Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I think I need to set the record straight. Last weekend a parishioner who shares with me a lower back problem with a fancy Greek name said it was no wonder that I had a back problems with all the weeding and ploughing I did as a child. Well, my childhood memories really are much more about fun and food, especially at our lake property. Most afternoons concluded with a vigorous swim in the lake. And that was always followed by a very satisfying dinner. My mother knew how to respond to the hunger and thirst that followed our busy day. And there was always plenty to eat. It was never a problem if someone extra happened to show up.
The Gospel presents us with an example of Jesus’ miraculous action to satisfy the hunger of those who had come out to hear Him and seek healing. Our first reading used the imagery of hunger and a banquet to console the Jewish people in exile some 600 years before Jesus. And the promise of the banquet as a sing of God’s care for His people was associated with a future new covenant to fulfill the commitment to King David that his dynasty would be forever. This prophecy was spoken in spite of the difficult circumstances of the people of that time. We recognize this prophetic word to be in reference to Jesus Christ, the Messiah who has in fact established the new covenant and placed Himself upon the eternal thrown of the Kingdom of God, the replacement or fulfillment of the old Davidic dynasty. So this miracle of Jesus was a sign post that He was the Messiah.
All of the miracles of Jesus were expressions of His divine power and compassion. Of the many miracles that Jesus must have performed those that were passed on and recorded in Sacred Scriptures had deeper significance. And in this case, over and above the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, there is an allegorical message. The miracle of the multiplication of loaves of bread and feeding of the multitudes was also about Jesus’ coming to satisfy a more significant and deeper hunger with a more enduring spiritual food. The hunger was for a renewed relationship with God, a sense of truly belonging to God, a sense that God was truly with His people walking with them and moving them forward. The significant food that Jesus was bringing was the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The similarity in gesture and language used by Jesus in this miracle and later in the Last Supper was no coincidence. There is a liturgical tone to the words used on both occasions: “…and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples.”
Of additional note is the dynamic of Jesus with His apostles. Jesus instructed the apostles to do something about the hunger, but they can’t, they needed Jesus. Jesus nonetheless delegated them to distribute the bread and gather the remnants. So superabundant was the miracle that after feeding the crowd there was more left over than in the beginning. In the Last Supper Jesus ties the miraculous multiplication of His Body as food to be eaten, under the appearance of bread, to the new covenant, the new relationship accomplished by the sacrifice of His death and resurrection. And when He said “do this in remembrance of me” to the apostles gathered with Him He set into motion the miraculous and superabundant multiplication of the Body and Blood as food, under the appearance of bread and wine, in every Mass, now for nearly 2000 years. We need Jesus to miraculously provide His Body and Blood as food and drink, but He entrusts the distribution to us, the Church.
In every Mass we are responding to Jesus’ invitation to the spiritually hungry. He calls to us that we, by our presence here, identify ourselves as spiritually hungry for a deeper relationship with Him, greater knowledge of His word, greater power to follow Him. Jesus not only calls us to be fed, He also calls us to join in and be caught up in the great dialogue of the Holy Trinity that occurs here. Jesus offers Himself to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. But it is not simply about ourselves being satisfied here. Just as it happened at the multiplication of the loaves in the Gospel, when we are done eating and drinking here, when we have completed our encounter with God here, there should be remnants, leftovers as it were. Those leftovers are our willingness and renewed ability to go from here ready to do what we can to help satisfy the hungers of others. That includes both material and spiritual hungers. Our encounter with Jesus here should prepare us to be more sensitive to the material needs of others and more able to be generous. Our encounter with Jesus in Word and sacrament here should strengthen our ability to talk to others about our relationship with Jesus Christ, so that others may have the opportunity to encounter Jesus as well.
Unfortunately, many people ignore the call to come and be fed, for one reason or another, they absent themselves from this assembly, from one week to the next. We speak of the obligation to participate in Mass each Sunday. We should not think of this term as a negative one. It is important to appreciate the root of this word obligation. The root meaning comes from a word meaning “to tie to.” The Mass, the Eucharist ties us to Jesus and it ties us to one another.
In our second reading St. Paul went through a litany of what could not separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. There is, however, one thing that can. It is our own refusal to accept God’s love, to let it penetrate our heart, mind and soul. It is our own refusal to accept the loving gift of Mass and Holy Communion every Sunday.
No matter what anyone in the pews does or doesn’t do, Jesus Christ does become present here as food. I am the one whose intention and use of words and basic food allows the Holy Spirit to make the change. But whether this banquet will bear fruit, well that depends on everything every one of us does throughout the Mass and even before we begin, and of course when we leave.