Jesus offers a taste of happiness that awaits us in heaven
By: By Tim Irwin
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 3
Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145:8-9,15-16,17-18; Romans 8:35,37-39; Matthew 14:13-21
It ought to come as no surprise to people who believe our salvation came through God becoming man that a means of connecting with God would be through eating. Making the message as naturally human as possible seems to be the hallmark of Christianity and eating is perhaps the most natural of human activities. Clearly the significance of eating bread stood in the forefront of the ministries of Jesus and the apostolic church.
The four Gospels report the story of the multiplication of the loaves six times, more than any other miracle. The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time recounts Matthew’s feeding of the 5,000. This telling follows the basic pattern of all of the renditions. A large crowd needs food. The disciples, thinking pragmatically, recognize that their meager rations of five loaves and two fish won’t cover it. They want Jesus to dismiss the crowd. Jesus says to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” The perplexed disciples don’t know what to do next, so Jesus instructs them to bring the loaves and fishes to him. Jesus multiplies the food and the disciples distribute it. All eat until satisfied.
Jesus solves the problem of physical hunger during his earthly ministry — six times so we don’t miss the point. Upon entering into his risen life, Christ satisfies our spiritual hunger through the Holy Eucharist. This, of course, is why the central liturgical act of the Catholic faith is eating the Savior — we are what we eat.
RESPONDING TO GRACE
The first and second readings for this Sunday echo the message. Isaiah prophesizes that a heavenly banquet awaits the faithful in the Kingdom of God. Paul explains that if we understand what Christ is offering us, then no power ought to be able to separate us. For American Christians, it seems that it’s not powers and principalities that separate us, rather it’s a desire for novelty and a relevance to the moment.
An acquaintance of mine had attended a Sunday service in another city that featured a hootenanny. “What’s wrong with that?” he asked. I couldn’t think of a thing. After all, who among us doesn’t like a good hootenanny every now and again? “So why don’t Catholics do that on Sunday instead of Mass?”
The sacraments are the seven ways that Christ asked us to respond to grace. If, at the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “Peter, James, John, get the guitars and banjoes and start pickin’ and grinnin’,” then that’s what we’d do at Sunday liturgy. What Jesus did say instituted the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. He took bread, like the loaves that he had multiplied physically in order to feed thousands and transformed it spiritually to feed the world.
“Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life,” Isaiah proclaims. The Eucharist is a taste of heavenly happiness. “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us,” says St. Paul.
Those who pursue a more novel approach to Sunday services may boast greater relevance to the needs of the moment. Jesus clearly understood that those needs are real and he did in fact feed the multitude — he connected to them in a way they understood. As the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time indicate, that’s not the whole story. The sacraments we celebrate connect us to the transcending happiness that awaits each of us in the Kingdom of God.
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.