The Lord provides for His people

  • July 28, 2008

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Aug. 3 (Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21)

It would be difficult if not impossible to imagine a supermarket declaring that food and drink — including wine — was now available for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. The sudden run on the store would be overwhelming unless suspicion and cynicism kept people away. And yet God is doing exactly that.

Using the metaphor of food and drink for all of the good things God has to offer, an invitation is issued to all to come and partake free of charge. What are these good things? They include hope, new life, strength, healing, inspiration, but most of all, the gift of Godself. But God poses a poignant question: in view of such a generous and wonderful gift, why do so many people throw away so much on what is so worthless and fleeting? The metaphorical food and drink offered is not just sufficient for survival but for flourishing and happiness. The audience is invited to delight in what is good and in rich food. God has prepared a royal banquet for us, but we often opt for nothing more than junk food. But this banquet means listening carefully to God and taking the message to heart. God is asking for a change of mind and heart and a new way of living rather than mere religious practice. 

My first choice for passages to be memorized and recited and prayed over daily would be the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and this passage from Romans. Paul’s inspiring and reassuring words insist that not even the very worst that life can dish out, the very worst that people in their cruelty can do, nor the very worst situation or circumstance, can separate us from the love of God and from Jesus the Lord.

We are not passive victims, nor is our relationship with God dependent on our external circumstances. No earthly power can come between us or rob us of our faith, for God is sovereign over all political, economic, social and religious institutions. Our access to God is sacred and inviolable.

But Paul also insists that we are more than mere survivors or conquerors, for Jesus Christ who shares His victory and His power with us. This passage should be recited like a mantra whenever we feel overwhelmed, oppressed or alone.

The miraculous feeding demonstrates God’s generosity and abundance in action. The event is used in the New Testament as a continuation of God’s care for the Israelites in the wilderness. Pressed by Jesus to provide something for the crowds to eat, the disciples are perplexed and discouraged.

Five loaves and two fish scarcely sound like enough to satisfy the hunger of a huge crowd, and it isn’t if we are operating by usual human principles and values. Most human behaviour is based on fear — especially fear of lack, whether it is for food, possessions, power or even God. This is true for individuals or for societies. One need only witness the terrified frenzy on the stock market during difficult times or the aggressive and ruthless competitiveness between corporations, countries and at times, even religious bodies.

When Jesus feeds the crowd a point is made: there is enough for everyone — not only enough, but more than enough. No questions are asked, no preconditions set and no one is excluded.

The problems we face in today’s world are nearly all the result of human action (or inaction), and the majority stem from fear and greed. It is fine to look for the “root causes” of our situation, but unfortunately our search rarely even approaches the real “root cause.”

For the most part, the ideals and values by which the majority of humanity lives are not in harmony with God. Some say that this is a symbolic story and the only miraculous element of this story is that Jesus inspired the crowd to share what they had. But that runs the risk of superficiality.

This story can be understood — and should be — as an accurate account of the power of God manifested in Jesus as well as a powerful symbol of how human life on this planet could be transformed by a clear understanding and acceptance of the ways of God.