, through the life of St. John Damascene, who shared in this triple banquet by responding to Christ’s entrance into our reality with his own entrance into Christ’s, we ask God for the grace to help us to rejoice in this triple invitation and to help us to bring all those who, like us, are blind, deaf, lame, mute and deformed to the banquet in which Christ heals us, fills us with hope, and guides us to heaven.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 25:6-10A

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6

R. (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Gospel
MT 15:29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way.”
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?”
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.