Sunday reflection: 'Give them food yourselves!'
Posted: Sat, 01 Aug 2020 08:00
A reflection on the Gospel for 18th Sunday of the year, by Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB. 'They fed 5000 men, not counting the women and children'. (Image: Bernadette Lopez via Qumran2.net
The miracle of feeding in Matthew recalls the compassion of Jesus: he had originally planned to take a break with his disciples but the crowd found him. He reaches out to help them because they were lost and needed a moral compass to show them the way forward. We are told that 5000 men were fed 'not counting the women and children.' The whole point of the ministry of Jesus is that he DOES count the women, children, the poor, the crippled, the refugee, the hurt and abused. Jesus is there for them in every aspect of life: he feeds them with his word and teaching, and he feeds them with food too - in all miracles of multiplication, Jesus gives more than enough so that the apostles can collect twelve baskets of left overs.
Your experience of worship in lockdown has seen a much greater emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word, as most parishioners had to content themselves with making spiritual communions. I do hope that this experience of finding God in Word and positive preaching has been helpful and has deepened your faith. As we read, reflect and interpret God's Word we are all being fed, supported and strengthened. I hope lockdown gave you a chance to read your Bible; if not then make it it your intention today at mass to begin a serious reflection of scripture. Even a verse a day would be an amazing start.
I find it interesting that it is the apostles want to get rid of the crowd so that they can tuck into their meal of fish sandwiches - it is the classic case of 'I'm alright Jack!' If the crowd are out of the way, then they can enjoy their meal and time with Jesus. These very first bishops of our Church are displaying horrible selfishness. Jesus makes a challenge, a challenge that he makes to us today: "Give them food yourselves." It is amazing that in modern Britain, this pandemic reveals the poverty that still exists in our society-it took a young premier league footballer to remind us that our children needed to be fed during the summer holidays through an extension of the free school meal programme.
There is power in the actions of Jesus as he says a prayer and begins distributing the bread. Before he called Lazarus forth from the tomb, he raised his eyes to heaven, and said "I thank you, Father, that you have heard me." It was his constant contact with the Father that inspired his actions. At his baptism in the Jordan, he had heard the Father's voice saying, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." He lived constantly with the Father's approval, even when everyone else rejected him. What a lesson this is for all of us! In commissioning his apostles, later on, he would tell them to feed the hungry. Because he came "to do and to teach," that is why he fed the hungry before sending his disciples to do the same-the reality is that people cannot learn on an empty stomach.
This miracle of feeding is a constant reminder that, as Church, we are still called to feed the hungry and we cannot opt out. The Gospel of today challenges us not to be indifferent to the call of the hungry throughout the world; if we have problems in the developed West, then so much more will experienced today in the developing world. Your parish outreach through the SVP or CAFOD ensures that you can respond to that hunger and that you can make a difference. "Whatever you do for the least of these, I will take as being done for me," Jesus reminds us. The decision to walk in the Christian Way removes many of my options and choices. Christianity is much more than just saying prayers. It is also a call to action. It is a call to do as Jesus would do. We cannot read today's gospel and remain indifferent or detached. We need to ensure that we show compassion in all our dealings with others; as the old folk hymn has it: 'They'll know we are Christians by our love; yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love!"
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.
Henri JM Nouwen