“As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14).
My favourite Bible verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The love of God for us is beyond measure. As our opening prayer acknowledges, God’s kindness is unceasing; that is, it has no limit. Last Sunday, God appeared to Solomon in a dream saying to him: “Ask anything you want and I will do it for you.” God cares for us; He is willing to do anything for us. He says ask, seek, knock and it will be yours (Cf. Mt. 7:7). In today’s Gospel passage, the people did not even ask, it was Jesus who took the initiative to give them something to eat. There are a lot of lessons for us today:
1. What to do in Moments of Pain
Jesus withdraws to a lonely place upon hearing of the death of His beloved forerunner, one whom He referred to as the greatest ever to be born of woman (Cf. Mt. 11:11). To think that this great man John the Baptist would die helplessly in Herod’s prison at the request of a little girl (who with her mother’s advice preferred his head to half of the kingdom) is depressing.
John the Baptist was in prison when he sent words to Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3). Was John beginning to doubt if Jesus is the Messiah? If I was in John’s shoes, I would expect Jesus to rescue me from Herod’s grip, but this was never going to happen. The life of John the Baptist teaches us that serving God is never an all rosy ride but in the end, victory is assured.
St. Paul asks in today’s second reading: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors.” (Romans 8:37). Jesus never promised us unending bliss here on earth. In fact, Jesus says: “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (John 16:2). Jesus must have felt pained by the death of John the Baptist. It must have reminded Him of forthcoming death on the cross and He went to a lonely place all by Himself to pray.
The best thing to do when you are in pain is to pray! Shut down your phone, quieten all the noise around you and seek to be alone with God. Satan will try to take advantage of your pain and begin to poison your heart with negative thoughts, do not listen to the devil. Know that God’s love for you remains steadfast even when you are suffering. Even when you do not understand, God continues to work for your good. As we heard Paul tell us last Sunday: “in everything God works for good with those who love him.” (Romans 8:28).
2. Do not become blinded by Pain.
When we are in pain, we tend to express our anguish by pouring it on others. We feel that we would be happy by making the lives of everyone around us miserable so we unconsciously transfer aggression. Today, Jesus teaches us to do the opposite; He invites us to become wounded healers; He shows us that happiness can only be found by making others happy.
Jesus was in pain at the death of John the Baptist and here was a crowd trooping to see Him. He could have sent them all away (after all, they were supposed to understand that he was mourning) but as Matthew tell us, Jesus had “compassion on them, and healed their sick.” Jesus did not allow His own problem to affect His relationship with His flock. What a great lesson for us shepherds (pastors) of souls!
Do I continue rendering help to people when I am in serious pain or anger? Can I try to put smiles on the faces of others when I am full of tears inside? No matter what may be happening around you right now, know that there are many in far worse conditions. Why are we always praying for helpers when we too can become helpers to others? Dry your tears, help someone today. This world is a very small place.
3. Look Inwards: There is Power in Contentment and Gratitude.
The story is told of a beggar who sat on a box of gold for over forty years asking passers-by for alms. Like this beggar, we spend our lives in misery because we never look inside the box; we never truly appreciate what we have; we strongly believe that what we need is out there and beyond our reach; we are never content. Jesus teaches us a very powerful lesson with the miracle of the loaves. He shows us that if we learn to give thanks and share our little with others, it becomes abundant.
The disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away to buy food for themselves but Jesus shocked them saying: “They need not go, you give them something to eat.” At this point, the disciples were forced to ask themselves a question we all need to ask ourselves: “what do I have?” They said to Jesus: “We have only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus said: “Bring them here to me.” Jesus took what they considered little and looking up to heaven, He blessed it then broke it and gave the disciples to share it to the crowds. All ate and were satisfied. There were even twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over – more than the initial five loaves and two fish.
Stop looking down on yourself. Stop feeling that you have nothing or that you are just a no-body. No one is entirely poor or disabled; we are only differently-abled. Stop feeling as though you were cheated by God. Look inwards. By attempting to help others, you suddenly begin to discover gifts and abilities you never thought you had. Be grateful; be generous. We are always richer than we think.
4. Come, Eat From the Banquet of Rich Food.
Beyond merely seeking to satisfy their physical hunger, Jesus used this miracle to introduce the crowds to the Holy Eucharist; the food for our souls. It is from this perspective that we understand the point Isaiah makes in our first reading: “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” in truth, there is the bread that fails to satisfy and the bread that lasts forever, there is food which passes away and food which endures to eternal life.
Like Solomon who did not ask for riches or the death of his enemies, we must learn today to seek for riches beyond the material things in this world. We must yearn for food which money cannot buy; wealth which moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in to steal. Isaiah says: “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, delight yourselves in rich food.” What is this rich food? It is knowing God, loving God and obeying His word. What is this rich food? It is the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to love you just as you love me. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 55:1-3, Psalm 145, Romans 8:35,37-39, Matthew 14:13-21).