Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

July 16: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Feeding the hungry

Is 55:10-11; Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23

The faces of children from places experiencing long-term drought are haunting. Their sunken eyes and their skeletal facial expressions are evidence of the devasting effects that famine has on human lives. The children of famine can look more dead than alive.

The people of ancient Israel lived in fear of famine. The problem was the geography of their homeland. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, the land of Israel did not have a river system to supply a reliable source of water for irrigating crops. Agriculture in Israel was entirely dependent on rain that had to fall in the right amount and at the right times.

Unless enough rain fell during the rainy season, crops failed, and food supplies dwindled. If rainfall was insufficient in several years in succession, famine and starvation were inevitable.

Both the reading from Isaiah and the responsorial psalm reflect preoccupation of people in ancient Israel with rain. A rainfall sufficient to water the crops and livestock was essential to produce an adequate food supply and stave off famine.

In the reading from Isaiah, rain becomes a metaphor for the word of God that promised that the Judean exiles would be able to rebuild their lives and community in their ancestral homeland. The responsorial psalm praises God, who provides the rain that makes it possible for Israel not only to survive but to enjoy an abundant harvest.

The unnamed prophet of the exile whose words have been preserved in Isaiah 55 exploits the image of the providential God who gives rain that assures a good harvest. The prophet compares the life-giving rain to the word of God that he has proclaimed about Judah’s future. That word is like the God-sent rain since that word will also fulfill the purpose intended by God.

The people of Judah who were the first to hear the prophet’s words were anxious about the future of their community. It was beset by both internal and external forces that were formidable obstacles to the restoration of their community’s life in its homeland after years of exile.

The prophet announces that the restoration is at hand. He asserts that the people of Judah can look to the future with confidence since God’s word will transform Judah’s circumstances just as the prophet has described: “My word will not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).

The Gospel lesson tells of a farmer who has enough seed grain to scatter seeds far and wide, anticipating a successful harvest. In the biblical tradition, the seeds scattered by the sower, the soil which receives the seeds, the rains that allow the seeds to germinate and grow to maturity are signs of God’s providential care. The bountiful harvest described in the responsorial psalm is the result of God’s gift: “You (God) have visited the land and watered it; greatly have you enriched it” with the result that “the fields are garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain” (Ps 65:10, 12). The psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving offered by people whose anxiety over the food supply has been relieved by their God.

It is no wonder then that the sign of Christ’s love and continuing presence among the Christian faithful is food and drink as the sacramental signs of bread and wine. The people of ancient Israel and Judah recognized the power, love and presence of God in the food that was the product of their agricultural labors that were successful because of God’s gift of rain.

In the Eucharist, Christians receive the Bread of Life. They do not work for this food but receive it as a pure gift of God that satisfies their spirit’s hunger.

 This Sunday’s Scriptures ought to lead us to action to relieve hunger that still plagues too many people: those in regions suffering famine, the unemployed and underemployed, those living on fixed incomes. There is no reason for anyone to go hungry since God has blessed our earth.

Every child of God has a right to share in its bounty. We need to make certain that none of our sisters and brothers go hungry for we are the instruments of God’s providential care.


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