Despising one of these little ones… we should examine our thoughts to see if we can grasp what Jesus is talking about. Obviously we shouldn’t be despising anyone, but Jesus wants us to pay particular attention to the “little ones.” In the first half of today’s gospel we could understand the little ones as referring to children and littleness as a reference to their innocence or inexperience in the ways of sin. In the second part of today’s gospel we are given the parable of straying sheep – a clearer reference to the sinner. So on the one hand littleness refers to childlike simplicity, and on the other hand it refers to the helplessness of a sinner who has wandered far from safety.
The symbolism of the multiplication of loaves and fish has to do with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus breaks down the Law (five loaves, the pentateuch), and the prophets (the two fish, major and minor prophets) so that all may be nourished by this teaching. The insufficiency of the Law and the Prophets is made abundantly nourishing through the grace of Christ. This was the same reality that the children of Israel struggled with in the desert. The food that God provided, the manna, seemed truly insufficient. The people wanted flesh to eat, to satisfy their cravings. God comes in the flesh of Jesus to fully satisfy our cravings. The Law and the Prophets could not satisfy the craving for communion with God because it only served to reinforce the weight of sin and separation. Jesus is not bringing a teaching that is different in content from the Law and the Prophets. Rather, He makes that teaching abundantly satisfying by fulfilling it in His flesh and multiplying it for us.
One of the main occupations of our human life has to do with filling up what is empty. We equate happiness with an experience of fullness. Many different areas of our lives need filling: our stomachs, our schedules, the gas tank of our car, our bank accounts, our hearts, our minds, our hopes, etc. The word “vanity” could be a synonym for emptiness. The difference is that what is vain often seems to be worthwhile at one level – we experience some degree of satisfaction – but it leaves us empty. Eating will satisfy a hunger for food, but eating will not fill the other areas of my heart that experience emptiness. That’s the foolishness of the man who has stockpiled food in today’s Gospel. As important as it is to fill your stomach every day, a full stomach is not the same as a full life. Imagining that you don’t have to worry about tomorrow anymore because you have an unlimited supply of resources is an illusion. Tomorrow isn’t just twenty-four hours from now, the real tomorrow is eternity. Any pursuit that tries to manage tomorrow as though it were disconnected from eternity is vain – empty. Any reliance on the situations and things of this world is vain because they will not follow in the next.