Sunday, August 2, 2020
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First Reading: Isaiah 55:1–3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145:8–9, 15–16, 17–18
Second Reading: Romans 8:35, 37–39
Gospel: Matthew 14:13–21
We are invited to a banquet. Entrance is “without money and without price,” save that of repentance of our sins. This is why we are told to “listen diligently to me,” so that we may “eat what is good, and delight [ourselves] in rich food.” But where is this banquet being held? In the spiritual Jerusalem, in the upper room where Jesus and his Apostles will celebrate his eternal Passover. That very night, we recall, he was betrayed and brought before the rulers of this world. This is our destiny, too, if we are true Christians. Think about it, pray that you will be found worthy to join Jesus in the tomb, then later in heaven, where the banquet will never cease.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” that is, you, who are deprived of any kind of good, run to the fear of God, because you will be educated through the doctrine that comes from me; even though you possess nothing better, at least pay “the price,” which is repentance, and buy the virtue of the fear of God thanks to the generosity that [comes] from his mercy. This is what the words “without money and without price” mean. (Isho‘dad of Merv, Commentary on Isaiah 55.1 , via Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
As the Psalmist says in this week’s Responsorial Psalm, “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” God gives us this food in anticipation that your palate will also savor the spiritual food which He would prefer to give us. The manna that fed the tribes in the desert was miraculous, but it did not sustain them for eternity. In fact, as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, the manna ceased. But the eternal food of Jesus’ body and blood will sustain us forever, because “he answers all our needs” — forever.
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Thus reads the verse that was omitted in the middle of this week’s passage from Romans. But in spite of this pessimistic verse, the general tenor of the passage is much more positive, and this for a reason: Suffering here on earth expiates the sins we have committed.
The elect will emerge unscathed and victorious from all attacks, dangers and sufferings and will do so not through their own efforts but by virtue of the all-powerful aid of him who has loved them from all eternity and who did not hesitate to have his own Son die for their salvation. It is true that as long as we are on this earth we cannot attain salvation, but we are assured that we will attain it precisely because God will not withhold all the graces we need to obtain this happy outcome: all that is needed is that we desire to receive this divine help. Nothing that happens to us can separate us from the Lord — not fear of death or love of life, not the bad angels or devils, not the princes or the powers of this world, nor the sufferings we undergo or which threaten us nor the worst that might befall us. “Paul himself,” St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “had to contend with numerous enemies. The barbarians attacked him; his custodians laid traps for him; even the faithful, sometimes in great numbers, rose against him; yet Paul always came out victorious. We should not forget that the Christian who is faithful to the laws of his God will defeat both men and Satan himself” (Homily on Romans 15). (Navarre Bible Commentary)
For this reason, the sacred word says, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Nothing shall separate the one who believes in truth from the ground of true faith, and it is there that he will come into the possession of enduring, unchanging identity. The man in union with truth knows clearly that all is well with him, even if everyone else thinks that he has gone out of his mind. (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names 7.4, via Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
The crowd seeking Jesus was huge. According to the narrative, there were five thousand men, and we can be sure that there were also an equal number of women and children present. Scholars estimate that the total number was around 15,000 to 20,000 in total. And Jesus fed them all, not only with his life-giving word, but with the five loaves of bread and two fish that the Apostles had brought along for themselves.
It is noteworthy that Jesus did not attempt to distribute the food by himself; this task was assigned to the Apostles, not only to expedite the distribution, but also to keep order. Jesus had previously (as we learn from the parallel Gospel passages) had the people form groups of fifty, with aisles between them, so that the Apostles could serve each group in turn without having to climb over people to reach those in back. Within each group, of course, the food was passed around until everybody had his portion.
Spectacular though it was, the multiplication of the loaves was not an unprecedented event. Similar miracles involving food appear in the Old Testament. One thinks of the manna that rained down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4–21). So too Elijah, when he stayed with a poor widow of Zarephath, caused her nearly empty jar of meal and her depleted cruse of oil to supply the household with food throughout an extended famine (1 Kings 17:8–16). Most relevant here is the miracle of Elijah’s successor, Elisha, who multiplied twenty loaves for one hundred men and still had some left over (2 Kings 4:42–44). Against this background, Christ’s miracle shows that he wields a power even greater than that of the prophets of Israel, for he started with fewer loaves than Elisha and fed a vastly larger crowd! (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
One often wonders how those at the back of the crowd could hear what Jesus was saying, given that there were no public address systems in those days. The answer is that those in front would relay the message to their neighbors behind. By this method, eventually, most of those present got the gist of Jesus’ message.
The event anticipates the Eucharist, a point that Matthew reinforces by using the same series of verbs (taking… blessed… broke… gave) here (14:19) and at the Last Supper (26:26; Mk 14:22). • The miracle also recalls the similar OT episode in 2 Kings 4:42-44, where the prophet Elisha multiplied 20 barley loaves (Jn 6:9) to feed 100 men, with some left over (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1335). • Morally (St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria; Theophylact): the five loaves signify alms given to the poor (cf. 6:2-4). As here, the size of the donation is less significant than the generosity of one’s heart (cf. Lk 21:1-4; 2 Cor 9:6-8). Gifts given to the poor are, in return, multiplied by God back to the giver as treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1434). (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
So everybody ate and were satisfied. Then Jesus asked the Apostles to collect the leftovers. The Twelve went through the crowd with large wicker baskets and each came back with a full basket. The Apostles represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve baskets of surplus are a symbol of the same, while indicating to the crowd that all of them should come to him, for in the Kingdom of Heaven no one will be left out. But everything in due order. A similar rite was followed at the Last Supper, since the Passover is a symbolic meal following the ancient tradition, where the head of the clan or family breaks the bread and passes it to assistants, who in turn pass it to the rest of those present. In our time, it’s still not everybody for himself. In the Christian tradition, we follow a similar rite: The priest passes the consecrated bread — now the Body of Christ — to the deacon (or in his absence, directly to extraordinary eucharistic ministers, who then distribute the hosts to the congregation). The Bread of Life thus comes to us through a chain of command, imitating the ancient rite.