Jul 29, 2011

18th Sunday - "They all ate and were satisfied"

(Coptic Icon)
18th Sunday readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/073111.shtml

Isaiah 55: 1-3
Rm 8: 35, 37-39
Mt 14: 13-21

Of all the persistent human suffering we see on the evening news or read about, that of human hunger seems most daunting. Who isn’t moved by pictures from regions of Africa or Haiti or victims from floods and other natural disasters that destroy acres and acres of crops ready to be harvested. It’s a complex and very controversial problem. How does one end world hunger? When your daily existence is first and foremost on your mind, you can hardly imagine sitting down to an abundant buffet or strolling through isles of food in our grocery stores.

Yet there is no more bonding experience than sharing a meal with family and friends. The bottom line, however, remains the entire purpose of a meal. In one sense the food is secondary to the fellowship that is shared. A meal however simple or elaborate brings people together: family, friends and strangers are all united on some level when food is shared.

The beautiful Gospel this Sunday has an extraordinary miracle by Jesus. More than 5,000 hungry and tired people are restored by the multiplication of a pittance of bread and fish. Jesus has just fed their souls and minds with his word. Now he responds to their more base need for satisfaction – they’re hungry and they need to eat. It is one of those miracles I’ve always wondered about. Did fish and bread just suddenly appear from no where? If you take the miracle on face value, which seems to be Matthew’s point, it was just like that.

But, on a deeper level this was not “abra cadabra” by Jesus. No magic here. No effort to deceive in the sense that Jesus told the Apostles, “Hey guys, hide all that food. I’m going to really wow them with this one!”

In this miracle, we see a gathering of people. But these are not the rich and the wise. They are common and ordinary folks living around the Sea of Galilee eeking out an existence. Jesus is tired and has sought some time to be alone to reflect on the death of John the Baptist. But, the people search him out. They find him because their need for nourishment is real.

What begins with a simple question about the scarcity of food: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here . . .” becomes an event or an opportunity to challenge the faith of his disciples. The offering of the disciples is simple and plain – bread and fish, the food of the poor. But, Jesus transforms what is ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary. He recognizes the condition of the people – they are as needy and simple as the food that is provided. But, it’s clear that when Christ intervenes something extraordinary happens.

This was not the first time that we hear of Our Lord taking the ordinary to produce something great. Remember the wedding of Cana (Jn 2: 1-12) when water became an abundance of wine of the finest vintage. Also, the parable of the sower and the seed from just a few weeks ago (Mt 13: 1-23). The sower scattered seed everywhere with no worry about running out. And now 7 pieces of food become enough to feed thousands. Where God is found, we find generosity, all that we need.

From the earliest days, the Christian Church has seen this miracle as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. In the celebration of our Mass, we are called together to meet Christ. We bring whatever we have to this celebration and we offer it all in the sign of bread and wine that becomes our offering. As that bread and wine are offered by the priest, who acts in the person of Christ, Jesus comes to us and changes not only that offering into himself but invites us to receive him so that we might be changed into him. That bread is blessed, broken, and given to us as Christ gave it to the Apostles to distribute to the hungry people. The ordinary becomes very extraordinary.

Our hunger goes beyond the physical. Unless we see that the Eucharist is an offering that invites us to connect our lives with what we do and say here, we will continue to be unsatisfied and hungry. As he shared his word with the people, so he now shares his word with us in the Mass. As he fed the starving, so he brings his very flesh and blood to feed us.

What an amazing God we have. As the first reading from Isaiah reminds us: “. . . come to the water . . . come receive grain and eat; come . . . drink wine and milk . . . you shall delight in rich fair . . . listen that you may have life . . .” (Is 55: 1-3). If you are feeling empty, lost, hungry our Lord has “food” waiting for you.