READINGS: Isaiah 55:1-3 / Romans 8:33, 37-39/ Matthew 14:13-21
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel reading is about the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves of bread to feed over five thousand people (cf. Matthew 14:13-21). The importance of this miracle by our Lord Jesus Christ could be seen by the fact that this event is recounted by all the four Gospels. Beyond satisfying the physical hunger of the crowd, Jesus teaches us that He is the Bread of life. That is, He is the only One who truly satisfies and strengthens us; and He does so forever.
To appreciate this message of Jesus as our Bread of Life, let us consider those occasions in the Old Testament when God instructed the Israelites to prepare a religious meal, or fed them, or assured them of a future banquet. Firstly, as a sign and memorial for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, God instructed the Israelites to have the “Passover Meal” (Exodus 12:1-48). Secondly, to strengthen them for the “journey of salvation” to the Promised Land, God miraculously gave them manna from above (Exodus 16:13-31). Thirdly, centuries later, the prophet Isaiah would explain to his people the joy of God’s salvation with an imagery of a sumptuous banquet: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined” (Isa. 25:6; RSVCE). Thus, often in the Bible, a meal or a banquet is used as a figure of deliverance or salvation by God.
Therefore, when the Jews exiled in Babylon heard of God’s invitation to eat and drink at no cost (Isa. 55:1-3; first reading), they understood that God’s deliverance or salvation (from Babylon) was close at hand. In other words, they understood that the prophet’s message was not so much about physical food and drinks, but the joy of returning to the Promised Land. And soon, they returned to the Promised Land. Similarly, the feeding of the thousands by Jesus (as recorded in today’s gospel reading) was not so much about their physical satisfaction, but about spiritual salvation in Jesus Christ.
This is quite clearly explained in St. John’s account of the feeding of the thousands. Jesus told the crowd: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you understood the miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. … The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. … I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:26-35).
In other words, as physical food (bread) satisfies our hunger and gives us strength and joy, so Jesus Christ is our spiritual satisfaction, strength and joy. Moreover, Jesus gives us far more than we obtain from physical food. In the first place, whereas physical food perishes, Jesus, the Bread of Life, lives forever. Secondly, while physical food nourishes our bodies (which are short-lived), Jesus nourishes our souls (which are eternal). Thirdly, whereas physical food is no longer useful at our death, Jesus can feed us beyond the grave!
Furthermore, Jesus wants us to understand and believe that nothing else (material or spiritual) can truly satisfy us and give us everlasting joy, except He Himself. When St. Augustine came to this realization, he exclaimed: “O God, you have made us for Yourself, and our souls are restless, until they rest in You.” Finally, therefore, may Jesus, the Bread of life, be our satisfaction, our strength, our joy, and our eternal rest. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis