Aug 2, 2014

18th Sunday: The hand of the Lord feeds us

"They all ate and were satisfied"

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

You have probably heard about the restaurant in North Carolina that offers a 15% discount on your bill if the owners notice you prayed before digging in to your meal. No one is being paid to pray and they do this apparently by random, not saying anything until the bill is given, but by simply observing their patrons.  

Well, that unusual offer may have been a secret until now and quietly effective.  But since hitting the national news, I bet everyone will suddenly become religious as their meal is delivered in hopes of receiving the discount! While there is nothing wrong with everyone praying before their meal, a good practice certainly, the purpose may now be defeated. 

However, the original intent of the restaurant owners was indeed a good one, albeit unique.  By giving the discount they are actually acknowledging a practice on which there can be no monetary price.  Prayer is free. And who doesn’t love free?    

We hear something similar in this Sunday’s readings, particularly from Isaiah: “All who are thirsty come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”  There is no discount, no bill to pay but only to accept the invitation.   

The sign of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and the fish is a fleshing out of Isaiah’s promise from God; a sign of abundance.  That God gives far more than we deserve or could ever equal is clear. We are on the receiving end of a generous God.

The feeding of the hungry crowds along the Sea of Galilee is mentioned more often in the Gospels than any other miracle event: seven times. This makes that event significant in the memory of the early Christians, some of who may have been in the crowd that amazing evening.

The rich Eucharistic theme of this story must have been evident as the early Christian assemblies gathered for the breaking of bread.  In the bread and fish they must have seen Christ feeding them through the Eucharist as they understood it to be.  It was a sign of their unity and a mark of God’s abundance that stood with them in the midst of their gatherings.

In the familiar story, which has encountered a variety of interpretations, it is clear that one truth stands out:  Jesus feeds a hungry crowd as God once fed the wandering people in the desert with Moses. 
Remember the hungry Hebrews in the desert with Moses?  Hungry and thirsty they cry out, “Why did you bring us here?”  Moses prays on their behalf and God gives them water from the rock and manna from heaven.  Here Jesus is about to provide another manna – more than the crowds expect
Here, Matthew makes their hunger palpable: “The disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘this is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus responds: “Give them some food yourselves.”  We know that all they offered was “five loaves and two fish.” 

Why would the disciples have so little for themselves?  They obviously did not plan on feeding this multitude before Jesus suggested they do so. Maybe they had been snacking all day and this is all that was left.  It’s clear that not only are they in a deserted place along with Jesus and the crowds but they also have little left to share even among themselves let alone a massive crowd.
So, in this place of nothing, abundance is provided as the “five thousand men, not counting women and children” are fed more than they can eat - hunger, desolation, and God’s provident care.  In the end, the result was the unifying of a previously disparate crowd. The Eucharistic themes are clear.

Still, God’s generosity through Jesus is not something unfortunately that we often think about.  We often feel that God thinks like we do.  That he measures out everything in order to be fair and weighs our sin against the good we do then responds accordingly through punishment or reward. If I was God, and clearly I am not, that’s probably what I would do.

However, as God’s invitation is offered to us we see his very nature is one to give and invite.  He does not want us to go hungry or thirsty. But our salvation depends on whether we accept or reject what he offers.

In the Holy Eucharist we are offered the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ who wants to feed us. And as we are fed, like the crowds, we are united as one in Christ as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Our lives may feel like we walk in a deserted place.  Or, maybe we are simply hungry for more direction, more meaning and purpose in life. Maybe I’ve recognized that I’m so self-absorbed with my own problems or am too comfortable to really care significantly about others. 

Wherever I find myself, the invitation is always offered. While this isn’t free food since a price was paid for it, Jesus’ own death and resurrection, we too are called not too just grab it like ungrateful children but to receive it and change to become more like him.  The price of allowing ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ each day is indeed priceless.  No discount needed.
Graciously sanctify these gifts, O Lord, we pray,
and, accepting the oblation of this spiritual sacrifice,
make of us an eternal offering to you.
Through Christ our Lord.
(Prayer over the Offerings)