Isaiah 55:1-3, Romans 8:35.37-39, Matthew 14:13-21
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus withdraws to a “lonely” place with his disciples. This gospel story explains us of overflowing abundance, not just of food but more significantly of Jesus’ own self. Jesus has just learnt of the death of his cousin John. This entire episode took place on receiving the news of John the Baptist’s execution and the withdrawal of Jesus. Galilee in those times was quite heavily populated and Jesus had become already a popular person. Yet he withdraws may be to provide a period of rest and reflection for himself and his disciples or perhaps was also to avoid possible danger after the execution of John the Baptist. It is worth noting that Jesus was never recklessness nor did he go out of his way to court opposition or suffering. Several times the Gospel records Jesus prudently getting out of the public eye when things were getting too hot. Yet no sooner did Jesus step on the shore that he met a large crowd seeking his attention. Moved by compassion, he puts aside his own needs to minister to these people. His reaction was one of deep compassion for the crowd and he began to heal the sick among them. The healing in its own way was a kind of teaching, as the teaching was also a kind of healing. Jesus wants to restore people to wholeness in body and spirit and prepare them for the kingdom.
The first reading from Isaiah tells us: “Come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come!” Where does such a world exist? “Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.” It speaks of the gratuitous love of God giving his people plenty. Paul says in the Second Reading that nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lack food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked, God is there close to us. The love of God will be made visible for us in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
In the Gospel when the issue of food arises it is worth noting that Jesus first tells the disciples themselves to feed the people. Every time we break and share in the Eucharist we hear the words of Jesus Do it in Memory of me. It is a challenge Jesus places before the disciples to be of ready service. The disciples are worried as the day wore on and are anxious about the crowd. “It is getting late, this is an isolated place, send them back to the towns for food,” the disciples urge Jesus. “There is no need for them to go; you must give them something to eat,” Jesus tells them. They express their inadequacy and say, “But we have only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus is teaching them self-confidence and urging them to share the little they have. They will be surprised how far it will go. And, if we do the same, we can be pleasantly surprised too. We, like the disciples, are called to share all we have and give and in return it will turn plenty. Jesus invites us to great sensitivity and discernment to know when we are required to show compassion by giving all the help we can, even at some inconvenience, and when we show equal compassion by making people stand on their own feet rather than resort to manipulating others in their dependence. There are times, like this when Jesus immediately responds to the people’s needs.
Jesus then took the bread and fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the Jewish blessing on the food. He then broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to distribute. Then was the miracle: there was plenty to eat and the crowd had enough and more to eat and they collected 12 baskets full of scraps. Matthew says that there were about 5,000 men, not including women and children. This means, according to some commentators, that there could have been as many as 20,000 or more people present. They had enough and more to eat. The food that Jesus gives is a clear symbol of all our needs being fulfilled and fulfilled in abundance. And the miracle itself is a symbol of the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity and charity.
The miracle of the multiplication of loaves tells us that God really cares about his people and that there is enough and more for everybody. In all our difficulties and tragedies of life be it physical or spiritual, there is always God loving care awaiting us. Jesus did not feed the crowd directly. He left that to his disciples. He still does. He makes use of human help to support other human needs in this world. That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today, namely, that as Christians we commit ourselves to share, to work with God in communicating his compassion to all. We are all touched by the compassion Jesus had for the people and cured their sick!” Jesus feels for His flock, the restless souls that followed Him wherever He went so that He could feed them with spiritual food that comes from the richness of the Word of God. By answering their calling, these hungry ones were enriched with spiritual food that healed their souls. Through the Lord Jesus, they received spiritual knowledge and understanding of the mysteries of God, inclining them to continue to desire more and more.
The mentioning of the loaves of bread and the fish in today’s reading of the Gospel was symbolic. They foreshadowed what was to come after the death and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The fish echoes the Words of Jesus to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people.” The fish echoes the ministry of the priesthood in the Holy Catholic Church, a ministry of service.
Anecdote: Once there lived a fox in the forest that had lost all its four legs. God in his providence had arranged a tiger to give food to the fox. Every day the tiger would kill the prey, have enough to eat and leave the rest for the fox to eat. One day a man saw this great feat and said if God does this to this useless fox, how much more he should do to me the prime of creation. So he went and sat in a corner hoping some one would come and serve him. Several days passed and nothing happened. He was about to die. Then he heard the voice: go and do like the tiger and not like the fox.