Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug. 2: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Food that will last

Is 55:1-5; Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21

Some years ago, I and a group of students from Catholic Theological Union were camping in the Sinai desert as part of our semester-long overseas Bible study program. We were accompanied by a guide who was an expert on desert travel. He also served as our cook. 

It turned out he was a better guide than a cook. After several days of eating out of cans, there was some grumbling in the group. One student with a mischievous sense of humor would take the microphone from time to time and describe imaginary menus — complete with detailed descriptions of each delicious item that we could order. I am not sure if it made matters better or worse.

This memory came back when reviewing the readings for this Sunday. The basic need for food in order to survive, the longing for good food especially when we are hungry and the enjoyment of food and drink are used as metaphors throughout the Bible as a way of describing our ultimate longing for God.

That is the case with the poetic passage from Isaiah in the first reading today. The prophet transmits God’s invitation to those who seek the Lord. All who are “thirsty” are invited to come freely to drink cool water, luscious wine and rich milk.

Those who are hungry will be fed with bread. They shall eat well and delight in rich fare. The purpose? “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”

The responsorial Psalm 145 echoes the same food motif as a metaphor for the longing for God. “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the multitudes is the anchor for this food motif. The crowds, hungry for Jesus’ teaching, flock to him, even as he sought some solitude following the death of John the Baptist. 

Despite Jesus’ sadness and weariness, the Gospel notes that he was “moved with compassion” for the crowds (the Greek verb Matthew uses here, “splagnizomai,” implies deep emotion on the part of Jesus, a response not accurately conveyed by the translation “moved with pity”). 

He is concerned that the crowd is hungry. After all, it is late in the day and the place where they have gathered is remote.

The disciples’ solution is to send them away to try find something to eat in the villages. Jesus’ solution is to feed them, which is a staggering task with a crowd of more than 5,000.

The scene is set for one of Jesus’ most memorable miracles. From the insufficient rations of five loaves and two fish, his word and his blessing will enable the disciples to feed the entire crowd, with 12 wicker baskets leftover. 

This vivid story is meant to evoke ancient biblical memories: God’s feeding of the Israelites with manna in the desert; the vision of Isaiah 25 that the endpoint of human history will be a glorious banquet prepared by God with choice wines and rich food — with the tears wiped away from every cheek and no harm or ruin on God’s holy mountain. 

Jesus’ gestures of blessing and breaking the loaves and their distribution to the crowds signal Eucharists yet to come in which God’s people will also be fed.

Last Sunday, too, Jesus’ parables about selling all in order to buy the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price, invited us to think about the ultimate meaning of our lives and our search for God and for ultimate peace and the unconditional love of God for us.

The second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans does not refer to food, but it expresses the deep meaning of all these readings: “Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ … neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What more could be said?


  • scripture