Monday, August 3, 2009

I Will Feed Them With The Best Of Wheat

Reading 1
Numbers 11:4-15

The children of Israel lamented, "Would that we had meat for food!
We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt,
and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.
But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna.”

Manna was like coriander seed and had the color of resin. When they had gone about and gathered it up,
the people would grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar,then cook it in a pot and make it into loaves,which tasted like cakes made with oil. At night, when the dew fell upon the camp, the manna also fell.
When Moses heard the people, family after family,crying at the entrance of their tents,so that the LORD became very angry, he was grieved.

“Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the Lord.“Why are you so displeased with me
that you burden me with all this people? Was it I who conceived all this people? Or was it I who gave them birth, that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant, to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?

Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me,'Give us meat for our food.’I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me,
then please do me the favor of killing me at once,so that I need no longer face this distress.”

Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. 
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.  When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,“This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”  But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over– twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

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Today’s First Reading, from the Book of Numbers, echoes yesterday’s Old Testament reading. Once again, the children of Israel are nostalgic about the meat, fish and vegetables which they had enjoyed back in Egypt. Now, there was nothing but manna, and they have lost their appetite. They were slaves, but at least, they were well fed.

There is a bit more detail about the manna. It resembled coriander seed, and was the color of resin. The people went about gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They either cooked it in a pot, or made it into cakes. In the evening, when the dew settled on the camp, the manna also appeared.

When Moses heard the people wailing, family after family, each at the entrance of their tents, he was troubled. He asked the LORD, “What have you brought this trouble upon your servant? What have I done to displease you, that you place the burdens of all these people on me? Am I the one who conceived them? Did you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse would hold an infant, to the land you promised under oath to their ancestors? Where am I going to find meat for these people? They keep crying out to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry these people all by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, you might as well put me to death right now. You would be doing me a favor, since I would no longer be facing my own ruin.”

Today’s gospel is Matthew’s version of the multiplication of the loaves, the miracle which prompted Jesus teaching on the living bread which was the subject of yesterday’s gospel of John.

The meal in the desert is a common theme in the Old Testament: Moses, Elijah and Elisha provided food for people without the benefit of resources. Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of loaves is especially similar to the one performed by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44.

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing the man of God twenty barley loaves made from the first fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. "Give it to the people to eat," Elisha said.

But his servant objected, "How can I set this before a hundred men?" "Give it to the people to eat," Elisha insisted. "For thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'"

And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said.

In both instances, there are leftovers, unlike manna in the desert. Leftovers are a sign that everyone has eaten enough and more than enough. Here, the message is that this miracle is greater that of the manna in the desert.

Jesus did not say, “I will feed the people”, but “You feed them!” To be granted a miracle, we need to participate actively, however small our contribution. When God asked Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, he wanted a sign of authority, and God said, “You have one in your hand”. The shepherd’s staff was sign enough (Exodus 4:1-3). When Elisha asked the widow of Zarephath for shelter, she was willing to have him share the house with her and her son. When he asked her what food she had in the house, she replied that she had only a little bit of oil. The prophet asked her to borrow jars in which to store the oil, and multiplied the little bit until all the jars were filled (2 Kings 4:1-7). In today’s gospel, Jesus asked for the people to bring him food. He accepted the five barley loaves and two fish from the lad, and with them, he fed five thousand men, and only God knows how many women and children.

God was not content to give life and to provide for our needs. He sent us his only-begotten Son, to redeem us from the burden of our sinfulness. And he sends his Holy Spirit to give us grace, so what we can respond to the gifts He gives us by giving of ourselves to meet our neighbors’ needs. We are bound to give ourselves as he has given himself, not just in words, but in deeds.

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