EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The first and third readings speak of God feeding the hungers of his people. In the second reading, Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
FIRST READING: Isaiah 55:1-3
Today’s reading from Isaiah is an invitation to feast on God. There is no cost involved, no bargaining, and no exchange of money. God gives freely of his grace-water, a necessity of life. Wine and milk are signs of abundance. They symbolize God’s generosity. All who share at God’s banquet table will be duly satisfied.
After 50 years of exile, some of the Israelite captives began to grow accustomed to the Babylonian way of life. Some captives supposedly are spending their money for “what is not bread” and wages for “what fails to satisfy.” Some are seeking life from sources other than the one God; such searching will end in emptiness and futility. The promise of a fulfilled life and a land to live in had been God’s promise to David hundreds of years earlier. This promise still remains for all captives who wish to open themselves to it again; all other promises end up leaving them still hungry and thirsty.
SECOND READING: Romans 8:35, 37-39
Paul emphasizes the fact that suffering will be a constant threat for the believer, just as it was in the life of Christ. Such sufferings are not to be interpreted as punishment but as the cost of fidelity, which brings about a closer union with God.
GOSPEL: Matthew 14:13-21
The story of the miraculous feeding of thousands was extremely inspiring in the early church. It is recounted six times in the four gospels – every version shaped in a slightly different way according to the particular concern of the author. Matthew is eager for his mainly Jewish-Christian community to recognize in this story, a foreshadowing of the Christian Eucharist as well as the fulfillment of ancient messianic hopes (e.g., our first reading).
The Gospel opens with Jesus going off to a quiet place to be alone. He had just heard of John the Baptist’s death. He probably needed to take time to reflect on this terrible event. He had to be aware that this is what happens to people who speak out. Will he experience a similar ending? This is an important part of Jesus’ life, namely, his need to be alone. But the crowds find him.
They come with their families and friends who are afflicted and troubled; they have come with the hope that he will do something for them. Jesus takes pity on them and heals their sick. Jesus’ desire for solitude has been overtaken by his compassion for the many people who look to him for help, and he is still ministering to them when evening comes. Jesus feeds the hungry people by offering them the food of his Word and a meal, which was intended to symbolize Jesus, the gift of his whole life. The miracle is reminiscent of God feeding his people with manna in the desert. For Matthew, the theological meaning of the story is that God provides for the needs of his people. Jesus feeds his people with his Word and by his healing of the sick.
He shows himself to be a compassionate shepherd. The story also issues a challenge to his Apostles to be “feeders of the flock”. “Give them something to eat yourselves.” The Apostles are being called to be people who will meet the “soul-hungers” of people. The story also reminds us of how our all-sufficient God uses our little gifts and multiples them to meet the needs of others.
The twelve leftover baskets: some commentators say it symbolized God’s superabundance.
Name one way you can act on today’s readings. Suggestions: Spend some time on reflecting on what you hunger for most of all and on what you can do to feed that hunger. Be aware of the hungers in people you meet (e.g. for a listening ear) and do what you can to be a godly presence.