The disciples of John the Baptist, after burying John, went to find Jesus to tell him of John’s death. Upon hearing this news, Jesus withdraws by boat to a deserted place. Reaching this place, Jesus discovers that the crowds have preceded him. His heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. This is Good News for us as well. Jesus knows our needs. Jesus longs for us to come to him.
John’s disciples went to Jesus in their distress…
Vast crowds went to Jesus in their need…
In just these two scenes, we see the words of the Prophet Isaiah fulfilled: “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” (Isaiah 55:1-3) The same truth is heard in our Psalm today: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Psalm (145)
These passages call each of us to recognize our deepest needs. In short, these scriptures challenge us to be honest about our dependency upon God. Even though most of us sitting here have enough to eat, and enjoy the basic necessities of life, every one of us still need Jesus. Most often, ‘self-sufficiency’ itself creates its own poverty, in that we are tempted to think we no longer need God, and when this thought creeps in, we are indeed the poorest of men.
Matthew’s parables on the Kingdom of Heaven teach us that Jesus Christ is the true ‘treasure’ of life, and that those who discover Christ and grow in relationship with him are the ones truly enriched. (Matthew 13) Luke’s Gospel warns against self-sufficiency, against storing up the goods of this world as if they can provide for all needs. Jesus says to those who rely upon such possessions: “Fools, this very night your life will be required of you. And all these things you have acquired, who will they belong to?” (Luke 12: 19-20)
The greatest fortune one can possess is God’s love, and this love is found in its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ. Once we are aware of God’s enduring love for us, the only thing that further enriches us is sharing that love with those who are in need.
St. Paul asks a great question in our second reading today from the 8th chapter of his letter to the Romans: “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” He goes on to pose many of the serious threats to the human condition as if these alone were sufficient to deprive us of Christ’s love: “anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or the sword?” If our focus is rooted solely in the things of this world, then, indeed, any or all of these challenges would make us believe there is no God, or minimally, no God who loves us. This is one of the great philosophical challenges to the existence of God: “How can there be so much violence in the world? How can so many bad things happen if there is a good and loving God?”
Jesus Christ who took on our human flesh and lived in the world as one like us in all things but sin is the evidence that our God is not a distant God. Our God is not a God who does not care. Quite the contrary! Jesus Christ experienced everything that you and I experience. He knew hunger, pain, disappointment, temptation, sadness, joy, friendships and love. He knows everything of our human condition except sin – and even for our sins, he gave himself up to death. This is why nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Even if we choose to remain selfish and sinful, Jesus continues to love us, always hoping that we will come to our senses, and come to him.
In the Gospel today, faced with a crowd of over 5,000, Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. Here is a true test of faith in Christ’s divinity; in his power to act beyond the confines of this world. It is very similar for us today, because Jesus tells us the same thing when he sums up the commandments with the new commandment to love God and to love our neighbor.
The disciples answered Jesus very pragmatically: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Surely none of us present here today would think that we could feed ten percent of the population of Cheyenne with just five loaves and two fish!
Notice what Jesus does: “looking to heaven…” Here is our first clue that Jesus is acting with divine power, with the love of God that created the entire universe from nothing. Without a doubt, the same God who creates everything from nothing can do plenty with five loaves and two fish. This same God of creative love can also do plenty through each of us who recognize our dependence on God and place our faith in Jesus Christ.
But how have we been infected with the same practical, pragmatic attitude of the disciples? Today’s Gospel is challenging our own belief in the divinity of Christ and the ability of God’s powerful love to act within our own lives. First, we are to open our lives to this love of God. Do we have the faith that is capable of believing that despite the events that tempt us to ‘feel’ God does not love us, we trust that God’s love will prevail in all things? This is the faith that helps us to persevere and to act based upon our faith, and not upon our feelings and emotions. It was Jesus’ trust in the Father’s love that provided the power for him to work the miracle of feeding the 5,000.
Once we open our life to this creative and powerful love of God in the person of Jesus, then we are to act as Jesus who acts in our life. We are to channel that same powerful love in our compassion for those in need. We are to abandon the poverty of unbelief if we are to be enriched with the treasure of faith. And once we have been made rich in the person of Jesus, we are to share our wealth and love with the worldly poor. In such acts of charity, we are further enriched, for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.