I must admit that our readings this morning have unsettled me somewhat. The joyful character of both Isaiah and the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew’s Gospel seem far removed from how life is here and now for many people. The feelings of hope, joy, celebration, and social interaction, are far removed from the fear and concern which have been characterising our daily lives. And yet, despite our fears, there remains in Scripture a promise of hope for the future, as God says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Paid ag ofni, Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isa 43:1). We respond in trust, not that things are fine now, but that they will be. God is someone whom we can trust, who will never disappoint us. As the Psalmist says, ‘our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Ps 46:1) if we cast our burden upon Him, He will sustain us (cf. Ps 55:22).
In our first reading this morning we hear God’s generous promise to His people. In the manner of a market trader God offers nourishment and refreshment, but not for profit! It is free! God offers water, wine, milk, and bread, food to nourish us, and drink to refresh us. It is a foretaste of the banquet of the Kingdom, in the Eucharist, where we are nourished and fed by God. The passage speaks of God’s covenant with His people, a relationship of love, that we can trust. God, who knows our needs, freely gives to his people love and grace, so that they may have life in all in all its fullness. These promises are fulfilled in Christ, who makes an everlasting covenant with us through His Body and His Blood.
God’s generosity is freely offered, but it can be rejected. We see this in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Unlike the joy and optimism of the previous chapter which we heard last week, here are Israelites who reject Christ and cause St Paul great sorrow and anguish. The rejection of God’s generosity is painful, but it is the price of freedom. We cannot be compelled to accept what God offers, that would not be generous. Instead, we are free to accept or reject what God holds out for us.
Picture the scene: Jesus has just been told that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been put in prison and killed. Jesus has lately been to Nazareth, where he was rejected, by the very people who should have accepted him. It is not for nothing that this morning’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus withdrawing to the desert: to be alone, to pray, to be close to God.
When the people hear where Jesus has gone they follow him, they walk out from the towns into the desert, wanting to see Jesus, and to hear him teach them. When Jesus gets out of the boat he sees a great mass of people and has compassion on them. He is moved by the sight of them, and their need. Jesus heals the sick to show that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, where humanity can be restored through an encounter with the divine. Jesus’ actions and words proclaim the power of God to heal and restore humanity.
It is getting late, the sun is fast moving towards the West, and the disciples tell him to send the crowds away so that they can buy food. Instead Jesus says that the people do not need to go away, and tells the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples obey Him, but cannot see how five loaves and two fish can possibly feed the thousands of people who have come to be close to Jesus.
The five loaves represent the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Books of the Law, the Torah, which show Israel how to live, and how to love God. The two fish represent the Law and the Prophets, so that, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Mt 4:4) The law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the Word made flesh: they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. The hopes of Israel, for the future, for a Messiah, are fulfilled in Him. Just like Israel after crossing the Red Sea here the People of God are fed by God in the desert. There is so much food left over at the end that there is enough to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the disciples, and for each tribe of Israel. In human terms, five loaves and two fish is not enough to feed everyone, but it is more than sufficient in divine terms. Just like at the Wedding feast in Cana, here we see that the Kingdom of God is a place of joy and abundance, of generosity, which isn’t concerned with scrimping or with the ‘good enough’,rather it is a place of lavish excess. This is what the church is supposed to be like: this is meant to be the model for our lives as Christians.
The multiplication of the loaves is not some conjuring trick, meant to amaze us, or to show us how powerful God is. It is a sign of God’s generous love for humanity. This is what God does for us, so that we can respond in a profound and radical way, and thereby change the world. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Nazareth and He responds by feeding people until they are satisfied, until they have had enough, and there is still plenty left over. Likewise, God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible, and are shown and poured out upon the world in Jesus Christ and in his death upon the Cross for our salvation.
Jesus takes the bread and fish, He blesses them, He breaks them and He gives them, actions which look forward to the Last Supper on the night before He died. Jesus told His disciples to carry on doing this in remembrance of Him, so that the Church could continue to be fed by Him and with Him, as a sign of His love for us, so that we might have life and forgiveness in Him.
Let us today be fed with the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, so that it may feed our souls, so that we may be healed and restored by him. Let us be moved by the lavish generosity of God, and encouraged to live it out in our lives, in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, so that all that we are, all that we say or think or do, will proclaim the truth of God’s saving love to the world, so that we too can enter into the joy of the Lord and come to the banquet of the Kingdom, where all are welcomed, and healed.
Filled with God’s grace, may we live generously and encourage others to share in the generosity of the Kingdom, so that all come to believe believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.