Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings make the comparison between divine instruction, divine love, and food.  We have to stop sometimes to consider that it was God Himself who made our stomachs.  It was God’s idea to make us dependent on food and drink for our survival and happiness in this life.  God could have created us however He wanted to, and He made us in such a way that we pass most of our lives thinking about food and drink.  It doesn’t seem very spiritual of Him to have done such a thing, but He created a powerful platform to use when He wanted to speak to us.  God speaks to us through hunger – hunger is something He created, not just a result of evolution.  We have to be careful when we consider our material existence: God’s hand was in all of it – it is only mundane because WE consider it separately from Him.

God wants us to associate our hunger for food with a hunger for His Word.  We hunger for His love because we want to survive the famine of this world.  What can give us life?  Bread, though it allows someone to survive in this world, has saved no one from death.  What is the bread that can save us from death?  What bread can feed the hunger of our hearts for love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness, and peace?  The True Bread, the Bread come down from Heaven, Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.  This is the bread that finally satisfies our deepest hunger.

We can see from today’s Gospel that even when we have the bread we need from God, we have a difficult time trusting that it will be enough.  The disciples saw the five loaves and two fish as insufficient for the crowds.  The father’s of the church saw in those five loaves the five books of Moses – the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers.  The two fish could be the prophets and John the Baptist since living in water is a symbol for baptism and repentence.  Jesus teaches the apostles that they need to break the bread and the fish in order for it to be abundantly sufficient to feed the hungry crowd.  They need to interpret the scriptures and break them open to discover the abundance of that teaching.

AMBROSE:

The free person is the wise one who was bought with the price of heavenly speech, the gold and silver of God’s word, bought with the price of blood (not least important is it to know the buyer), bought with the price of grace, for he heard and understood the one who said, “All you who thirst, come to the waters, and you that have no money, make haste, buy and eat and drink.”1

THEODORE OF HERACLEA:

The Lord God, ever compassionate, is ready to bring people to good things, and he promises to give not only good things in the present but also the enjoyment of eternally good things in the hereafter. For he demands nothing other than a ready listener, one who takes in his words and is quick to respond willingly to his voice. To attend with the ears in the sense of physical hearing is only what seems to be meant here. For attending with the eyes, we are not able to hear with these, and we cannot see as we listen with our ears. The same is true in the case of the other senses. From this we can assume that we pay attention with the eyes of the mind and are able to listen with the ears. For the soul is single and with one form by nature, and with one power [it] is able to listen and to see. But the mass of your sins and ungodliness constricts you and hinders you from fleeing to him. But there would be no such great obstacle if you desire that mercy beyond words; for then such evils of yours would not defeat and overcome his compassion. For God is great in pity, and he will provide forgiveness for your sins and so will show you to be pure, so that no trace of your former sins will remain.2

CAESARIUS OF ARLES:

Good Christians are not separated from Christ even by torture. Tepid and careless ones however, are sometimes separated from him by idle tales; if they suffer even a slight loss they are immediately scandalized, dare to murmur against God and return to their impious, detestable omens.3

AUGUSTINE:

Often vain curiosity about things which are unknowable … whether in heaven or in hell separates us from God, unless love triumphs. For love calls us to certain spiritual knowledge not by the vanity of external things but by an inner light.

“Nor anything else in all creation” can be understood in two ways. First, as a visible creature.… By this interpretation Paul means that no other creature, i.e., no love of bodies, separates us from God. Or surely it may also mean that no other creature … stands between us and God, opposing us and keeping us from God’s embrace. For beyond human minds, which are rational, there is no other creature—only God himself.4

CAESARIUS OF ARLES:

Spiritual souls are not separated from Christ by torments, but carnal souls are sometimes separated by idle gossip. The cruel sword cannot separate the former, but carnal affections remove the latter. Nothing hard breaks down spiritual men, but even flattering words corrupt the carnal.5

JEROME:

They announced the death of the Baptist to the Savior. When Jesus heard this, he withdrew to a lonely place apart, but not, as some people think, for fear of death. He withdrew to spare his enemies from compounding one murder with another or to defer his death to the day of Passover on which a lamb is ritually offered up and doorposts are sprinkled with the blood of the faithful. Or else he withdrew in order to give us an example of avoiding the foolhardiness of those who betrayed him, because not everyone perseveres amid torments with the same constancy they had when they offered themselves to be tortured. For this reason in another place he gave this admonition: “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. It was also fitting that the Evangelist did not say “he fled to a lonely place” but “he withdrew,” so that he avoided his persecutors rather than feared them.6

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:

Let us examine carefully what this sending away of the crowds is all about. Some of those who followed Christ were afflicted by evil spirits and begged to be delivered from them. Others were afflicted with various sicknesses from which they sought relief. Therefore, because the disciples knew that Jesus had only to consider what those who were suffering longed for and it would be accomplished, “they sent them away.” They did this not so much because they thought Jesus’ time was too valuable but because they had a love for the crowds and, as though already having an understanding of pastoral care, they began to care for the people.7

HILARY OF POITIERS:

When the disciples advised that the crowds be sent away into the neighboring villages to buy food, he answered, “They do not need to go away.” This signaled that these people whom he healed with the food of teaching, teaching that was not for sale, had no need to go back to Judea and buy food. He ordered the apostles to give them something to eat.
But was Jesus unaware there was nothing to give? Did he not know the disciples possessed a limited amount of food? He could read their minds, so he knew. We are invited to explain things by reasoning according to types. It was not yet granted to the apostles to make and administer heavenly bread for the food of eternal life. Yet their response reflected an ordered reasoning about types: they had only five loaves and two fish. This means that up to then they depended on five loaves—that is, the five books of the law. And two fish nourished them—that is, the preaching of the prophets and of John. For in the works of the law there was life just as there is life from bread, but the preaching of John and the prophets restored hope to human life by virtue of water. Therefore the apostles offered these things first, because that was the level of their understanding at the time. From these modest beginnings the preaching of the gospel has proceeded from them, from these same apostles, until it has grown into an immense power.8

JEROME:

By the breaking of the bread, he makes it into a seedbed of food—for if the bread had been left intact and not pulled apart and broken into pieces, they would have been unable to feed the great crowds of men, women and children. The law with the prophets are therefore pulled apart and broken into pieces. Mysteries are made manifest, so that what did not feed the multitude of people in its original whole and unbroken state now feeds them in its divided state.9

Footnotes

  1. LETTER 54. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 184). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. FRAGMENTS ON ISAIAH. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 185). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. SERMON 54.2. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (pp. 232–233). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. AUGUSTINE ON ROMANS 58.  Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 234). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. SERMON 82.2. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 235). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 2.14.13. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 7). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. FRAGMENT 175. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 7). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. ON MATTHEW 14.10. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 7–8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 2.14.19.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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