Friday, July 29, 2011

Feeding the Multitude - Sunday, July 31, 2011 Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 14: 13 - 21

A few years ago, I lost one of my cousins who was very close to me. His death was quite mysterious, some said it was an accident and a few were of the opinion it was a murder. I went for the funeral, I was very much disturbed, and I did not feel like talking to anyone. All that I wanted was to be in a quiet place all alone by myself. I spent the following week in silence avoiding the company of many. Some of us might have gone through the similar experience. In today’s gospel Jesus is in the similar situation. His cousin John the Baptist was murdered by Herod just to maintain his vanity. He wanted a quiet place to mourn the death of his cousin. It was at this time, the crowd comes in search of Him. They were longing to hear the Messiah’s word which gave them peace and consolation. What is His priority? His personal grief or the people who are in need.  He opts to spend time with the people who came in search of him.

This incident of feeding the large crowd is recorded in all the four gospels and interestingly enough it is mentioned 6 times. In Mark’s gospel the first story says that Jesus nourished 5000 Jewish men on Jewish shore (6: 44), second story says that he fed 4000 including Jews and Gentiles men and women on Gentile shore (8:20). In the gospel of Matthew two stories refer 5000 and 4000 (Mt 14: 21, 15: 38). We do not even know the number of loaves and fish. In Marks’s gospel, first story it is 5 loaves and 2 fish (Mk 6: 38), in the second story it is 7 loaves and few fish (Mk 8: 5, 7). We do not know the nature of bread – Usually they ate white bread, in Gospel of John, Jesus gives barley loaves (Jn 6: 9). But one thing is very much sure that Jesus did feed a large crowd using a little bread and few fish.

Some are of the opinion that Jesus never did this miracle but made sure that everyone shared what they brought. This view is not acceptable from the fact that it is recorded by all the four evangelists. But this does not take away the important theme of this story namely the sharing. Unless we share what we have with others God will not do any wonders in our lives.

Once upon a time, during the days of severe famine, a sage passed through a village. The sage was starving due to hunger. He went and asked the villagers for food. The villagers too suffered due to the famine but they had enough food for themselves. Nobody was willing to share anything with the saintly man and they told him, that they are starving due to the famine. The sage told them that he would teach them the trick of making soup out of stones in order to sustain themselves. The villagers were surprised at this. They have never seen anyone making soup out of stones. He asked them for a kettle and firewood. He took a few stones, washed nicely and put it in the kettle, poured water and started boiling. After sometime, he tasted it and said a little salt and pepper would add the taste. Someone immediately volunteered that he would bring the salt and pepper. He added them and after some time said, if there was a little corn, it would give a better taste. Someone else volunteered to bring the corn. Likewise one brought vegetables, one brought piece of meat. At the end of it the soup was ready. The whole village drank the soup and was delighted. They rewarded the sage for teaching them a rare technique with a few loaves of bread and cheese.

Once we are ready to share our resources with the needy, God will surely multiply it. It is the not only with the food but also with our talents and gifts.

Jesus was moved with compassion looking at this crowd. It was his compassion that made him to do this miracle. We have a similar miracle recorded in Old Testament. Elisha multiplies 20 barley loaves to 100 peoples and there were left over. (2 Kgs 4: 42-44), Elijah helps the widow by multiplying handful of flour and a little oil in the jar which lasts for one year (1 Kgs 17: 7-16). This miracle also prefigures Jesus’ giving himself in the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine.

Jesus teaches us some practical lessons.
The disciples ask the Lord to send away the crowd to buy food for themselves. Several times we wish to dictate to Almighty God what we think he should do for us. But Jesus does not take in their suggestion. He asks them to feed the crowd.  God knows what is best for us and therefore we need to humbly accept His will in our life as did our Blessed mother.

Jesus orders the crowd and makes them to sit down on the grass. He does not want people to rush and fight for the food. Yes it is true that Jesus was moved with compassion but that does not mean he tolerated indiscipline. He expected people to obey his orders. They should have some regulations in their lives. This aspect of God, we conveniently forget. Real love is not allowing our beloved to do anything he/she wants but facilitating the good of the beloved by also being strict and firm when the situation demands. We can think for ourselves, how we eat our food.

Jesus took the 5 loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, thanked the Almighty and then gave it to the disciples to distribute it. Often times as soon as we get food, we start eating. How many of us do pray before and after eating? Should we not be thankful to God for providing us with daily food?

After feeding 5000 men excluding women and children there were 12 baskets remaining. In Jewish cultures men and women do not sit together and eat in public. Usually children eat with women. Why did Jesus ask them to gather up the remains? He did not want the crowd to waste food. These twelve baskets of food would feed several others poor people. Sometimes in our abundance we become very careless. Jesus does not want the crowd to waste food.

In today’s gospel Jesus teaches us important lessons for our lives. The little sharing of the boy ended in a big miracle. The more we share with others the more we get from the Lord. Today being Sunday, we all would like to eat good food with our family members. Let us not forget to feed at least one poor man or woman today. If we fail in this small act we will make Jesus sad today. When He is so generous with us, why should we be so stingy? Let us also not forget the practical lessons say good manners, Jesus taught us today.

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