Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A.
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI
An Invitation to the Banquet of True Life Vs. Worthless Things
God’s Providential Care for His People.
What Can Separate Us from the Love of Christ?
Miracle of the Multiplication of Five Loaves and the Two Fish
During the past three Sundays we have been reading the Parabolic Discourse on the Kingdom in the 13th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. The chapter ended with Jesus leaving the crowds and returning to Nazareth, where he was rejected. Matthew 14 then begins with the account of the arrest and assassination of John the Baptist. Then, Jesus was desirous of withdrawing from the crowd, but they would not let him. As a big crowd had gathered, he began to heal them. At the end of the day, the disciples wanted to send them away to nearby villages to buy food, but Jesus out of His great compassion for them, would not let them go. Instead, he asked his disciples to provide food for the crowd. They reported to him that it was physically impossible to find food for a crowd of 5000 people and all they could find was five loaves and two fish that a boy had brought along. Jesus blessed it and distributed among them all. They not only ate to their heart’s content, but also collected scraps, twelve baskets full.
Why did Matthew record this event in his gospel? This story is related to the recurring Matthean theme of the Jewish Messianic Banquet (8:12; 14:13-21; 15:21-28; 32-38; 22:1-14). The Messianic Banquet serves as a metaphor for the reversal of blessings during the Messianic Age both in the present and future, where the poor will be blessed while rich the opposite. The theme of the Messianic banquet is much highlighted in Isaiah. During the Messianic Age, resulting from repentance and the obedience to the Law, they will be brought back to their land from being dispersed (Is 24:23; 26:1-4, 15-19; 27:6, 13; 35:1-10; 43:5-7; 45:20; 49:8-13; 22-23; 51:11-14; 54:7; 60:4-14). Then, the nation will receive bountiful blessings in their land (Is 1:19; 9:6-7; 11:1-5; 24:23; 27:2-6, 12, 13; 29:17-24; 30:19-29; 32:1-8; 42:1-9; 49:6-13; 51:3; 55:1, 2). These messianic blessings are not for Israel, but also for all the nations (Is 2:1-4; 9:1; 11:10-12; 18:7; 19:18-25; 25:6-8; 42:6, 7; 49:6, 7; 49:22, 23; 56:3; 61:7; 66:21). The clearest references to an eschatological Messianic Banquet are Is 25:6-8 and 55:1-3. Matthew presents Jesus not only as the giver of the Messianic Banquet, but also as the banquet itself. Bread and fish are basic nourishments of people. “Bread” is a metaphor for that which gives and sustains life and nourishment. Jesus is the food that gives life to people. He is the true food and drink of life (Jn 6:32). There is no one else or no other earthly delicacy that satisfies human beings.
But often people go after things or persons who are non-life. In today’s first reading, Isaiah questioned, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy?”(55:2a). Why should one search for things that avails nothing true? Why does one invest on things which pay no lasting dividends? Modern humans spend money frivolously on expensive modes of transport or building palaces to brawl about in super comforts. There is no end to human desires. Media makes a prey of people who crave for pleasure and comfort. Craving never ends. Wo/man wants more and more. Wo/man wants the best quality and the most expensive. In this rate race we lose true values. Often there is only being showy and prestigious to create a name for oneself to impress others. In the end, they fall into debt resulting in bankruptcy. That is not the way a wise person would behave. We need certain comforts and essentials in life, but not the luxus, particularly in a world where there are so many poor people in dire need of the essentials. A kind word or a gesture of care or generosity would be more than what is needed to impress someone. Our Christian commitment is not to be eating marbled beef and mountain-like disserts. It is an invitation to discover the Kingdom of God and live the gospel values in utter simplicity and thereby, receive eternal life. Eternal life begins here and now and continues after life. The banquet has already begun. Eucharist is the Messianic Banquet. If we take it seriously, our life patterns will change. We shall embrace a life of evangelical simplicity. We begin to live with the minimum. We shall share like the little boy who gave in all he had to feed many others in today’s gospel. That was also what happened in the First Christian Community where they shared all they had with everyone so that there was no one in need. There was greater love and care for one another in the First Christian Community. Everybody lived happily as far as their Christian life was concerned. Isn’t this already the beginning of the life of eternal?