Isaiah 55:1-3, Romans 8:35.37-39, Matthew 14:13-21
God is concerned about the totality of our lives, but he desires to direct us towards our spiritual destiny. He has created us in his own image and likeness and has given us constant strength and grace to grow according his plan. In Jesus he fills us with the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of his son as our total nourishment. God knew what exactly he was doing during the creation as he planned for each one of us and dreamed a dream for us. The liturgy tells us that the deepest yearning of the human heart can find fulfillment only in God. If we fail to have the spiritual perspective on life, we are bound to suffer the frustration of disillusionment. In the first reading Prophet Isaiah utters words of consolation to the people in exile. He invites them to put God first in their lives and by so doing they will enjoy countless advantages. He will fill them with new things and make a banquet for the suffering people. In the second reading Paul assures us that because of God’s love for us, we can conquer every hostile power. With God on our side no one can be against us since God’s love takes care of us. We are consoled that God is our support and strength. In the Gospel, Jesus miraculously feeds five thousand people in the desert with five loaves and two fish. He shows his concern towards people who had left everything and stayed with him. This miracle is seen as a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic meal which Christ is going to provide for his followers.
In the First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, we have the prophet living among the Jewish exiles in Babylon, utters words of consolation for the despairing exiles. Here he tells them that Yahweh is inviting them to a banquet which he freely gives them. Yahweh their God alone can provide for their needs. He tells them to leave aside their life of folly, in order to gain deeper spiritual insight. They were indeed foolish to look elsewhere for consolation or help. The prophet had confronted the kings who had relied on extreme measures to retain water for the city of Jerusalem and had their resources to build up alliances with other nations so as to win back their freedom. God tells them that if they cooperate with him, he will fulfill the covenant he had made with David. The prophet invites them to simply turn to God for their needs and God will not only satisfy their thirst with water, but he offers them wine, milk and bread, indicating that he would prepare a banquet for a people suffering from hunger. Only God can provide what they need to gain life and provide them in abundance. He reminds them that all his gifts are free. They will find the key to lasting peace and prosperity for God is always reliable and inexhaustible. The people had thought that their God had deserted them but God calls them to be loyal to him and he will then make an everlasting covenant with them. The prophet tells them that God’s invitation is universal, extending not merely to those who lived faithful life in Babylon but also to the poor, God’s anawim as well.
The second reading of today begins with love and ends with love. The beginning refers simply to the love of Christ. Hence Paul tells us that nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. At the end we have the manifestation of the love of God for us in Christ. Thus the purpose of this reading is to get us Christians think for a few moments on immense, infinite love God has for us. Before he created the world we were in his mind. He had always plan for us ultimately accepting us as his own children. Paul already told the Romans of the many blessings and gifts God has given them in their Baptism. He gives them the hope that God will not refuse anything for us. He tells them that neither death nor life, nothing that exists can come between us and the love of God which is made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. Obviously the Father and the Son each play a special role in filling us with divine love. Nothing can thwart the divine love. No power on earth or beyond this earth can prevent us from experiencing God’s love for us as Christians. We can conquer every hostile force because we are in God’s hands. We all have a free will and as long as we persevere in our living faith, God will protect us from all dangers to secure our eternal life in His Kingdom.
The Gospel scene begins with sensitive feeling of Jesus on hearing the murder of his cousin John the Baptist. Having heard of that brutal killing, Jesus withdrew to a lonely place with his disciples. History tells us that Galilee in those times was quite heavily populated and Jesus had become already a well-known figure. It is worth noting that Jesus had no streak of 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. When John was already killed Jesus quietly moves away from the crowds and wishes to stay in a quiet place. However, the crowds noticed that Jesus and his disciples had moved away by boat to the other side of the lake, they follow him to the place on foot. His immediate reaction was one of deep compassion and he began to heal the sick among them. This contrasts with Mark’s version where Jesus’ compassion leads to teaching the crowds. The healing, of course, in its own way was a kind of teaching, as the teaching was also a kind of healing. Jesus’ aim was always to restore people to wholeness in body and spirit. That is the meaning of salvation. He is moved with pity by the vast crowds that followed him and he responds to their needs. Thus the stage is set for the feeding of the five thousand and more people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus had compassion 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.
In this deserted place the miracle of the multiplication of loaves took place, symbolically recalling the wilderness or desert in the Old Testament when God miraculously fed the people of Israel with Manna. The mood of Jesus was set even before the feeding began. When Jesus saw the crowd hungry, he was moved by compassion and wanted to extend a supporting hand to them. In normal situations there can be two reactions possible to call for help. On the one hand, a person can completely ignore such calls when they conflict with what one has planned to do. In this case they may place their own perceived needs first and do not go out of self to help others. On the other hand there are persons who cannot say no. In which case they put aside what they have planned and go to help the person, even though they may feel high resentment. On the outside there will be all smiles but inside there will be anger and frustration. Such persons psychologically feel the need to be needed and deep down, they is answering their own needs rather than those of another.
Obviously neither of these responses is appropriate and they are not the ones that Jesus made. It requires 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. We may not be responsible for the whole world but when the opportunity does come a person must be ready to help. Here in this deserted place Jesus immediately responded to the people’s needs. Besides he involved the disciples in this task taking the bread and fish from them and making them distribute. Jesus taught them self-confidence and urged them to share the little they have. They would be surprised how far it would go. We, like the disciples, are called again and again to be mediators between Jesus and others, offering the little we have with total generosity.
In the Gospel of today Matthew assumes the reader to be familiar with the remarkable story of Elisha where he feeds a mere one hundred people with only twenty barley loaves. There it seemed impossible to feed so many people with so little bread. There too, not only were the people fed but were the fragments left over. Therefore the action of Jesus appears even more astounding, given the few loaves and the immense crowds needing to be fed. Again, not only are the people fed but there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Here we notice that there is no attempt to describe what Jesus actually did or how he fed so many with so little. Any and all speculations on that is a waste of time. What God did in the desert to feed the hungry Israelites with Manna in desert, same Jesus did here to feed the large crowd in a deserted place. Jesus just cared for those in need and looked after the hungry people who came looking for the divine meal. The miracle of the multiplication of loaves tells how God really cares for those people in abundance in time of their need. It also tells us about the future events to come when Jesus will provide his people with the Eucharistic meal. Here Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses the bread and gives to his disciples who in turn feed the crowds. These came to be known as the Eucharistic gestures. There is even greater reference to the great messianic banquet that Jesus will ultimately preside over at the end of time.
Matthew tells us in the passage of the anxiety of the Apostles. Jesus had brought them to a lonely place and there was no possibility of getting some food for all the people and hence they advise Jesus to close the preaching and send them away so that they could buy food for themselves from the surrounding villages. Jesus, with twinkle in his heart if not in his eye told them to give the people something to eat themselves. This failing, he had the Apostles seat the people on the grass and in words remarkably similar to those he would use a year later in Instituting the Eucharist, multiplied the loaves and fish so that all had their fill. The same persons who wanted to deny hospitality to the crowds now end up as banquet waiters. They gathered up twelve baskets of fragments after the men, women and children completed their meal and ate as much as they wanted. The 12 baskets clearly represent the 12 tribes of Israel now under the 12 disciples who are part of the New Israel. They will become the 12 sources of God’s generous concern for his people.
The miracle that Jesus worked is mainly understood in three ways. Most look at it as the simple miracle of multiplication of loaves and fishes, limited to its facts and in understood as explained by the Evangelists. Some look upon it as something very precious but belonging to the natural order. They would say that a few in the crowd with foresight would have brought with them bread and fish as their meal for themselves. Jesus in blessing and dividing the bread and fish with the people transformed them into sharing their food with others and there was enough to go around. The miracle was in changing the selfish people into generous people. A third way of understanding is to see the miracle as the symbolism of the Messianic task of Jesus. This miracle is the foreshadowing of the miracle of the Holy Eucharist.
Matthew and other Evangelists tell us that Jesus fed a substantial portion of the population of Palestine, characterizing the abundance of the Messianic age. The Gospel tells us that there were about 5,000 men, not including women and children. This could well be one third of the population of Galilee during the time of Jesus. Along with women and children this would be a bigger crowd. They represent the people of Israel being fed, with echoes of the manna and quails during the years in the desert and the multiplying of oil and bread by Elisha in the Old Testament. 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 sharing of the broken bread as a sign of a community that shares and provides in abundance for the needs of its members.
Today’s Gospel tells us that God really cares about his people and that there is enough and more for everybody. It tells us that the ups and downs of life, whether they are spiritual, emotional, physical, or material, whether they are personal tragedies or natural disasters, are basically unavoidable but are in no way a contradiction of God’s loving care for us. In fact, these things are in their own way necessary for us to grow in our awareness of where true peace and happiness lie. It tells us that a great deal of God’s care and compassion devolves on our own shoulders. A great deal of the human suffering in the world has been caused by human agency and can be relieved by human agency. Jesus did not feed the crowd directly. He left that to his disciples. He still does. It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame governments, too easy see these things as other people’s problems. But they are also ours, they are mine. 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. Jesus had compassion 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.
On the final day of their school year a teacher in a school asked her grade four children to draw something special that touched their lives in the course of the year. The children concentrated in drawing something unique. Some drew a picture of God, another, a church, a third his mother, another, a cow and some drew a tree with fruits and so on. There was a boy in the class shy, quiet and generally withdrawn and he drew a nice little hand which attracted the attention of all. Each one forgot his own painting and tried to explain this saying, that it is the hand of God, of the friend, a parent and so on and no one asked the boy what he meant by it. When he was all alone the teacher went to him and asked him what he meant by this hand. The little boy looked up and said: Madam, it is your hand. When I entered the class I was shy and lost and your hand brought me to the class and has guided me throughout. It is yours, my teacher’s hand. The teacher could not control her tears.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Bangalore, India