July 25th 2021
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14 Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21 Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 2021 July 25 Pentecost 9 Gather up the fragments left over... In the church calendar of saints, this past Monday, July 19th, was the festival day of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, a relatively obscure fourth-century bishop and theologian from Cappadocia, an ancient territory found in today’s Turkey. We commemorated Gregory here at Saint Margaret’s at Morning Prayer that day and spoke briefly of his contribution to Christian theology and faith, although truth be told, not a lot is known about him. The writings of his that have survived the centuries are considered by most scholars to be more than a bit obscure or even controversial. For instance, Gregory was one of the first to suggest that, if you really want to know who or what God is, you should first sit down and make a careful list of everything that God is not. It might end up being a long list, and it might take you a while to compile it, but at the end of the day -- after you have painstakingly enumerated everything which God is not -- what is left would give you a pretty good idea of what and who God is. And for Gregory that meant that, when everything else was eliminated, what remained was the reality that God is infinite in goodness, something which most every Christian even today would find easy enough to believe and affirm. But then Gregory took his thesis one step further. If in fact God’s goodness is infinite - - so went his thinking -- then God’s infinite goodness by its nature would eventually have to embrace and overcome even that which is utterly evil in the world. For him, Christ’s Incarnation was the clear evidence or proof of this. For, in Christ the infinite goodness of God has been forever united with our human nature in all its frailty and wickedness. Gregory’s happy conclusion was that in the infinitude of God’s goodness even the most notorious and heinous of sinners -- even Satan -- would eventually find life and salvation. No eternal damnation, it seems, for Gregory.
Not all theologians would agree with Gregory’s point of course, and his views are far from universally accepted. But as a lifelong sinner myself, I find his interpretation somehow comforting. In Christ, nothing can keep us from the goodness of God for ever. Even King David’s notorious adultery with Bathsheba -- some call it rape -- and murderous plotting, as described in our first reading this morning from the Second Book of Samuel, would be somehow eventually made right. "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." I do not know if Saint Gregory of Nyssa was pondering this passage from the Gospel of John when he long ago put quill to papyrus, but he might well have been. Jesus’ words do seem to suggest that in God’s grand economic plan of salvation, nothing is ever truly lost. If even fragments or crumbs of bread are to be gathered and saved, surely the five thousand who have just eaten of them are to be gathered and saved as well. The implication seems clear. And if the five thousand of Jesus’ day, then why not the seven billion gathered around the global table this day and the millions more to come. The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is one of the few stories of Jesus’ life which appears in all four Gospels, though with differing details, emphasizing for us its importance to the early Church. For John, it is not just a miracle story, although it is certainly miraculous from our perspective. It is rather, as John so often describes our Lord’s interventions in people’s lives, a sign pointing us beyond the story and beyond even ourselves. Each such sign points us to our Lord himself and his divine nature. In the multiplication of loaves and fishes, we are fed because in Christ there is no end to God’s mercy and goodness. Not even in times of scarcity. In fact, in God’s goodness there is no scarcity at all. We are all living in a time of infinite abundance, infinite goodness and grace. The Church, virtually from the times of the Evangelists themselves, has seen this story as an important allusion to the Eucharistic food we still share, which is itself a sure sign of God’s presence among us. Barley bread, the food of the very poorest of people, becomes in Christ’s hands the richest of nourishment for those who partake and share. We still approach the Lord ’s Table in some sense as beggars, “not worthy,” as we so often pray, “to gather up the crumbs...” from under the Lord’s Table. Yet from those crumbs and fragments Jesus invariably multiplies our portion and our life. Christ is still feeding the multitude – still feeding us. Though we, like the fragments of bread itself, may be broken or from time to time broken-hearted, as during times of stress and pandemic, we still find our strength in coming together in communion with Christ and with one another.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa is surely right after all. The infinite goodness of God will always triumph over the evil, no matter how awful it may be. Fragments will again in God’s good time be made whole. As Gregory wrote, “He who gives you the day will also give you what is necessary for the day.” Our Lord, his sign to the multitude made clear, then withdrew to the mountain by himself. He had shown the people what to do and how to do it. He had given them a sign. His work is now ours to complete: To feed others as we ourselves have been fed. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs