18th SUNDAY(A) August 2, 2020
Isaiah 55: 1-3; Psalm 145; Rom. 8: 35,37-39; Matthew 14: 13-21
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I am happy to announce a new feature on our webpage. Each week we will be posting General Intercessions for the upcoming Sunday liturgies by Msgr. Joseph Masiello, retired pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, Westfield, NJ. The intercessions will be based on the assigned scriptures, liturgical season and current events. When I first heard Msgr. Joe’s intercessions at Sunday Mass I thought they were clear, literate and perfectly tuned to the day’s liturgical celebration.
Take a look:
A few years back I preached in a city where there was a soup kitchen for street people run by three Catholic sisters. Well, it wasn’t a soup kitchen exactly—it was more like a restaurant. The "guests" were greeted at the door by church volunteers and shown to tables with tablecloths and given a menu. The fare was limited, but they had a choice of "entrees" from which they could choose. There are quicker and more efficient ways to feed the hungry, especially these days with so many homeless and hungry on our streets. Food pantries and soup kitchens can barely keep up with those who come seeking food and clothing. The current numbers of the hungry are increasing and the charitable collections of food and clothing are just not enough to meet the urgent needs.
But still, that special soup kitchen, with its parish volunteers and special "guests" stays with me as a wonderful sign of what the scriptures reveal today about the food and drink we are promised at God’s table – where we will be treated as honored guests and where no one will lack food and clothing. As the spiritual, in its own way, says, "All God’s children gonna have shoes." That’s a promise we can bank on. We will all be special at the table and no one will lack for anything.
Are we believers all just dreamers? Considering the plight of so many these days, who has the audacity to promise anything better in the future, when things are so very bad now? A prophet does - and when a prophet speaks, we become dreamers of the better world we and God are struggling to create. Prophets are audacious and, in biblical times, as well as today, they can seem like fools.
The prophet we call "Deutero-Isaiah" (6th century B.C.E.), was with the people of Judah in exile. His prophetic task wasn’t to reprimand them for their infidelities, which got them into exile in the first place – but to comfort them, by telling them, despite all signs to the contrary, God had not forgotten them. The prophet told them they would be given a new beginning. As in the days of the Exodus, God would deliver them from slavery, lead them across the desert, provide them again with water and food for their journey and bring them safely home. These pandemic days we can feel like struggling desert travelers going – who knows where? – ending, who knows when?
Here’s where the "restaurant" run by the sisters comes to mind. The defeated and broken people in exile are getting an invitation to be God’s guests and to come to eat and drink free of charge. "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, receive grain and eat."
That’s how it always is with God. When we are at our lowest point, in one exile of our own making, or another, a special delivery letter comes to invite us back home, where a meal is waiting us. The invitation reads, "I don’t care what you have done, come on home! Let me supply the nourishment you have desired and searched for in all the wrong places. I have what your really need and I want to give it to you free of charge. For heaven’s sake, forget the past, we have a future together!" Hear in the southern U. S. we might word the invitation differently: "Ya’ll come! Set yourself down. Eat. Hear?")
That southern phrase ends with "Hear?" As if to say (as a native-born New Yorker living in the South, I am on shaky ground here) – "Do you hear what I am saying?" "Trust my words." Or, "I really mean what I’m saying!" Three times in today’s Isaiah reading the prophet, speaking for God, does a similar thing: "Heed me...." "Come to me heedfully, listen...." Despite their current situation, through the prophet God is reassuring the crushed people to trust God’s words and act on what they hear. God has not abandoned them, will deliver them, settle them again in their land, feed them and give them drink – free of charge. They need to "heed" what they hear and respond. "Ya’ll come!"
In Jesus, God has sent out another similar invitation to guests to come, sit down, eat and drink. God offers a special meal, free of charge for those who are in a "deserted place." Appearances can be deceiving – where’s the banquet table, linen napkins, candles, "fattened calf" and "choice wines" the prophets promised would be served God’s people? Not yet. But at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, God’s promise to the needy is renewed and signs of fulfillment are evident for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Isaiah encourages us again today, "Heed me and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare." Or, as we might say these days, "Listen up!"
The multiplication of the loaves and fish is a spectacular miracle. But it starts very small and among seeming-insignificant people. Which is where God usually starts a good work, so that the people can’t claim any success was based just on their skills and merits. God is at work here. It is God’s idea to feed the least and it is God who makes it possible to do it.
Nevertheless, as we learn from Matthew’s account, people do have a part to play; though it does seem small by the world’s ways of measuring. The disciples understand their situation: the crowd is large and they have next to nothing to give to address the people’s hunger. "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here." They may have practically nothing to offer, but at least they "heed" what Jesus says and offer up what little they do have. They could have looked to their own needs and saved the few loaves and fish for themselves. That would have been the prudent thing to do. But the crowd was hungry, they had to be fed and the disciples put what little they had to feed them completely into Jesus’ hands.
So it is a partnership God wants from us! We provide the best we can to do God’s work and, instead of standing far off to see how we do, God rolls up the sleeves and gets to work with us. We have got to trust that – otherwise, we would never set about to address the huge issues we face in our world, like hunger, racism, war, injustice, violence, disease, social inequalities, etc. We do what we can, even though it feels puny to us and appears insignificant by the world’s standards of measurement. We hand over what we have to Christ who invites, "Bring them here to me" – and we will see what he does with our offerings.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: