18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 2, 2020
Matthew 14: 13-21
By Rev. John Tran
In today’s first reading, Isaiah has the Lord inviting us to a place to relax in and be well fed and free from thirst. We see that being in God’s presence is to be in a place of refreshment and rest; a time of good food and drink. God is offering us a place to recharge our batteries by being with him and coming to know him better. As the gospel opens, Jesus is also seeking a time to be alone and be refreshed by his Father. It seems that Jesus is physically and emotionally tired. He is also grieving for his cousin, John the Baptist, who has recently been executed by Herod. Jesus needs to be alone with is Father to be able to minister well again. Using this situation, Jesus tells us something about our attitude toward ministry and about our part in His ministry.
Remember what it is like to be so tired or emotionally drained that you did not even want to move? I remember once while I was in temporary vows being sent to our house in London where I was to work each day with refugees from worn-torn areas. I did this every day except on Sundays, and on Sundays I worked all day in one of our parishes there. It was very difficult. One reason was due to language. In the first place it was hard to understand the English and Scottish people who spoke English in a way so differently than we do. You really had to listen hard when British people talked with you. But it was even more difficult to communicate with the refugees. If they spoke English it was with a mixture of their native language accent and the British accent they heard all around them. If they spoke broken English with their accents, then they had to try to understand me who spoke American accented English along with my Vietnamese accent. Sometime all we could do was to use signs until I could locate an interpreter. I would go home feeling so drained and tired. I had been listening and talking all day which took so much energy and effort. Then, I would have to spend time getting ready for my part in Sunday Liturgies and teaching CCD afterwards. Then on Monday, it would start all over again. No doubt you can think of your own situations where you have felt so tired and used up; maybe you work in an office, or teach school, or do construction work or run the house with its complex demands. Or, maybe you are in school, trying to get all your work done, have some kind of social life, and some of you may also work. It does get hard to handle.
This is the kind of situation that Jesus is in as today’s gospel begins. He has the additional burden of learning of his cousins cruel death at the hands of King Herod. He wants rest and a chance to grieve. It is more difficult to be alone in the Galilee of Jesus day. The scholars tell us that Galilee was only 50 miles long and 25 miles wide; and it had 204 villages with no less than 15,000 people in them. So Jesus plan was to cross the 8 mile lake in peace and go to a deserted shore. There he could rest physically and have time to spend in prayer with his Father. So, a trip across an 8 mile lake to a deserted spot seemed the thing Jesus needed. But, the solitude of the journey on the lake was all Jesus would get. The crowd was way ahead of him and was waiting on the shore when Jesus arrived. And this is the first insight we can learn from this passage. What was Jesus reaction to the cleverness of the crowd? Was he angry or frustrated or put into a bad mood. Did he grudgingly greet the crowd and feel forced into ministering to them? By no means! Jesus first reaction had nothing to do with himself. Instead “his heart was moved with pity, and he cured their sick.” Notice that in this case Jesus concern was not so much that of a preacher or teacher. It was an interest in their physical and mental health. This was a ministry of action and not so much of words. Jesus was touching these people at the most basic level of their awareness. And he did so with compassion and love, not with a sigh saying, ‘ someone has to do it , so I guess I am stuck.’ He is saying with Isaiah, “Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk...”
Feeding the crowd was exactly Jesus next concern. After curing illnesses, Jesus was worried about feeding them because it was a deserted place. Here is the next insight St. Matthew wants us to pick up. In fact, it was not Jesus himself who brought up the problem of this group of people finding food for a meal. The concern was voiced by the disciples. And it is the disciples Jesus asks to feed the crowd; he says to the disciples: “give them some food yourself...” Jesus including his disciples in the process of finding food for this group. He is having the disciples share in his concern and ministry. He is asking the disciples to have faith in him. Jesus give the loaves and fish to his disciples and they are the ones who distribute it to the people. Jesus has made the disciples necessary to his work of ministry, and a an essential part, one that he cannot or will not do without. One commentators said that while the disciples are helpless without their Lord, the Lord is helpless without his disciples. Jesus is showing us that he is setting up a partnership with his disciples, with us, in bring God to people. We are not just something added on to his ministry, rather we are necessary for that ministry to continue. Have you ever thought of yourself as essential to Jesus in his ministry? That is exactly what we are, as a group and as individuals.
What does this call from us? First, It calls us out of living mainly for our own convenience. Jesus call us our of our comfort zone. Think of what it meant to a disciples like James, John, and Peter. They had a good thing going in a family fishing business. They would not get rich, but they would have the average comforts of life. Or what about disciples like Matthew or Zachaeus? They had a modest chance at the good life from their positions as Roman tax collectors; money was there to be made from the efforts of others, that is , the people paying the tax. For all of these people, they did not need the interruption of Jesus in their settled lives. But, there was something about Jesus which distracted the disciples from themselves. They began to take on Jesus’ attitude toward life, toward others, toward God, and finally toward themselves. Jesus makes us forget ourselves if we let him, if we spend time with him and let him speak to our hearts. What Jesus call from us regarding others is the compassion we say at the beginning of today’s gospel passage. He looked on them with compassion -- “his heart was filled with pity.”
How have we been doing with inviting Jesus into our lives? Have we made room for him every day by reading about him and letting him be with us? If we do then we, too, can become distracted from ourselves and our concerns. We can pay less attention to our fatigue and pay more attention to the tiredness and suffering of others. And in doing this we influence not only ourselves, but out spouse, our children, our co-workers, our students, and our friends. Jesus attitude changed the way the disciples thought. This can enable us to become more aware of others. It can help us to notice need when we see it. Then our compassion can come through. We may not be able to solve the problems of others, but we can be one who listens, who does what we can and who can refer them to those who can better be of assistance. Jesus needs our hearts, our hands, our resources to continue his ministry today. When we minister to another, we can become larger than we would have been if we had not taken on compassion as a way of seeing. Our hearts can be moved, not sentimentally, but really. We can help the Lord feed those in need of him.