18 Sunday of the Year A
Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Today's scriptural readings tell us about God's providence. God not only directs our lives according to his plan, but also takes care of our physical needs. God commanded Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea and the desert to the Promised Land.
Throughout forty years in the desert, they made a journey led by Moses to the promised- land, stopped at different locations for camping, resting, planting, raising livestock in order to continue their journey. Throughout the pilgrim history in the desert, God's people underwent many trials: many ups and downs in their lives. They were unfaithful to God by worshipping alien gods and molten cows. However, God always took care of them, raining down manna from heaven to feed them. The Reading from the Book of Isaiah today shows God's concern for his people: All you who are thirsty come to the water. You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat (Is 55:1).
God's providence in the Old Testament was to prepare for his providence for the whole humankind, not just for this or that particular nation. The crowds in today’s Gospel followed Jesus without bringing food along. When the evening came, the disciples suggested that Jesus dismiss the crowds so that they could get food for themselves. Jesus told them: Give them some food yourselves (Mt 14:16).
He wanted his disciples to corporate with him in feeding the crowds. However, they had only five loaves and two fish. Jesus took the loaves and the fish, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples so that they could give them to the crowds. The number who ate, were about five thousand men, not including women and children. They still gathered twelve wicker baskets, full of the fragments left over.
What needs to be noticed here is before he broke the bread, Jesus said the blessing. According to an old Jewish tradition when a Jew sat down at his dining table, he often blessed his food first. This is our Catholic tradition. The Catholic tradition reminds us of giving thanks to God before meals.
When the early Christians offered mass or the Eucharist, they kept in mind a biblical notion of thanksgiving, since Eucharist in Greek means giving thanks. Everything we have, has been given by God through his gracious and loving providence. As pious children, we need to be reminded to give thanks to God for all his blessings. The miracle of the loaves was considered so important in apostolic times that it was recorded by all four gospels with a few different details (Mk 6:34-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-14).
A number of scriptural scholars assume the miracle of the loaves was a prefigurement of the Eucharist. The words Jesus used in multiplying the loaves: He said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples (Mt 14:19; Mk 6:41; Lk 9:16; Jn 6:11) are the same as the one he used at the last Supper (Mt 16:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19; lCor 11:22-23). Just before the miracle of the loaves, Saint John mentioned the Passover meal.
It was in the background of the Passover meal that Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Right after the miracle of the loaves, Saint John reserved the rest of chapter 6 for Jesus’ teaching about the Bread of Life. Each one of us needs to realize the importance of food and drink. If we were hungry, we would find it hard to attend to our spiritual matters.
Reading the Bible, we can see Jesus usually worked miracles when people asked him to do. However, on this occasion, he took the initiative to perform the miracle of the loaves for people to eat. God’s providence is at work in the world through the care of the apostles for those who are hungry and through the help of this person for another.
Millions and millions of refugees in the world left their homes for other safe places with little belongings. Through God’s providence, they were fed, and they could rebuild their lives with help from host governments and individuals. Through the Gospel, Jesus also taught us not to waste food. After the crowds had eaten their meal, Jesus told the apostles to collect fragments left over lest they would be wasted. It is not because we have plenty of food, that we should waste them while there are millions of hungry people in the world.
A prayer for daily food:
O Lord, every day of our lives you give us food and drink.
Forgive me for the times I thought I earned my nourishment,
for the times I was ungrateful to you.
Forgive me for the times I wasted food and drink
for the times, I was selfish, not sharing with those in need.
Grant that I may realize everything I have comes from you
so that I may live in a spirit of gratitude by my sharing.
May those rich nations be aware of their responsibility
in helping poor and needy nations. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong