“By grace you have been saved” from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:4-10
When I was a young boy, my family would take trips to see my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in New Orleans. My two older sisters and I would sit in the back seat, and my mom would try very hard to keep us entertained with games.
There were no music players, no headphones, no iPads to keep us busy. Parents today have it so easy. Setup the iPad with a movie, and the kids will be engrossed for hours. My mom was very good at keeping us from fighting, too, because my dad had little patience for us when we were fighting.It took all day to drive from Fort Worth, and we would stop for lunch at a particular rest road side park on Highway One in Louisiana. There was a picnic table made of stone, and benches for us to sit on. My mother would bring out a big basket of food that she had prepared, and she made sandwiches for us.
To me, the basket was amazing. All of this food came out of it, and we were all well fed. Of course, I never saw what went into the packing of the basket. To me, it was just a free gift of goodness.
The story in the Gospel today reminded me of the car trips of my youth because there was an abundance of food that appeared out of nowhere. It’s an amazing story of how the meal began with so little, and yet produced so much, with 12 baskets of bits left over.
The story tells us about God’s grace. Grace is defined as the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God. The love of God is a free gift that we do not have to earn, or even ask for.
This kind of love is expressed so well by the parents (and the grandparents) of a new born child. The parents love that child and they care for that child unconditionally. The child has done nothing to deserve it. The child has a lot of needs, too, and the parents will provide for them without the child having to ask for any of it.
As the child grows older, the needs change, and they develop the ability to choose what they will accept and what they will reject. Why is it that one of the first words a child learns is NO?
It’s interesting to watch a toddler at meal time, because they will accept or reject certain foods for no discernible reason whatsoever. Put a bowl of Mac and Cheese in front of them, and watch it disappear. Put a dish of broccoli in from of them, and watch them purse their lips and say No. The next day the choices will change, and the parents will try to guess what the child will like next.
God is our Father because he showers us with the grace of his love and favor. We do not have to ask for it, it is freely offered. All we have to do is accept it. And we can also reject it if we like. We have free will to do so. More and more these days we hear of people who reject the Father’s love. They doubt his very existence because the religion of science has yet to prove it.
I think that many reject the love of the Father because they feel they don’t deserve it. Maybe their own parents were unloving to them. Maybe they found themselves to be in trouble with their parents most of the time, and they never really felt loved by anyone. They cannot accept even the free gift of love.
It is by faith that we accept Jesus into our lives. And it is by grace we are saved from Eternal Death through faith, as St. Paul wrote, and not because of our works.
Listen to these words again:
“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Faith is an attitude of trust, not something we do. In fact the richness of God’s grace does not depend on our faith, thankfully, because our faith is so small. The Father’s love is freely given to all, just like the parent’s love freely given to a baby.
The Gospel story tells of a Father who loved the world so much that he gave up his only son for it. He allowed his son to walk the path to the cross which we remember in these Stations of the Cross.
So many of the stories told in the Gospel recall this love. The Forgiving Father of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known.
The stories of the feeding of multitudes may be less obvious, but there is an abundance of love shown at these times, too.
There is deeper meaning to these stories, too, of how those who believed and accepted Jesus started out as so few, then multiplied as the Word spread. Their were 12 baskets left over, and there were 12 Apostles left to carry the grace of God to all the world.
The real food provided to the hungry is the Body and Blood of Jesus which feeds multitudes, and by the ministry of the 12 Apostles, the Body and Blood is carried out into the world to keep on feeding. That ministry was passed onto the Bishops in a long line of succession so that it would never end.
With the bishop’s authority, we priests and deacons carry on with the Holy Communion so many more can be fed the Bread of Life.
At our altar today, the Sacrifice of Christ will be made present again so that we all can participate in his grace.
Those of us who have been Baptized into new life, and accept that Jesus is really and truly present in his Body and Blood in the Holy Sacrament, are invited to eat and drink the holy food of new and unending life.
He longs to feed all of us just as he fed the multitude on a hill side so long ago. The baskets of life giving food will be prepared and presented to us once again, so that no one will go hungry. It is up to us to feed on him in your hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving. Amen.