ISAIAH 55:1-3; PSALM 145; ROMANS 8:35, 37-39; MATTHEW 14:13-21
We have four sets of homily notes here. Please scroll down the page.
Fr. Thomas Oyode “God’s Compassionate Love Satisfies our Deepest Yearnings”
Fr. Paul Oredipe: Divine Providence
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: True Satisfaction
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“God’s Compassionate Love Satisfies our Deepest Yearnings”
In the last two Sundays Jesus has been teaching us about the kingdom of God using different parables. In today’s gospel, having heard of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew into the wilderness. The Greek word for wilderness, eremos is equivalent to “the deserted place” which we find in the account of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land and how God fed and satisfied them. It also signifies a condition of danger in the same way as Moses withdrew into the desert in fear of Pharaoh in Exodus 2:15. More important, however, is the general context of the gospel pericope of today (Matt. 14:13-21). Let us give a brief highlight of this context to aid and guide and reflection.
At the time of Jesus’ ministry, the Roman Empire was burdened by widespread economic, social and political inequalities. It was an oligarchic system whereby a few powerful people ruled over the majority. It was also a time when there was food insecurity and scarcity. It means that there was a large population of poor people who also fell sick easily due to malnourishment. A study of Roman history would reveal that a successful Roman Emperor was one who was able to provide not only security but adequate food and water supply. Food was a weapon of economic control. We may buttress this more clearly looking at our present socio-economic situation in Africa. It is a continent reported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as facing the worst food crisis since 1945., countries such as Somalia, Central African Republic and Chad have been worst hit. The main cause of this has been reported to be a result of bad governance not to mention drought and socio-political unrest. It is not surprising therefore, that most politicians in Nigeria would normally woo the electorate with food items during their electioneering campaigns.
It was, perhaps, the situation when the crowd gathered around Jesus in the wilderness: they were hungry and sick. What did Jesus do? Jesus, as we know, did not come as a political leader. In fact, he came as a model of true leadership according to God’s will, leadership expressed most significantly in compassion. Thus, we are told that he had compassion on them. The condition of food scarcity is revealed in the fact that among a crowd of five thousand persons only five loaves of bread and two fish could be collected, given that they were far away from the main town. Jesus, however, receives them, gives thanks to the Father who is the source of every good gift, blesses them and gives them to the disciples who distributes them to the crowd and they all (5,000 persons) eat to their satisfaction with twelve baskets left over.
Now, this very miracle further reveals the divinity of Jesus. He is the compassionate God whose love for us is not limited by any force be it hunger, sickness, scarcity, dryness or exclusion., he shows us again that love can conquer anything no matter how strong. It is precisely the same power of God’s love that St. Paul presents to us with beautiful words in today’s second reading (Rm. 8:35, 37-39).
It also reveals to us that in Christ God is establishing his Kingdom already on earth. For it is the will of God that the hungry be fed and the Prophets pointed this out by inviting people to share their bread with the poor (Ez. 34:1-10, Is. 58: 7, 10). Jesus also made it clear that Judgement will be based on how much we share with those who are deprived (Matt. 25:32-42). In all, we are presented with clear imagery of the reign of God as the dawn of abundance presented in feasting and celebrations such that God promises to feed his people so that they will not be hungry again. God himself invites us to this banquet lovingly and freely without asking for anything in return. In his love and compassion, he has given us his Son who feeds us not only with material gifts but with his very self, the Eucharist which he continues to offer for our spiritual and material satisfaction.
That the Eucharist is our source of deepest satisfaction is revealed in the way the crowd accepted Jesus and felt safe in his presence. They could stay with him even till evening without thinking of what they were to eat. They were certain that being with the Lord, every form of insecurity and scarcity, hunger and disease is of no consequence. They also felt secure and assured by his compassion and love in such a way that selfishness gave way. Before the Lord, he who had bread and he who had fish could willingly give it up knowing that God’s love is enough. Here is where we must continue to appreciate the Eucharistic spirituality. Here, we see how all our anxieties, fear and lack give way to the power and presence of God’s love in our midst, we begin to open our hearts in childlike trust, in charity to the needy without fear, without holding back. Why? Because we know that the Lord is with us, he will take care of us.
Therefore, in a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is widening by the ticking of the clock, Christians must never forget that we share in the one life Christ who is compassion and love. We must work within our own immediate environment to share our bread with the needy, to welcome the stranger, the weak, the sick with that heart of compassion that hears Jesus constantly saying, “give them some food yourselves”. As we begin the month of August we ask Our Lady to help us find nourishment and healing in Christ, our Eucharistic Lord. Amen.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
In the first lesson today, Isaiah was proclaiming a message to people who were in exile because they had been unfaithful to God. They had not listened to God’s word in the past and, because they had failed to heed God, they found themselves overwhelmed by their enemies. They had not been faithful to God and had known great suffering. They had been deported from their homeland, exiled to Babylon.
Isaiah’s message was one of consolation, that their suffering would come to an end, and that they would one day be able to return home. They were in exile and, yet, now Isaiah is telling them: “God is bringing you back and your exile will be over.” This return from Babylon would be a new Exodus, a reaffirmation of the covenant, the contract of love, between God and his people. Through the mouth of his prophet Isaiah, the Lord invites them to drink their fill of His covenant love: “Come to the water all you who are thirsty.”
God is promising them what they need for their human life – but even beyond that, gifts that only God can give; gifts of genuine life forever. Come and receive these gifts. You don’t have to pay. God’s love is waiting, always waiting to be gracious to us.
In whatever way you picture it, the story in the gospel of today fills us with wonder. Many of us must have wondered. How did Jesus feed a crowd of perhaps ten thousand people with only two loaves of bread and a few fish? Perhaps, our mothers here will ask: “what is the recipe?” We might as well ask, “How did God make the world?”
The creation story is intended to teach us that God is the Creator of all things. So it is with the miracle stories about Jesus. The correct question is not “How did He do it?” but “Why did He do it?” And the New Testament writers give us the answer. He did it because He cared about other people – real compassion and genuine love. He did it for love and from love. The only explanation and justification is loving compassion.
The multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only one of Jesus’ miracles recorded in all four Gospels. The early Christian community especially cherished this story because they saw this event as anticipating the Eucharist and the final banquet in the kingdom of God. This miracle also has strong roots in the first testament. Just as the merciful God feeds the wandering Israelites with manna in the desert, Jesus, “his heart moved with pity,” feeds the crowds who have come to hear Him.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus acted out of his great compassion on the crowds. First, He challenges the disciples to give what they have — five loaves and two fish. Then He performs the four-fold action that prefigures the Eucharist. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread and fish to the assembled multitude, making of them a community of the Lord’s banquet.
In the real sense of it, Jesus had not come to this deserted place in order to feed such a crowd. He had come there in order to be alone. But the spiritual hunger of the people made them so ravenous for His words that they rushed to get to the place before He did. He was moved by compassion at the sight of the multitude. That is why He acceded to their desire.
After having fed their souls, He was acutely and compassionately aware that they needed food for their bodies also. That is why He had recourse to His divine, creative power to work the miracle of the multiplication of the five leaves and two fishes. He also did this as a sign that He had compassion for the whole multitude of mankind throughout the world and throughout all ages. He did it because He felt compassion for other people. He did it because that is the picture of Himself He wants us to see now. He did it because that is the kind of example He wants us to follow now. He did this deed as a sign that nothing can come between us and His love. Certainly not the laws of nature.
Not that He has contempt for the laws of nature. The laws of nature are fine as far as they go but they are inadequate when their Creator is determined to become man for love of us and unite us to Him forever. Jesus transcended the law of nature and gave us the law of grace. We see God’s saving love for us transcending the law of nature.
The Psalm of today speaks the same message of God’s generosity and love. “The eyes of all creatures look to you and you give them their food in due time.” Every living thing has life only because God gives it that life. Life is what God is offering to His people. Not just for the body, but life for the soul as well. And the reason for this offer is clearly stated both by the Psalmist and by Isaiah. The simple reason is His steadfast love for us. Steadfast love.
God’s love is for life. Unbreakable, reliable, consistent. It is the sort of love summed up again and again in the Bible by the word covenant. Not a dead dry legal contract, but a living and self-renewing promise. “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs?” (Cf. Psalm 145:8-9; 15-16; 17-18). God cares for us, tenderly, even when we are not immediately aware of it.
This unbreakable covenant-love is affirmed by Saint Paul in today’s second reading. He speaks of a situation that Isaiah’s audience, the Jewish exiles, would certainly have understood, and so I imagine can most of us: being troubled, being worried, being threatened. But Saint Paul assures us that all such troubles are the works of men. They will come to an end. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Saint John also says in a very familiar passage from his gospel, perhaps the best known verse in the whole Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This gospel promise is exactly the same as the promise relayed by Isaiah: life not merely for the body, but for the soul.
In many places in the New Testament, Christ Himself echoes the words of Isaiah. Isaiah says, “Come to the water all you who are thirsty.” Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The episode in today’s gospel shows our Lord keeping this promise, satisfying the needs of the people who followed Him. These people were so keen to hear what He had to teach them that they were prepared to follow Him far away from their homes, to a lonely place apart. They felt a wonderful drive to hear the words of Jesus. So compelling was that urge that it impelled them to venture out to a deserted place recklessly unprepared. So determined were they to hear Jesus, they took no thought of so mundane a thing as bringing along needed sustenance.
The people in the gospel of today represent all humanity in search of God. Hunger and food are real human needs. However they are not the only need of the human person. As the scripture says: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” The human person searches for the Transcendence, something beyond this physical world. As St Augustine said: “You have made us O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in YOU.” Also, St Augustine says: “O Lord, you have put salt in our mouth that we may thirst for you.”
This event in the gospel looks backward and also looks forward. In it the past and the future meet in the present. As well as looking back to the manna in the wilderness, Christ feeding the five thousand also looks forward. His actions clearly direct our minds to the Eucharist “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves He handed them to the disciples …”
These words point forward to Matthew’s account of the Last Supper later in the gospel: “Jesus took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.” And this looking forward does not stop with the Last Supper and the Mass. It points us still further forward to what we heard about in the gospel for the last two Sundays, the kingdom of heaven.
In many places in the Bible, the heavenly kingdom is compared to a rich and unending banquet, open to all. Remember Our Lord’s words when He said: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gives a marriage feast” or again when He says: “Many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” The feeding of the five thousand was a brief but generous glimpse in advance, of the marriage feast of the King of kings.
The gift of Manna in the wilderness foreshadowed the feeding of the five thousand, and this miracle was an anticipation of the Eucharist. And the Eucharist itself is a down payment, so to speak, on the eternal banquet, which we shall enjoy, in the heavenly kingdom. God feeds us here and now in this Holy Sacrament, and this feeding is a foretaste of the banquet He will one day lay before us in paradise, where no-one will ever go short.
In addition to feeding the people, Jesus gave a great example and challenge for us to follow. “You give them something to eat” He told the apostles. Follow my example of feeling compassion for others.
Jesus could have worked the miracle out of nothing. Yet He accepted what they had – 5 loaves and 2 fish. He turned their inadequate means into surplus; their insufficiency into a rich abundance. He will do the same with us if we share our resources – time, talents and treasures – with those in need. The thing we learn today is that God can make enough out of our nothingness.
It is not enough merely to have an intellectual understanding of Jesus’ lessons in caring and compassion. The real lesson teaches us to feel the other person’s burden as our own. When confronted by another’s need, the real lesson teaches us to act in a manner which says, “I can feel your pain.” I recognize and identify with you. I will help you.
We do our best to pay our bills and to provide a decent life for our families, but we can’t expect to buy happiness. Our happiness is dependent on one thing only: having the Lord in our lives. The invitation we are given is not to something little. We are invited to a BANQUET, not for a snack or some fast food. NO, we are invited into God’s abundant provisions. And we are challenged to extend the same generosity to other people around us.
The remaining baskets – 12 baskets full. This gives a symbolic meaning. This number 12 stands for the new people of God, represented by the 12 apostles, meaning that each took a basket and continues the distribution through the ages as extension of Christ. This new people will never lack this new bread that is Christ. There will always be something left over to distribute. What Jesus has done must continue to be real today also as He continues through his disciples to feed people at all time and in all places.
Today, as always, Christ is still feeding us: Through his WORD of life, Through the BREAD of life right now, even in this celebration, with the very Body and Blood of Christ. Let us give thanks to Him and follow His great example.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The first reading presents an invitation to the hungry. The Lord calls all those who are hungry or thirsty to come to him and he will feed them for free. In the Gospel, the people ate and were satisfied all for free. Beloved, only in Christ Jesus we can find true satisfaction. The readings today leave us to reflect on various dimensions through which we can derive true satisfaction in our Christian lives.
True satisfaction: This can be obtained only when we seek God. The first reading asked a question “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” This generation also needs to answer this question. Man’s appetite is such that can never be satisfied. Human wants are insatiable. People spend so much trying to satisfy their stomach, sexual urge, knowledge and others yet they remain in want and become slaves to their desires. Man has been duped into thinking that a better job, more money, friends, or another spouse, is really what he needs. Many times in Jewish history, the Chosen people were overwhelmed by their appetite and unsure if they would survive. In the same vein, we are overwhelmed by our appetites. In their struggles to fulfill their desires they did a lot of things that expressed emptiness.
Thus, in the first reading God promises to satisfy their hunger and thirst for physical and spiritual goods. This was fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the Gospel says they ate and were satisfied. Beloved in Christ, at the root of our dissatisfaction is a never-ending thirst that nothing in this world can satisfy. In God alone is satisfaction found. In John 6:35 Jesus says “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Ps. 107:9 says “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Psalm 145, the psalm of today says “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Therefore only in God we can find satisfaction let us look up to him.
Another dimension by which we can gain satisfaction is through Sharing or Charity. The Gospel demonstrates how God takes care of his people. He asked the disciples to feed them, and from the crowd they got five loaves and two fish. The scene points out to us that a great deal of God’s care and compassion devolves on our own shoulders. All that is needed is charity –the works of mercy: Spiritual and corporal. Many troubles in the world today are caused by humans and can be resolved by humans. It is easy to blame God, governments, and others except ourselves. We suffer so much today because of greed. Jesus says “Feed them”. We must learn to feed others. If no one had brought forth two fish and five loaves; they would have remained in hunger. It is from what we bring that abundance is made and from the seed planted that grains are produced. Therefore, we must embrace charity and the works of mercy to reinstall our world. All will be satisfied if it is commonly shared.
The Holy Eucharist is another dimension by which we can derive satisfaction: The miracle of the loaves clearly prefigures the Holy Eucharist. Jesus feeds us every day with his own body and blood. This is the only miracle that is reported by all the four gospels precisely because of its link to the Eucharist. The Miracle relates the direct words used in the Eucharistic celebration and it has the same characteristics: the community, the transformation of humble elements into what satisfies us and God’s abundant gifts. Therefore, every Eucharistic celebration gives us one and the same satisfaction as of old.
This implies that we must therefore maintain some spiritual courtesies:
1.Thanksgiving: The Gospel says “Jesus looked up to heaven”. We must learn to give thanks always. How many of us still give thanks before and after meals. Precisely because of this, the priest at the offertory gives thanks to the Creator for the bread and wine, fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.
- Adoration: The Gospel says “They took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.” Beloved in Christ in the Catholic liturgy nothing is wasted, whatever is left is not thrown away or disregarded as it is in other faiths; but it is kept in the tabernacle for adoration, for the sick or upon request and on-ward distribution. Adoration satisfies a soul. It’s a special moment with Jesus. Again, these 12 baskets symbolize the 12 apostles; each to a basket, for onward distribution to feed generations to come.
- Proper preparation: St. Paul in the second reading asked “what shall separate us from the love of God?” Beloved in Christ, nothing should separate us from the love of Christ. Hardship and trials should not be the reason we don’t receive Holy Communion. Therefore, let us ensure proper preparation for every Eucharistic celebration. We must make effort to be in the state of grace and be active during mass. It is my prayer that our genuine hunger will lead us to genuine satisfaction. Amen.