•Isaiah 55: 1-3 • Romans 8:35, 37-39 • Matthew 14:13-21•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Several weeks ago, on the feast of the Body & Blood of Christ, I mentioned a book I read earlier this summer. Elizabeth Johnson lifted the title of her book — “Ask The Beasts,” from a brief text in chapter 12 of the Hebrew book of Job. This is the text:
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you;
ask the plants of Earth and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among those does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being.”
In his suffering Job challenges his misguided friends to abandon their rigid certitude about how the world works. It seems the close companions of Jesus had that same rigid certitude.
Today’s gospel –the marvelous sharing of “the five loaves and the two fish” is retold six times in the four gospels. This makes it difficult to reconstruct the actual event. It also is testimony that this gospel was of significant importance within the early Christian communities.
It was a lonely place. Time has slipped by. People are hungry. His companions still function out of their rigid certitude about how the world works and tell Jesus “it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Their advice is to abandon the hungry to economic laws controlled by the landowners. They tell Jesus, “send them to buy some food” without consideration of their ability to do so.
Jesus replies. “You give them something to eat!” He is emphatic. “YOU give them something to eat.” Still operating out of their rigid certitude about how the world works, they respond, “we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” In my home I have a set of tableware bearing the replica of a 3rd century Byzantine mosaic featuring “two fish” and “four loaves.” The artist understood the significance of this event and is saying – “you be the fifth loaf.”
There on that hillside in Galilee, Jesus calls us to set aside our rigid certitude about how the world works. For us that world is “capitalism.” “Capitalism” sends those who are hungry “to the villages to buy themselves some food” — in other words to take care of themselves. Jesus operates out of a non-capitalistic mind sent. On that hillside he is announcing it is God’s intent to bring forth “a new reality” among us – a more humane society that shares its bread with the hungry.
The text I quoted from the book of Job leapt off the page and blest me this summer. That text, especially the last sentence is the foundation of our spirituality. “In (the Lord’s) hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being.” Our Catholic tradition has impressed upon us that life, all life is precious and Earth belongs to everyone. Our Catholic tradition insists there is enough bread for everyone if we can learn to share it. As his experience of God led Jesus to be compassionate, so our experience of God has led all of us in this room to be compassionate and work to alleviate hunger.
So enough said about that. The act of sitting down at a table to eat together is wonderfully
human. Don’t allow your family and/or companions to forget that eating is more than an
individual, biological act. Sitting at table, eating together, is a privileged moment of gathering. We share our lives, talk to one another, and relax together. We live by receiving from one another and by sharing with others. Our sharing of food is a sign of our radical relationship with Earth and our relationship with all who dwell on this planet. “In (the Lord’s) hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being.”
We know life is a gift given to us each day. This is why we pause to pray whenever we gather for a meal. We give thanks for life, for the nourishment of food, and for the labor and effort that provides bread for us. We give thanks for the companions with whom we share the food. In doing so find our hearts renewed in our commitment to “be the fifth loaf.” Think about it. Every time we gather for a meal, we are extending the mystery we celebrate at our Table of Eucharist.