Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 4, 2002
Is 55:1-3; Ps 144; Rom 8:35-39; Matt 14:13-21
1) Most of us are pretty familiar with the scene from today’s Gospel, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Each of the four Gospels relates it. We hear it read at least once a year in Sunday Mass. But perhaps some of us can become so familiar with it that we can start to miss the importance of several of the important details. So before we get into the heart of what Jesus is trying to say to you and to me today through this Gospel, and in order that we might be better able to respond to that mission, let’s first make sure we see a little bit more clearly what was going on.
a) What happened that late afternoon on the seashore of the Lake of Galilee? Jesus had just heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been murdered by Herod, so he withdrew by boat to a deserted place by himself to pray. The crowds of people — doubtless unaware of what Jesus might have been going through at the time and how he wanted to have some time to pray — followed him along the seashore by foot. When he disembarked, there was already a vast throng. Jesus saw they were desperate, his heart was filled with pity and he began to cure their sick. Our Lord preached and healed for several hours. As it started to get late and the crowds had brought nothing with them to eat — because it was, after all, an unplanned encounter with Jesus, whom they had followed along the seashore — the disciples came to Jesus and suggested that he dismiss the crowds so that they could get something to eat. The disciples likely knew that the people would stay as long as Jesus was preaching and miraculously healing the sick. If Jesus were here, right now, curing people of their cancer, broken legs, diabetes, deafness, advancing blindness and other maladies, we probably would be in no hurry to leave either. So the disciples cared about the crowds, but their care led them to suggest something that actually was not in the people’s best interest — to leave Jesus, rather than come to him. Jesus wanted to feed both their physical hunger but also their greater hunger, their hunger for God. That’s the first important detail.
b) The second came immediately afterward. Jesus responded immediately to the disciples. “There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.” Feed them yourselves! Jesus was giving his disciples a mission, a commission, namely to feed the crowds. Give them yourselves something to eat! We’ll return to this commission later, but I want to note it now, that Jesus wants them to share in his mission of feeding others’ hunger. By the response of the disciples to this, it appears that they would have, if they had the resources. “All we have are five loaves and two fish,” they replied.
c) This leads to the third detail which we don’t want to miss. This response shows clearly the type of lives the disciples were living. They were living lives of great sacrifice and also great sharing. There were only carrying seven pieces of food total to feed what at least had to have been Jesus, the 12 apostles and an unnamed amount of other close disciples. You can do the math yourself! They were not going to be eating very much that night. And yet they were willing to share that food with others.
d) The fourth detail is what Jesus did with what the few loaves and fish them had. “Bring them to me!,” he said. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, said the blessing, broke the bread, handed them to his disciples, who then handed them to the crowd. Jesus started with what the disciples gave him and turned it into a tremendous miracle. Jesus, who was the Word through whom the heavens and the earth and everything else were created, could have fed the multitudes starting from scratch. He didn’t need the five loaves and the two fish. But he wanted to start with the contribution of the disciples. We’ll retun to this later as well.
e) The final detail from the Gospel. The crowds ate until they were full and then the disciples collected the scraps and filled twelve wicker baskets. This detail is often missed. Jesus is God and easily could have multiplied the loaves and fish such that there would have been no leftovers. Right? But he didn’t. Twelve baskets of leftovers — one, basically, for every apostle. It’s almost as if Jesus wanted to be able to give them a tangible reminder of what he could do when they gave to him what they had.
2) So we have five details:
a) Jesus wants to feed us, both physically and most importantly spiritually;
b) Jesus wants us to feed others in the same way. “You, yourselves, give them something to eat.”
c) Jesus wants us to be willing to share whatever we have, whether we have alot, or whether we have just a little, like the apostles in the Gospel.
d) Jesus often wants to begin his miracles with our own contribution. Even though he could work miracles without us, his will is to involve us.
e) Jesus’s generosity overflows. When we give him something meager like a few loaves and fish, he can feed what would likely have been a crowd of about 25,000 people.
3) Now, what about us? What is Jesus saying to us? Jesus looks out upon the crowds of our own day and he sees that they’re starving, starving for lack of food, both material food — 40% of the world goes to bed hungry — as well as spiritual food. His heart is moved with pity. Often we go to Jesus and note how much the world needs him, how, without him, our culture and our world is losing its goodness and its focus. And Jesus turns to us and says, “You yourselves give them something to eat!” We’ll talk about our family members or relatives, or our friends, or our colleagues at work, or fellow students. And Jesus says, “You give them something to eat!” Jesus wants to use us. He wants us to look and see what resources we have, to be generous in sharing them, and then to allow him to take them and multiply them such that they overflow. Notice that the apostles, when they said that all they have was five loaves and two fish, didn’t say to Jesus, “We’ll give you one of each.” They gave their all to Jesus . And what did they receive in return, after Jesus had fed about 25,000 people? They received 12 wicker baskets full of leftovers. Jesus can never be outdone in generosity when we give him all we have.
4) We’re beginning in now under two months’ time our parish spiritual renewal, Renew 2000. Jesus is looking out at our parish and sees how much hunger there is, how many people are starving spiritually, whether they know it or not. More than half of our parishioners aren’t coming to be fed by him on Sundays. He sees the effects of this spiritual starvation, as do we. People’s lives become a mess, as a result of sin, and sometimes they never realize the cause, which is that their souls are emaciated. Looking out at all these people whom we love and whom He loves, Jesus turns to us and says, “You give them yourselves something to eat!” What’s our response? We may not think we have a lot to offer, but if we give it our all, he’ll take it and do incredible things with it, if we trust him.
5) We return to what Father Jim preached about toward the middle of June when he asked each of us to think about 5 people whom we would pray for and invite. And he tells us that our job is to try to feed them with the faith, to let whatever we can do or say be the raw material for a miracle that Jesus wants to work in those people’s lives, the miracle of faith. At baptisms, I remind parents that just as they would never dream of starving their children physically, so they should never dream of starving their children spiritually. And just as when a child is young, he cannot feed himself, so he has to be breast fed by his mother, so a child spiritually is often too young to feed himself in the faith, so the parents have to breast feed the children with the faith, to pass on their faith directly to the kids. In a similar way, all of us have a role in breast-feeding others, passing on our faith to them. Jesus makes that our mission. He’s making it our mission during this Spiritual renewal, to give those who are starving in our midst, something to eat. What’s your answer? Will you give him all you had, just like those first disciples?
6) Finally, Jesus continues that multiplication of the loaves here. The reason why there’s a procession of gifts at the offertory is to symbolize that these gifts come from the community. Along with what you put in the collection basket, taken up at the same time, these are your offerings to God today. Jesus continues to take mere bread and wine and use them to feed countless sinners and saints across the centuries. He didn’t take grain and grapes as the raw material for his miracle, but bread and wine, which show, already, that he wants to cooperate with us to bring about this miracle, because we’re the ones who take the grain and the grapes and work them over to make them bread and wine. Then Jesus takes this and feeds us with himself. This is the feast, the great miracle of miracles, to which Jesus has invited you today. This is the feast, the great miracle of miracles, to which he wants you to bring others.