18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By: Fr. Morgan V. Rice, CSB
Imagine the scene we hear about in today’s Gospel. Imagine that you are Jesus who has just found out about the death of his beloved cousin, John the Baptist.
Jesus does what we might do as well: he goes away to be by himself. He wants some alone time. We are not told why, perhaps as a way to grieve, perhaps to pray, maybe even for Herod, Herodias, and Salome.
And yet, his plans change. As he comes ashore—surprise! The crowds await him. While I might have gotten back on the boat to try to get away to somewhere else, he doesn’t. Instead Jesus stays because the crowds move him to compassion, and he cures the sick.
They have pursued him to this place, which is no long deserted. They are hungry, and they have come to the right person.
The disciples are there too. And after what sounds like a busy day for Jesus, they want to send the people away to get something to eat. They are mindful of the people’s physical needs, but maybe by wanting to send them away, they are trying to protect Jesus so that he can get a break. Who knows?
The fact is Jesus doesn’t let them go away hungry; he feeds the huge crowd before dismissing them.
This makes me think of my trips back to Texas to visit my parents. Food is always a big part of the trip. In fact, leading up to the trip, my mom asks me if there is any particular food that I would like when I’m there. And before leaving, we always have a meal, and she sends me back to Toronto with as many goodies as I can pack into my suitcase!
Sharing a meal can be such an enjoyable experience! It’s a place of building relationships, and it seems to be where Jesus likes to encounter people as he does in today’s Gospel.
Jesus shows his love towards the people by acknowledging and providing for their immediate physical needs. And yet, whether they know it or not, he offers them so much more.
Like with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t just want to quench their thirst or hunger until they get thirsty or hungry again, he wants to give them the living water that quenches our thirst for ever (John 4.14). He wants them to be in relationship with him, connected with him so that they can live with him for eternity.
Many in the crowd probably returned home with gratitude for being healed and fed. They are likely to tell their friends about Jesus, but will they be able to convey who Jesus really is?
Others probably got a fuller sense of who Jesus was, that he was offering them something more, something that this world cannot provide.
I have seen this in recent weeks as members of our RCIA program have stepped forward to be baptized and received into the Church. As adults, they have taken a huge step to respond to a hunger within them, a hunger to be united with Jesus in more profound ways.
Important in their journey and in ours is to do what the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, this weekend’s first reading. To come to Jesus and learn from him by listening to him, by inclining our ear to him whose words are everlasting life.
It follows last week’s first reading in which Solomon requests from God a “listening heart” to be able to discern what is truly good and to choose what will provide true nourishment and life.
Today, we gather together having just heard the word of God in the Gospel, which speaks of Jesus’s love and compassion and his desire to provide for the people’s needs.
As we reflect on our hungers, we trust in God’s providence to provide our needs. That happens when we live out our baptismal call to be the hands and feet of Christ in our world today. What an awesome privilege to be Christ for one another!
Just as Jesus tells his disciples to take the bread—blessed and broken by him—to give to the hungry crowd, we are to take all that we receive from God—the physical blessings and the spiritual and intellectual gifts—all that we have—to share with others.
There is so much need out there, especially with the pandemic. Thank you to all who continue to support St. Basil’s and the work that has continued during the pandemic, especially the work of the St. Vincent de Paul society and our outreach ministries like Out of the Cold, which provide for some of the physical needs of our neighbours.
I hope that we all can continue to cooperate with God and be moved to compassion, as Jesus was, to satisfy the various hungers facing those in our midst.