Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Banquets

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

Like Charles' Dickens' novel, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, today's scriptures reveal to us a tale of two banquets.

The gospel begins immediately after the first banquet, which was held by King Herod to celebrate his birthday.

But Herod's banquet was all about the invited guests and their desire for power, food, drink, and pleasure only for themselves - and it ended with a dancing girl requesting the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.

This is where our gospel story begins today. "When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place" in sorrow and grief.

Yet when Jesus disembarks the vessel, he sees the vast crowd and his heart is moved with pity and he cures their sick.

This is the beginning of the second banquet. A vast crowd following Christ longing for life.

But Jesus wanted to be alone. He was grieving the death of his cousin. Jesus had come to find peace and quiet, but instead he found needy and hungry people who were longing for life and were heavily burdened.

In our limited human minds and frigid hearts we want to draw boundary lines, as if there is a fenced off area that says: "Mercy stops here. 

When the disciples realize the only food to be found for the hungry crowd was five barley loaves and two skinny fish, they tell Jesus, "Send the people away." Scatter the crowd. Dismiss these people. Send them packing. Let them fend for themselves, Jesus! 

There is a very real temptation for all of us to look elsewhere in the hope that the poor and needy and hungry will solve their own problems or that someone else will help them.  Dismissing others is so much easier than having to deal with their needs or problems.

Yet when he saw the crowds, he did NOT say: "Go away! Be quiet and don't bother me: I'm praying." And send those women and children away! They're sick and poor and hungry. It's their problem, not mine."  Jesus sets aside his own personal feelings and needs for those of the crowd, for there are no borders or boundaries with Jesus.

Jesus sets an example for his disciples and the Church and says:  "No."

He dismisses the disciples' fear with faith.

Jesus challenges his disciples - and us - "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” 

 We are often tempted to want to do things our own way and fail to pay attention to the needs of others. 

 So can we imagine the disciples' reactions when Jesus told them to give the people something to eat themselves?!

"But Lord, five loaves and two fish for 5000 men – not including all the women and children?! How are you ever going to break that bread into such small pieces? And the fish – well, forget that!

Jesus  said, “Bring them here to me." So Jesus says, no, we must stay together. And care for one another, no matter how different or needy we are, or how hungry we are.

If we truly believe that God cares for and loves everyone, then each of us who claim to be Christ's disciples - his ambassadors - must care for and love the ones that Christ cares for and loves.

It is tempting to find other people a nuisance or a problem. 

Yet Jesus is teaching us that what we consider distractions and inconveniences may well be our true callings, our vocations.

If we are merely content to keep our faith confined to this church building and we are merely content to go to Mass, but not concern ourselves with the needs of others and issues of justice, then we are missing the full gospel message of Christ.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God had called his people to the banquet: "Come, eat! You shall delight in rich fare."

So Jesus then took the five loaves and the two fish, said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 

This was a repeat of manna in the wilderness with Moses. The people of Jesus' day would not have missed this. The Jews also believed that manna would return with the coming of the Messiah. And this event  foreshadows the Eucharist when the disciples reclined at table.

Note that Jesus gives the loaves to his disciples - who then in turn distribute the food to the people. Jesus uses intermediaries, human agents, the members of His Church, to convey God's grace. 

Those who received the morsel of bread were strengthened for their journey. It was the miracle of Christ's presence.

And just as the Lord feeds us in the Eucharist, we feed each other in our community. 

Jesus calls us to be united, even in our suffering and difficulty, to stay together in the communal life. For if we are the body of Christ, if we are the Church, then we have a responsibility for each other, and the world.

 The example of the disciples giving Jesus the five loaves and two fish has great significance for us: If we give Christ our faith, our love, our gifts, and our compassion, no matter how insignificant we may think they are, our gifts will be multiplied beyond our belief.

Christ calls each us to share what little we have and promises us that there will be enough - and more than enough - leftovers! Little is always much in the hands of the Lord.

Will we have the courage to realize that our weakness can be taken, blessed, broken and shared?!

We often expect the dramatic, a large banquet, but we are nourished by simple food, the ordinariness of daily life: a visit with a neighbor - a former student or co-worker lets you know that you influenced his or her life with your commitment and kindness.

The simple sharing of a meal, a cool refreshing cup of cold water, an unexpected call, an unexpected visit, or a kind word over coffee can be transformed into a banquet of love to those we meet.

Christ Jesus can take our small gifts of five loaves and two fish and transform them, bless them, and multiply them beyond our imaginings - if we move from fear to faith. And in faith he will feed us and then we in turn can feed one another. 

Come, then, let us hasten to the Eucharistic banquet of the Lord!

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