Mass Readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35,37-39; Matthew 14:13-21
The three readings for Mass this Sunday contain some of the most consoling words in all of the Bible. The first reading for the Prophet Isaiah, who was active about 550 years before the birth of Christ, encourages the people in affectionate terms the need to turn back to their God. We find in the passage a special warmth in Isaiah’s repeated appeal to “Come”: to drink the water, to receive grain, to enjoy wine and milk. The imagery used is speaking much more than about material goods, of course, and really is talking about the abundance of God’s love that everyone needs in order to live well, and ultimately, to attain salvation that actually costs nothing, but is worth more than all the riches in the world!
It is the Lord who can and does satisfy all who hunger and thirst. Material food and drink are certainly needed to sustain our bodies, but even more essential is the gift of God’s grace and the gift of free will, so that we can make good choices in life, and finally to be prepared for a happy death to move from this life to the next. At Masses for the faithful depart, our departed loved ones, the funeral liturgy includes the words that “life is changed, not ended,” at death.
The Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading addresses people who are in exile, forcibly removed and far from home, suffering from hunger and thirst. Isaiah is among them in their misery, offering words of comfort and hope, saying it is the Lord who will ultimately satisfy the people in their search. They must pursue God, who can satisfy all aspirations for the things of true value. God grants gifts freely, not necessarily material prosperity, but something other and of much more worth than fleeting or earthly values, such as youth, health, wealth, beauty. The cal from the Lord is to look for other things!
In the passage today from the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul makes a fervent proclamation to have faith in God’s love made visible in Jesus Christ, Savior of the world. All that God does is intended for our salvation, Saint Paul maintains, with a firm belief that God’s love will continue to be offered to us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, only our own choice if we reject what God is offering us. Our love for God can never be equal to God’s love for us, of course, but that is never a reason to be discouraged or to give up along the way through life.
Sometimes or perhaps often we may feel the trials we go through are signs that we are being abandoned by God, but that should not be considered the case. Saint Paul explains that God never abandons us, even in our trials and sufferings. In fact, Saint Paul says that “we are more that conquerors” because of God’s abiding and eternal love for us. We are called to share in the suffering of Christ that we may also share in Christ’s glory.
The Gospel text assigned for this Sunday tells us that Jesus leaves the city and retreats to a lonely place and that the crowds follow Jesus there. The reaction of Jesus to the assembly is one of compassion; “his heart was moved to pity,” Saint Matthew tells us in the Gospel.
In that lonely place Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry. Providing for the people this way, Jesus is pointing to the greater and more glorious Messianic Banquet that he has come to offer to all people. The account in the Gospel of feeding the crowds certainly calls to mind the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which Jesus gave to the Church to offer until the end of the ages. At that Sacrament, the very Body and Blood of the Lord are given as spiritual food and drink for the life of God’s people.
All of us, perhaps especially when partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord, are conscious of our weakness, unworthiness and interior poverty before or God, yet we turn with confidence to Jesus Christ, who is the source of nourishment. We should recognize Jesus as “the compassionate one,” and experience the power of His everlasting covenant with us, founded on God’s steadfast and sure love. Divine love is brought to perfection in Jesus Christ, who calls us each day and every second to reject whatever is contrary to God’s ways and to always incline our hearts to God’s Word and Bread, offered that we may be truly satisfied for ever.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB