Monday, 4 August 2008

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

There are different ways of looking at the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. One way is to take a reductionist view which simply downplays the “miraculous” by saying that what was really miraculous was that the people shared their food with each other. If you think about it, this approach actually makes Christ out to be someone quite ordinary who happened to be rather convincing. He was, if you like, a very good organiser.

The other approach is to highlight the symbolic nature of the act of Christ. The numbers sort of proved it: 5 loaves, 2 fish and 12 baskets full... Again this approach tries to get away from confronting or facing up to the reality of Who Jesus was and what really took place. If it were just or merely symbolic then how can one explain the 6 different accounts of this one event because the account is presented twice in both Matthew and Mark and once each in Luke and John. Symbols are fine but they must be somehow connected to an actual event. And so what can this event called the multiplication of the loaves say to us?

To answer the question, we must set the miracle within the larger context of who Jesus really is and who we really are. First point, John the Baptist is mentioned rather casually as in “When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death He withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves”. The short sentence doesn’t say much but John actually died in the context of a “banquet”. It was at this banquet where Herod became so besotted or captivated by, depending on how you see it, his niece or step-daughter’s beauty that he promised anything she would ask for. She asked for the head of John the Baptist. The banquet of Herod resulted in death. Death from planning, scheming and conniving.

On the contrary, there by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, we have another banquet. This banquet recalls the experience of the Jews in the Desert where God provided for their hunger through manna. Here Jesus becomes the new Moses who fed the hungry in the desert. Not only were they fed but they all had more than enough. The banquet of Jesus led to life. The contrast between the two banquets cannot be greater.

Second point: We are constantly directed to Christ as the first reading reminds us that it is Christ alone who gives life. “Come to the water all you who are thirsty, though you have no money, come”. The miracle of the multiplication speaks of Christ’s boundless love for us. And not only is His love boundless. It is the only love which satisfies. “Why spend money on what fails to satisfy”? The abundance is an invitation to trust Him completely.

The second reading offers further proof or rather encouragement in this area of trust because “nothing can come between us and the love of Christ: not troubles, not worries, not even persecutions, not hunger or anything. Nothing can come between the love of God in Christ Jesus and us”.

Earlier, I said the multiplication of the loaves was set in the larger context of who Christ really is and who we really are. Who is Jesus Christ really? The answer is He alone satisfies. At the Final Mass of the recent World Youth Day, Pope Benedict said,

“In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfilment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life”.

What has this quote from Benedict XVI to do with the multiplication of loaves? Christ’s satisfaction of the hungry is prelude to the satisfaction of their heavenly hunger. Therefore, it is an invitation to come to Christ. Secondly, only Christ can satisfy our inmost longings. And thirdly it is about who we really are. We are made for the love of Christ and therefore, the multiplication of the loaves is a miracle which invites us to faith.

Faith is also a choice we need to make. Cardinal Pell in the homily of the Welcoming Mass at the WYD spoke to young people and he said:

“Don’t spend your life sitting on the fence, keeping your options open, because only commitments bring fulfilment. Happiness comes from meeting our obligations, doing our duty, especially in small matters and regularly, so we can rise to meet the harder challenges. Many have found their life’s calling at World Youth Days”.

Therefore, for us to grow in faith, it means that we must choose. If we don’t, we lapse into nothingness. When we dare not choose, we may exist but we are not alive.

In conclusion, the multiplication of the loaves is more than symbolic because it shows two things. First, it shows who Christ really is. Second, it shows that in being fed and satisfied, we are revealed to be who we really are and thus are challenged to make an act of faith, a choice for Christ to commit ourselves fully to Him and thereby be fully satisfied in Him and by Him alone.