Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Reach...Ask!

You just never know where in the Bible Catholicism will rear its ugly head. For example, let's look at the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. No, this isn't about the Bread Miracle; no, not the Overbundance of Blessing, and no, not the preliminary for the Bread of Life Discourse. As Noah Cross said, "Mr. Gittes, you may think you know what you're getting into, but believe me, you don't."

Here's the story. It shows up in all 4 Gospels. This is mostly John's account with a bit of the Synoptics thrown in:

I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.
[The apostles say:] Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat.
And his disciples answered him, Whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?
He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? Go and see.
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him,
There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? He said, Bring them hither to me.
And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

Not too long; Jesus doesn't say anything cryptic; doesn't quote the Old Testament; pretty straightforward.

Here are the characters in this story: Jesus, the apostles and the people.

Here's an outline:

1. Jesus tells the apostles the people need to eat.

2. Apostles propose dismissing them to buy food in nearby towns.

3. Jesus tells apostles, y'all feed 'em.

4. Apostles say, how we gonna do that?

5. Jesus asks apostles, what food is there?

6. Apostles inform Jesus a kid has some loaves & fish.

7. Jesus tells apostles to bring Him the food; they do.

8. Jesus tells apostles to get everyone seated; they do.

9. Jesus blesses the food; distibutes it to the apostles; they distribute it to the people.

10. After all have eaten, Jesus tells apostles to gather up the leftovers. They do.

Here's a stripped-down schematic:

Jesus (people need to eat)>

Apostles (send 'em out to buy)>

Jesus (y'all feed 'em)>

Apostles (how?)>

Jesus (what food is available?)>

Apostles (check for food)>

People (boy with food)>

Apostles (kid has some food)>

Jesus (bring it here)

Apostles (deliver food)>

Jesus (blesses it, distributes to Apostles)>

Apostles (distribute food to people)>

People (eat)>

Apostles (cleanup)

Why, oh why, do I care about this? Because it shows Jesus exercising his Authority exclusively through his apostles even though he is there. Only Apostles speak with Jesus; people speak only with Apostles. Jesus never speaks or listens to the people. Apostles mediate the entire miracle. In this case, not even the little children are permitted to come to Jesus: the Apostles bring Jesus the loaves & fishes, not the boy who had them. Jesus gives the food to the Apostles; they distribute it to the people; they clean up the leftovers. Except for doing the indispensable God part, Jesus delegated the whole miracle to his lieutenants (lieu-tenant, place-holder).
What we are looking at is the management prototype for the Church in general: Christ's authorized agents hierarchically conducting his business with his people. This establishes a model for how the church will be run after the Ascension.
And it's a model for the Mass in particular: people hunger; people have some food, but it's lacking; they bring it to the priest, who presents it to Jesus; Jesus works a food miracle; the priest distributes the miraculous food; the people receive it; the priest cleans up the leftovers.
The lesson is, for some things you can go straight to Jesus; for other things though, you can't. You have to go through his visible Church, and through the sinners who have authority. How physical; how annoying; how humbling.
Yes, you may say, but Jesus used the Apostles because there were so many people, there's no point being made about authority or access. Maybe. But Jesus could have removed the crowd's hunger any way he wanted to; or even sent them home before they had a chance to get hungry; but maybe he chose this rather cumbersome method in order to publicly make clear His delegation of that after he ascended, His Church wouldn't fragment into little pieces over the question know....Authority.