18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 55:1-3 – Romans 8:35, 37-39 – Matthew 14:13-21.
Sometimes, when we turn on the news, we hear distressing reports of famine. Not only do we hear of people starving, suffering and dying of hunger, but also about people who do not have safe water to drink, or who lack other basic needs. We feel the need to offer help, and usually we do; but often the magnitude of the problem is just so great that we shake our heads and ask ourselves, “What can I do? I can’t change the world. I am just one person among so many.” Well, let us reflect on the word of God today which is given to us specifically to satisfy our hunger for God’s guidance in the context of all such calamities. Has God abandoned great swathes of people to suffering while we sit back and do nothing? No. So how can we go about tackling the lack of basic human needs for so many people in the world?
The word of God today is about God who feeds the hungry and quenches thirst; God, who would not abandon us to go hungry, thirsty, to feel alone, dejected, and abandoned in life. He does not charge us a fee for anything: He gives freely without exception to all those who come to Him in their need.
In the first reading, He invites us to come to Him and to have all we can to eat and drink without paying. In the gospel reading, Jesus demonstrated the veracity of that with the Feeding of the 5000. He fed each one of them so that they had their fill. He fed all those people who listened to Him, and He didn’t allow them to go hungry either physically or spiritually in their need. He urges us, like them, to listen to Him so that we might have life.
What is this telling us about tackling the problem of hunger in the world?
God takes the lead: God is ever ready to take care of the needy. John 3:16 tells us that “God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”. Our loving God takes the lead in bringing all those who trust in Him to salvation and satisfaction, to fulfilment and fruitfulness, and so He tells us, “Come to me” (cf. Is. 1:18; Jas 4:8). Jesus took the lead in guiding and providing for the hungry crowd, and God is always doing the same for you and for me – going before us and taking the lead in providing for our human needs, while we follow him within the community of Faith.
Co-operating with Jesus to lead the hungry to satisfaction: Let us consider the part played by the disciples in today’s gospel. They helped Jesus to feed the crowd. They provided the 5 loaves and 2 fish, they sat the people down in groups, they distributed the food and they collected the left-overs. What does this tell us? It tells us that, while humanity is constantly in receipt of Jesus’ generosity, He requires our personal co-operation to help the peoples of the world to benefit from it.
Shying away is people’s first impulse in the face of a huge problem: Faced with the problem of a huge number of hungry people, fed spiritually but not physically, the disciples’ reaction in the first instance was to avoid resolving it themselves. Jesus, however, insisted that they should become involved. If we didn’t have a Christian perspective on everything that touches us in life, we might give in to the temptation to shy away from assisting people in need who cross our path, especially if we think that the little help we could offer would be either insufficient to help them substantially or of no use to them.
The little in the hands of Jesus is made sufficient for all: Did you notice that it was the disciples who provided the 5 loaves and 2 fish? This detail is there to remind us what God’s grace is all about. Grace builds on nature and does not destroy it [Summa I I,8, II]. The miracle here was the grace of God in visible action; the food was not multiplied out of nothing. In His generosity, Jesus took what the disciples supplied and multiplied it so greatly as to satisfy everyone and still have a huge surplus. God wants us to make our own contribution to the miracles He accomplishes in our midst. Whenever we place whatever-it-is we have into His hands, from it He produces something to benefit many. This giving, this offering of our goods and services, is really the part we are called upon to play in order for humanity to experience the presence and the power of immanent God. What are you placing in Jesus hands? What “food” in your life can you place in Jesus’ hands to benefit others?
The food we need to bring to people: We need to bring the compassion of Christ to people. We need to extend to them Christ’s friendship, love and tenderness. We need to demonstrate in practical terms Christ’s care for the downtrodden and the less-privileged. Here we are, participating in the Holy Eucharist, going out thereafter bearing Him within us, in order to make Him present to others through our work, our offerings and our prayers. He wants us to forgive each one of them as He has forgiven us. He wants to feed them as He has fed us. He wants us to emulate His generosity by offering our goods, our works and our prayers to help them.
Are you personally ready to heed this call? God says, “Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.” Listen, and you too will have abundance – not just for yourself but for those you encounter. Those little good deeds of yours, when performed for love of Christ, can bear a lot of fruit for the world. So, what are the material and spiritual goods you have to offer? Place them now in the hands of Jesus for an abundance to be created from them to benefit His needy people out there.
And finally… if you find yourself hungry for God and His grace, if you find your faith parched and dry, if you find yourself struggling in life (whether emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually), never forget that Jesus is fully aware of your needs. As He noticed the hunger of the crowd who had listened to Him and miraculously remedied it, so too He knows about your needs, and He will take care of you if you ask Him. Holding on to this truth, St. Paul affirmed, “Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ” (Rom 8:38-9). Nothing can diminish how much God loves you; and if you hold on firmly to His word today, then you can be sure that there is no barrier between you and God, and no barrier to what God is capable of accomplishing through you. Amen. God bless you.