Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Bread of Life
July 31, 2011, 2:47 pm
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A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday July 31st 2011

In many places in Scripture, God’s generous love is compared to that of a man throwing a party, holding a banquet. The Prophet depicts God as inviting the hungry and the poor to come, to receive food and drink at no cost. “He who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

On the other hand, he has a rebuke for those who do have wealth. “Why do you spend your money on non-essentials, why do you work for what gives no satisfaction?” The Prophet lived in a time of great social inequality, with some people starving and others living in the lap of luxury. If we look world-wide, the same is true today.

Today’s Gospel-reading is the familiar one of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had just heard about the murder of his cousin John by Herod. He goes away with his disciples to find a place of solitude. Perhaps he wanted to grieve in private. Perhaps he wanted to discuss with the Twelve how this event might affect their own plans. Matthew does not tell us. What he does say is that when the crowds who had been following Jesus heard that he was going away, they all flocked after him, going round the lakeside while he and the others were sailing across in the boat. By the time Jesus made land-fall, the crowds were already there. No peace and quiet, then!

Whatever our Lord’s private grief may have been, he could not look on all those eager, pleading faces without feeling compassion for them. They looked to him for help and healing, and his heart could not refuse them. The day wore on, and the disciples began to worry. If the people were not encouraged to leave, it would be too late for them to buy food in the villages round about. They were too far from home to get back that night.

But Jesus did not seem to see a problem. Why should they go away? He told the disciples to feed them. Imagine if you had been one of those disciples! How on earth were they to provide for so many, with just a few sandwiches to share?

Stop a minute here, and ask yourself what is going on. Jesus’ concern for the hungry was genuine; the inability of the disciples to feed them was also real. We should surely see his command as a test: John says in his re-telling of the story that Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do. He told the crowd to sit down, and he asked for the bread and fish to be brought to him. Then, “looking up to heaven” (in appeal to his heavenly Father), “he blessed, and broke, and gave,” exactly the same words Matthew uses to describe what Jesus did at the Last Supper. By the lakeside, Jesus lavishly provided food, physical food, for the hungry crowds, not out of nothing, but multiplying what they already had to offer. In the Upper Room, and here at Mass, Jesus lavishly provides food for our spirits, again taking what we have to offer, bread and wine and our poor selves, and transforming them into himself. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood, we are reformed and re-made in his likeness.

Meanwhile, men and women and children are still starving all over the world. What does Jesus’ miracle have to do with that? Remember  God’s promise through the Prophet Isaiah that the poor should be fed without cost? His rebuke to the rich that they were wasting their resources on non-essentials? The problem of world hunger is not that God has not provided enough resources in the world, but that human beings fail to distribute them fairly. It is not just the indifference of the well-off that causes this: often the selfish desire for power prevents gifts being shared. Think of the armed militia in Somalia and elsewhere who attack the aid-workers who are trying to help the poor. What must God say to the war-lords and governments who would rather see their people in misery than open the gates to foreign aid?

Jesus gave the bread and fish to the disciples, for them to distribute. In the world at large he gives his plenty to mankind. Human beings must make sure that everyone gets what they need.


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