AUGUST 7, 2006, HOMILY: JEREMIAH 28: 1-17; MATTHEW 14:13-21
JESUS TOOK THE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH, LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN, BLESSED AND BROKE THEM, AND GAVE THE LOAVES TO HIS DISCIPLES. Todayís Gospel passage reveals both the humanity of Jesus and the unique powers at his disposal in his capacity as Godís beloved son. He had just learned of the murder of his forerunner, John the Baptist, and was shaken by the news. He sought to come to terms with the new situation it created for himself and to assimilate the meaning it held for his own mission, and so arranged to go apart with his chosen disciples into a quiet, solitary place. If John, so upright, so visibly sent by God and faithfully bearing testimony to Godís honor that he was held in esteem by the people, suffered such a fate, did it not imply a similar destiny for Jesus himself? Was it not this realization that moved our Lord to enter into solitude and withdraw for a time from public notice?
But matters were not to work out as he planned. The crowds, having discovered his special powers of healing, saw in him an answer to their hopes and divining his intent preceded him to the sought for solitude, turning it into a place of encounter. What Jesus encountered instead of the quiet solitude he had been seeking was human poverty and misery. His reaction was not impatience and frustration but compassion. Matthew tells us that "He was moved with pity and cured their sick." Concern for himself, his own future fell away before the suffering and spiritual need. This was the context in which our Lord decided to reveal the special power he possessed over bread. A careful reading of this text shows that Matthew intends it to be a preview of the Last Supper, so many words he employs are common to both accounts as are the gestures of our Lord similarly described at both places.
Naturally, only those who truly believe in the divinity of our Lord will accept this account of the multiplication of loaves at face value, as having taken place, in its essentials, just the way Matthew describes it. Any number of learned exegetes have sought to explain away the miraculous element here. Such rationalistic prejudice permeates the academic world today in regard to the fundamental realities of our human condition, beginning with the nature and origin of the cosmos itself and extending to the concept they form of human nature as consisting in a complex, highly organized system of biochemical sub-units. Such a concept cannot account for what is most specific to the human person including reflective consciousness, love and the exercise of freedom among other spiritual realities such as the sense of human rights. It is rather an act of faith that chooses to believe that only matter is real, and functions according to intrinsic principles that determine its limits and explain its function. The same spirit of denial of transcendent powers manifested itself, already, St. John tells us, at the time Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed the crowd. Many who had followed him ceased to believe, saying that Jesusí assertion that he would give his flesh and blood as life-giving food, was too much for them to accept.
Faith in our Lord as Son of God and Savior of the world is a gift offered by grace that can be received only through a deliberate choice. If we believe that God created the cosmos out of nothing through his co-equal Word, then we find no difficulty in believe he can multiply bread and feed a multitude with a few loaves. Nor do we find it problematical to believe that bread becomes the glorified, living body of Christ in the Eucharist, and that it is a gracious source of spiritual nourishment. More, we firmly hold that it is a source of eternal life, as our Lord himself forcibly stated: "anyone who eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:58)
Todayís Gospel, then, is an invitation to renew and deepen our faith in the Lord Jesus as the Word of God made flesh, with power not only to multiply bread but to give us that bread of the Spirit which he himself is, and which comes down from heaven for the life of those who put their faith and trust in Him.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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