There are many little statements which are employed at times of loss. “She’s in a better place now.” “God wanted him home.” “One door closes and an other one opens.” “There are other fish in the pond.” They are meant usually to console the suffering person and yet also to avoid the awkward experience of silence or not knowing anything else to say.
There is a saying my mother repeated often to us, “Watch your tongue.” To us that meant stick out your tongue while looking in the mirror. We can say many things flippantly and hope others think better of us for the effort rather than the expression. This week as we live toward the next celebration of the Eucharist, we might pray with several aspects of gracious living.
We take in the Eucharist on our tongues and its grace into our souls. We can pray with the many chances we have each day to graciously speak words of true blessing and honest interactions. We can pray with each opportunity we have for the sacrament of conversations which do involve watching our tongues, lest we talk too much, dominate and take the spotlight off the other. We can pray also with the instances wherein silence is more than golden, it is precious presence.
The historical setting for this wonderful First Reading from the prophet Isaiah is the exiled Israel nation. They are away from the fruitful land of the Covenant made with King David. These chapters 40-55 are full of poems, promises and invitations to trust the same God Who formed that everlasting relationship with Israel.
These verses are taken from near the beginning of the final chapter of this part of Isaiah. The people are thirsty, hungry and feel abandoned. The prophet sings out this call to their imaginations to trust in the God of bread, water, wine and milk. These provoke even more thirst and hunger, but they also encourage hope in the One Who claims to be faithful. They seem lost and unattended, but the prophet assures them that if they remain hopeful they will soon be bread-full, water-full and more faithful in responding to God’s loving care.
Today’s Gospel opens with Jesus’ hearing of the beheading of John the Baptist by King Herod. Accompanied by His disciples, Jesus goes off to pray and perhaps grieve by themselves. This retreat is interrupted by a large crowd who come looking for Him. They bring their sick to be healed and when it grows late His disciples urge Jesus to send them all away. Jesus had seen them as the lost - like sheep without a shepherd and His heart was opened to them.
The stage is set for the “Feeding of the Five Thousand.” The elements of the drama are familiar to us. The disciples have five loaves and two fish and they want Jesus to send the crowds to get their own dinner. Jesus takes, blesses and distributes enough for all and for left-overs as well.
It is tempting and perhaps proper to reflect on these readings in terms of the Eucharist and how we are distributed being so limited. In John’s Gospel this story does have Eucharistic overtones. For Matthew and his readers there is something more particular and meaningful.
Matthew’s Gospel centers Jesus as the Promised Messiah of Israel. He is sent to the “lost sheep of Israel.” The crowd upon whom Jesus has “pity” represent then the lost nation of the Jews. The past three weeks we have heard parables concerning the religious leaders of this people. The Baptist has completed his work and is off stage now. Jesus takes center position and demonstrates in this narrative exactly what He has been sent to do. He is the seer, the One Who cures and the One Who feeds and above all, does not send them away empty, but remains committed to their well-being. Next week the Gospel will picture Jesus’ not abandoning the disciples either. Today’s reading emphasizes the basic theme of Matthew. Jesus is born in Israel to bring life back to Israel and will live and die for the people of Israel first.
I had a young fellow in my office this afternoon who admitted easily that he tends to go to God quickly when he’s in “trouble”, that is with studies or job, or with girl friends. “God of the Gaps” is this kind of relationship where we pull in God to fill up that which we cannot fill ourselves. For your information, today it was the girl friend issue. I was wondering if God feels used or misused when we force God into our empty places.
A recent wind and rain storm hit our city and a tree branch broke one of our windows. We called the window-man who seemed quite happy to find employment in our regard. The taxi driver seemed quite happy to have me as his passenger from the airport. My dentist seems almost sadistically joyful to find me back in his comfortable chair. Our image of the Invisible God might picture God as so jealous that if we only come calling in our emptiness, well it’s all or nothing.
God is more faithful than the fixers, the drivers and healers of this world. We might be embarrassed by our now-and-then relationship with this loving God Who by name is infinite. This God waits for us, waits to be gracious, waits for us to come, yes, now-and-then to the realization of our central human truth. We are finite, empty-at-times, incomplete, and stubborn to admit all of this.
“You gave us bread from heaven, Lord, a sweet-tasting bread that was very good to eat.” Wisdom 16, 20
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