August 1, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe last and third section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading.

The first section of Isaiah was written when the Hebrews still were living in the Promised Land, although clashes among them had divided the land into two kingdoms. Divided, weakened and small, the two kingdoms were vulnerable before the imperialistic ambitions of neighboring powers.

These vulnerabilities proved decisive when the strong Babylonian Empire overran the Hebrew kingdoms. It was a fearful day. Many died. Others were taken to Babylon, the empire’s capital, located in modern Iraq. Those who were left in the land anguished in misery and want.

At last, Babylonia itself fell. The exiles returned, only to find a sterile and unhappy place. Little improved as generations passed.

Then came the composition of the third section of Isaiah, a section of which is read this weekend.

At the time of this composition, people literally had to worry about their next meal. So the prophecy’s words were very relevant. These words assured discouraged audiences that God would supply, that God would be the only source of life and sustenance.

For many, it was a hard proposition to accept.

For its second reading, the Church offers us this weekend a selection from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

This work also was written when stress was quite evident. The Christian Romans lived in a culture hostile to the Gospel, and therefore to Christians. The political and legal systems were turning against Christians. Indeed, St. Paul himself would be executed for his witness to the Gospel.

Very clear in the reading is Paul’s encouragement and his admonition. He calls upon those facing temptations and doubts to be strong in their resolve. He urges them to hold to Christ, letting them know that nothing will separate them from the love of the Lord.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the third reading. It is the familiar and beloved story of the feeding of the 5,000.

The story line is well known. A large crowd follows Jesus, and within this crowd are sick people. Typically, and as surely the sick hoped, the compassionate Jesus healed the sick.

Here immediately, however, it should be noted that healing had then a meaning far different from healing an injury or disease today. It was overcoming the evil effects of sin. The ancient Jewish idea was that human sin brought every distress into the world.

At the same time, there was almost no food, only five loaves of bread and a few fish. Unwilling to send the people away, Jesus provided for them. He took the food, blessed it, gave it to the disciples to distribute, and the leftovers filled 12 baskets.

This miracle anticipates the Eucharist. Important in the story is the role of the disciples. They literally gave the food, blessed and multiplied by Jesus, to the great throng.

Reflection

A great, constant, and underlying message of the New Testament is that there is more to life than what humans see or hear around them. A basic lesson of the Church, largely overlooked today, is that human existence is eternal, either in heaven or hell.

Everything in the New Testament must be seen in this context. So the story in this weekend’s Gospel is not simply about physical hunger, which passes with earthly death, but nourishment for the eternal soul.

This fact is obvious. Humans are weak and unable to provide everything for themselves. They cannot assure eternal life for themselves.

The Church’s reassuring message is that God provides, most perfectly, completely and finally in Jesus. The Lord indeed gives us food, of which nothing else suffices.

And he continues to do this today through the Church, his great, compassionate gift founded on the disciples.

A final lesson is that all Christians should give to others as Jesus gave. †

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