A Reflection for Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
My eleven-year-old granddaughter, an astute observer in our midst, was doing impressions of family members at a recent gathering. “Hmm, let’s think about this,” she said, rubbing her chin and resting a finger on her forehead, in perfect imitation of her grandpa. Then it was my turn. “Did you eat enough?” she said in a concerned voice. “Do you need more food? Let’s get some food for you.” She made us laugh with her spot-on takes.
Apparently I obsess over making sure everyone eats when we all get together. Feeding is what parents (and grandparents) do.
Today’s readings are about food, or more specifically, procuring food. Moses puts up with the complaining Israelites, who are plenty sick of eating manna for every meal, who miss the balanced diet they enjoyed in captivity. Jesus, on the other hand, blesses a mere five loaves and two fish and manages to feed five thousand men, not to mention some thousands of other uncounted souls.
Jesus knows that you can’t feed the soul if the body is hungry.
Parents know that the feeding of people in their care can go either way. Feeding the hungry can be a thankless task. I totally remember relating to Moses’s lament when my kids didn’t like yet another nutritious dinner I’d made: “If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.”
I’m joking (a little), but poor Moses was at the end of his rope. “I cannot carry all these people by myself, for they are too heavy for me,” he tells God. We’ve all felt that way at some point in our lives, when the people God is asking us to feed and to carry are just too much, when they are ungrateful, when nothing is going well. Like Moses, our desperate prayer suggests that we need to be fed ourselves with a helping of God’s grace.
Jesus knows that you can’t feed the soul if the body is hungry. It’s no accident that the first work of mercy Jesus directs us to do is to feed the hungry. We humans require food to keep up our strength. The vast crowd that has followed him to the deserted place has to eat. “Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus tells the disciples. They hand over all they have. And maybe part of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is that when the disciples give all they’ve got, when they hold nothing back, it is enough. With Jesus, we’ll be enough. The hungry are fed until they are full, with leftovers to spare, in an updated version of manna from heaven. Then they are ready to hear.