Reflections on the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 31, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
You Give Them Something to Eat
Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." - Matthew 14:16
Every year it happened. The second Sunday in September was Homecoming Sunday at the Pentecostal Church of my youth. I still remember anticipating the big spread of food and the all day singing and preaching. All day Sunday meetings like this were common in the Pentecostal churches in the southern areas of Indiana and Illinois. Body and soul were fed and everyone left with renewed love for one another.
In today's gospel, Jesus departs for a lonely, deserted place. Learning of John the Baptist's death our Lord seeks a time of prayer. The fulness of time is swiftly coming. John had said, "He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease." John's martyrdom signals a new and larger immediacy of Jesus' ministry. That takes place in this deserted place where the people have followed on foot from the surrounding towns. Here they seek to be near Jesus. In the deserted hours and times of our lives we too can be near Jesus.
Seeing the crowds and moved with compassion Jesus heals the sick among them. All afternoon the people pressed near to hear Jesus teach. As he walked among the thousands little hands reached out to touch the hem of his garment. Withered bodies were laid in his path by caring loved ones. "Have mercy on me," someone pleads, and looking about him Jesus sees a little daddy holding his blind son and his twin sister with legs that looked like toothpicks. Mercy flows without measure as the blind see and the lame walk and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
Time? Well time didn't matter. Perhaps it was a little taste of when time will be no more; when there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more dying. Nothing will ever again hurt or destroy in all of God's holy mountain. Nothing can keep us from this promise of life for evermore. Nothing can separate us from that love; not anguish, distress, peril or sword. Neither can famine, persecution, or nakedness keep us from the divine love. Indeed not anything in this life or in death to come can keep us from being with Jesus. Whether angels or principalities, or things present or things to come, no power, height or depth, or nay any creature will keep us from our appointed destiny with the forever love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
"The markets in the nearby towns will soon close," one of the disciples said to Jesus. Awareness of the time resumes as evening is overtaking the day. "This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away into the villages and buy food for themselves," the disciples urged. "They can come back tomorrow," coaxing Jesus to remember the hour. Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
We measure God with concepts that are foreign in heaven. We keep him too small. He would fill us with immeasurable blessings. But we dispense love in conspicuously measured ways. We pray for the Lord to feed the hungry, and to bring salvation to our family and friends, and that he would help people to love one another. Does the Lord answer those good prayers? You bet he does. He answers them something like this, "That is a good prayer. How are you going to help me answer this for you?"
I imagine we are as startled at Jesus as the disciples were when he said, "That's a good idea. I mean, the people are probably hungry about now. And it is getting late and, well, why don't you feed them. You give them something to eat." "Dennis, why don't you hug the lonely. You go ahead and love the sinner into my salvation. Go ahead Dennis, and reach out and touch the world around you that his hungry, and thirsty, and longing to see my face," Jesus says. Now go back and put your name beside mine.
When we hear that still small voice it is tempting to respond, "Me? You mean me, Lord?" But that voice is unmistakable and his words make our heart burn within us. The disciples gave Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish. It was all they had, but it was enough. For our little in the hands that made the world is enough to accomplish all that he asks us to do.
May we find new strength to do Christ's work in this memorial of our redemption. Together we look with hope upon this sacrifice. Jesus opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living soul. Amen.