The theme of joy demonstrated in God’s generosity pervades the Readings of this Sunday. In the first Reading taken from the book of Prophet Isaiah, (Is 55:1-3), the Lord invited the people of Israel to a banquet he had prepared for them. He said, “Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.” This passage underscores that the Lord provides for his people not only physical food like the manna in the desert, but also spiritual nourishment. The Lord’s invitation to his people had a messianic undertone since he linked it to the promises he made to King David, which included that his dynasty was to last forever, (2Sam 7:16). Thus, the Messiah was to be a descendant of King David, (Lk 1:32-33).
The Lord in catering for our physical needs does not lose sight of what is beneficial to us spiritually. The call to everyone who was thirsty to “come to the water” was reminiscent of the invitation to the people of Israel to partake of the inexhaustible wisdom and knowledge of God as depicted in the Wisdom literatures, (Sir 4:11-19).
In the second Reading, (Rm 8:35, 37-39), St Paul insisted that because of the infinite love God has lavished on us in Christ Jesus, nothing, either internal or external, can separate us from that love. No persecution, physical or spiritual deprivation, Coronavirus pandemic, nothing that exists, nor any power, can detach us from Christ; for with him, we can overcome adversities that come our way.
The Gospel, (Mt 14:13-21), narrated that when Jesus and his disciples received the sad news of the passing away of John the Baptist, who was unjustly beheaded by King Herod in prison, they withdrew to a lonely place to mourn their loss. However, the crowd anticipated their destination and travelled there by foot. Upon coming ashore, Jesus saw a large crowd waiting for him and “he took pity on them and healed their sick.”
I invite you to hold your breath a while and ponder. Often when we are tired or vulnerable, we tend to snap easily. Jesus and his disciples extricated themselves from the crowds to have a quiet time to rejuvenate and to mourn the loss of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, but the crowds would not give them a moment rest because they followed them to their hideout. Jesus rather than admonishing them for pestering him, acknowledged through his action that the people in the crowd were not amorphous, but individuals created in the image of God. Some of whom were sick, and all of them were hungry and in need of food. We all have needs; hence one must not think that one’s need is exclusive.
Jesus performed two miracles. Firstly, he brought healing to the sick, and secondly, he fed the crowd with a meal of five loaves and two fish and there were left over, implying that there is enough food in the world to feed the world population if food distribution is managed well.
There is always a link between natural food and the Eucharist and vice versa. The words Jesus used in multiplying the loaves and fish to feed the multitudes were reminiscent of the words he would use to institute the Eucharist during his last Supper.
We read in today’s Gospel that when his disciples brought the five loaves and two fish to him, he raised his eyes to heaven, blessed and handed them to his disciples to distribute to the crowds. This physical food reminds us of the Eucharist, and when we partake of the Eucharist, we are mindful of the people living at the margins of the society.
Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population – but more than 690 million people still go hungry. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting 8.9 percent of people globally. From 2018 to 2019, the number of undernourished people grew by 10 million, and there are nearly 60 million more undernourished people now than in 2014. (https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/world-hunger-facts-statistics).
The hunger situation in the world has become worse with the Covid 19 pandemic which has led to lockdown of villages, towns, cities and countries, and the restricted movement of the populace. These necessary mitigatory measures have led to millions of people losing their jobs worldwide, due to some companies not being able to remain solvent due to low turnover and fewer customers who patronise them.
In rural villages, where people live from “hand to mouth”, the closure of markets were tantamount to declaring death sentences on the populace because most villagers do not have savings. They trade to get money to buy food and other necessities.
Our prayer is that Jesus, who cured the sick and fed the crowd, will bring healing to the world by ensuring that therapeutics and vaccines are developed for the treatment and prevention of the coronavirus. Amen.
Let us continue to reach out to each other in moments of need.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp