We are invited to be hungry and be fed in the readings for this weekend’s Eucharistic gathering. We love to be invited and included. God asks us to know how hungry and thirsty we are as we journey through our human existence.
We can prepare for hearing the Word and receiving His Body and life, by reflecting upon certain empty, and thirsty places we experience in ourselves. We can come quite full to God’s table, well-satisfied and be too full of what we call life and so do not feel drawn to this kind of refreshment. We can pray with our longings, hungerings, thirstings for real and deep living. God invites and waits for our daily response.
Three weekends ago we heard verses from the same chapter from which we hear the opening lines in our First Reading today. This section, known as The Book of Consolation, is a celebration of God’s reminding Israel of the Covenantal love which God established throughout Israel’s whole history. They have been in exile with accompanying hunger and thirst, but what we hear is a poetic invitation through the Prophet to come and receive what is offered so generously and abundantly. The people are given these chapters of hope while still enduring captivity. Their thirst and hunger form the context for this delightful and inviting invitation. Soon they will be freed and the promised abundance of their lands will again renew their faith as well as their bodies.
God is pictured as preparing a great feast and the Prophet associates this beneficence with the covenant which God made with their father, David. God is seen as the initiater again and the poverty of the people is pictured as calling to God and urging God to be compassionate. In truth, nothing moves God into benevolent activity: God is always in a loving and out-pouring relationship with Israel. In their history, they would grow forgetful of that place they had at God’s table and their resultant thirst and hunger would remind them.
The Gospel is such a defining picture of Jesus and His relationship with humanity. John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod and apparently moved with that personal loss, He withdraws to be by himself and grieve. Upon arriving at a prayerful place, a crowd arrives with their pains. Jesus is moved with, not just a feeling of “pity,” but an active compassion which embraces their human sickness. This took some time and when evening drew near, the crowds grew hungry and the disciples grew anxious. They approach Jesus with an efficient solution: send them away. Jesus has a better solution: feed them yourselves.
The disciples will do that all right, but after admitting their poverty; they do not have enough themselves. Jesus takes what little they have, gives thanks for what they have, and gives back to them what they had, but now it is more than what they had. The bread and the fish are then shared in abundance with those who agreed to sit down on the grass. They had to admit their hunger, the disciples had to admit their personal poverty and Jesus embraced their truths even more than they did.
Obviously this is a prefiguring of the Eucharistic generosity of God’s embrace of us. It is also a picture of Who Jesus was and is. The Baptist’s mission of preparing the way for Jesus is completed by his cruel death. Jesus now is presenting Himself more and more dramatically. Physical healing and feeding are but preludes to the real mission of Jesus.
As Christians we are both the crowd and the disciples. Jesus has embraced our truth, our personal and collective poverties and that embrace is meant to heal us from the shame of that very poverty. It is not whether we are poor enough, but rather are we honest enough to allow Jesus to bless it and distribute Himself through it. Honesty is not the same as negativity, that’s too American. Christian honesty sits down, faces upwards and allows the truth of the Eucharistic and Incarnational love of God to be received. It is then that we as disciples can walk about blessing, healing, encouraging through that self which shame would want to hide. Every minister knows her or his sense of embarrassing richness. We share what we have received, including the poverty of our words and gestures. The riches flow from the reception of what Jesus has taken away and that with which He has replaced it all.
We are disciples then not by feelings, but by faith. We do not pretend we have it all. Five loaves and two fish in the hands of Jesus multiply our possibilities. He gives the Eucharist to each of us and in doing so missions us to pick up our truths and continue the mission of John the Baptist. We now make known His presence, His person, and His embrace. Honesty is the best policy for those who sit down in preparation to rise again.
Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola
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