Permit me, if you will, to pose to you a most important question in a couple of different ways: Why do you follow the Lord Jesus Christ? Why do we dare to call ourselves Christians? Why have I, who stand before you now, given my life to the Lord Christ so that others live? Today, near the Sea of Galilee, “A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick” (John 6:1).
Within this great crowd of followers exist a great variety of purposes and reasons for following after this teacher from Nazareth. Some followed him, we can be sure, out of a sincere and deep faith in their recognition of Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” as Peter would come to know (Matthew 16:16). Others surely followed him out of great curiosity and wonder, joining the crowd simply to see what might happen like the tax collector Zacchaeus who “was seeking to know who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). Still others were certainly skeptical about this “carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55) and followed him so that they might learn where he found “such wisdom and mighty deeds” (Matthew 13:54). Still others followed him because they saw within the miracles he worked the tell tale sign of the coming of their long-awaited king who would restore the kingdom of Israel (cf. John 6:15).
Each of these more than five thousand individual people followed after Jesus today for a specific reason, be it praiseworthy or not; none of them followed Jesus without purpose or without reason; each had their own motive. None simply followed the crowd to keep the status quo; none remained apathetic. Can the same be said of us?
What have you seen in the person of Christ Jesus that leads you to follow him? Have you heard him saying, “Follow me” (John 1:43) or have you simply seen him “walk by” and followed in his way (John 1:36)? What led you to follow after the one who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)?
Some see in Jesus an abundance of food and rightly so, for he says of himself: “I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Others see in him an abundance of health and rightly so, for the people “brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons” and “he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons” (Mark 1:32; 34). Others yet see in him an abundance of justice and rightly so for he “is just in all his ways and holy in all his works” (Psalm 145:17). Others seek in Jesus Christ understanding and rightly so, for he is Wisdom itself. I have found in him an abundance of love, of peace, and of joy and so I follow him and have given my life to him. Others seek riches in him and rightly so, for he is the “treasure buried in the field” and the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:44; 46). Indeed it is true that in Jesus Christ “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” (Responsorial Psalm). Just as Jesus said to Andrew so he says to us: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38).
Whatever it is that you seek you will find in Christ Jesus. He himself tells us: “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). He will satisfy our every need and for this reason our Blessed Lady says to us, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Today Jesus has Andrew give him the five barley loaves and two fish; in short, he has Andrew give to him all that he has – nothing is to be held back and so it is with us. He says to us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we come to him we must also give ourselves to him, holding nothing back. We must give to him all that we have and all that we are; both our strengths and our weaknesses, our joys and our sorrows, our faithfulness and our sin; nothing can be held back. In short, we must unite ourselves to his Cross.
It is true that when we come before him we, like Andrew, recognize how small and useless we are. As we offer ourselves to Jesus, we, too, may be tempted to say, “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” (John 6:9). We may even be that small boy. If we see ourselves as this young boy - who willingly and humbly offers what he has to Jesus despite its seeming insignificance – we do well. We do well to offer ourselves to the Lord, insignificant as we are. Before the Cardinals of the Church entered into the Sacred Conclave, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, said this: “Many times we feel like useless servants, and it is true. And, despite this, the Lord calls us friends; he makes us his friends; he gives us his friendship” (Homily before the Conclave, 18 April 2005).
In this way, then, Jesus calls all those who follow him, both those who follow him today in the Gospel and those of us here gathered, to enter into a relationship of friendship with him, a relationship based upon the love that he lavishes upon us by feeding us and satisfying all of our needs. In this friendship with Christ there is no room for doubt, for skepticism, for reservation. There is no room for fear or hesitation. He calls us to abandon ourselves to him and in abandoning our lives to find life for he says, “Whoever finds his life will lost it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
In the beginning, we each follow Jesus for a great variety of reasons, each with our own motives, but in the end we must all follow him in faith, hope and love. Let us then abandon ourselves to Christ and so find in him our peace, our joy, and our deepest fulfillment.