Reflection for the eighth Sunday after Trinity

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection

Every now and then, a humanitarian disaster occurs somewhere in the world that manages to capture the attention of the international media for a short time at least. Last month was the 35th anniversary of the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia and screened around the globe to raise funds to help starving people in Ethiopia. The conditions in that country were described at the time by the BBC journalist Michael Buerk as a ‘Biblical famine in the twentieth century’. The Irish musician, Bob Geldof, was inspired to organise the rock concerts, which raised over $125 million in donations.

Of course, there are continuing humanitarian disasters around the world and only the major ones attract worldwide attention. Some drag on for years, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the war in Yemen, and it seems beyond the capacity or the willpower of the international community to find solutions to end the human suffering. While we may be moved to respond to occasional appeals for help, we can also feel overwhelmed at the scale of need in the world and our inability to make any difference. This can lead to apathy and we may wonder: ‘What is the point? What difference will it make?’

The disciples of Jesus must have felt something like that as evening drew in on the huge crowd of people who had followed Jesus to a mountaintop by the Sea of Galilee. The people had followed Jesus there on foot; some of them had brought relatives or friends who were ill in the hope that Jesus would heal them. Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the huge crowd, “he had compassion for them and cured their sick”.

The people had been there all day, it was getting late and they had nothing to eat. The disciples recognised the people’s need but didn’t know what to do about it, so they asked Jesus to send them away. His response was: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat”.

In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, it was our Lord’s intention that his disciples should not just be spectators of the event, but should participate in it. They brought their meagre resources and placed them in the hands of Jesus. The significance of the feeding of the multitude is underlined by the fact that it is recorded six times in the four gospels. It demonstrates the power of God, as revealed in his son Jesus. It also shows us the compassion and love of God in action and Our Lord’s desire that his followers should do likewise.

There are clear Eucharistic overtones here in the actions of Jesus, which echo his actions at the Last Supper. Our Lord took the bread, looked up to heaven, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the people. For Matthew’s readers in the early church, this gave meaning to the Eucharist they celebrated. Christ came to the world reaching out to people to care for them in body, mind and spirit. All who came to him were filled with an abundance. The message is clear: those who come to be fed spiritually at his table must practise the same love and compassion, feeding people in body, mind and spirit.

There is great spiritual hunger in the world, and it is not enough to just feed stomachs. However, it would be utterly meaningless to attempt to feed people spiritually without addressing their physical needs. God is concerned for the whole person. God’s kingdom is not an economy of scarcity involved with accumulating, hoarding and protecting material goods – but rather, an economy of shared abundance where everybody is satisfied. That is how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

This challenges all of us who come to worship and seek spiritual nourishment. Are we willing to be active participants in our Lord’s ministry of compassion and care to the world? It is costly, yes, but let us take to heart the words of Christ: “You give them something to eat”.

Prayers of intercession

God of all love and goodness,
We give you praise and thanks that you provide for our daily needs
and for all your creatures.
You provide food, resources and gifts
for us to share with others and to give you glory.
We pray for your church that it may be your agent
of love and compassion in a needy world.
Bless this diocese, its people, and Pat, our bishop.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We ask your blessing upon all who hunger and thirst
for righteousness and the coming of your kingdom.
We remember all who feel their lives are parched and dry
and who suffer from spiritual hunger.
May your Good News be brought to all whose lives lack meaning and purpose.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We ask your blessing upon all who lack the necessary
resources for wellbeing.
We pray for all who suffer from hunger and poverty,
all who struggle due to injustice, greed and oppression.
We remember all who have lost crops and livestock
through famine, drought and war.
We pray for the work of Christian Aid
and for all who seek to bring relief
to the poor and hungry of our world.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We give you thanks for our families and loved ones
and for all who have cared and provided for us.
We remember families who are struggling with poverty or debt
and those facing an uncertain future.
We pray for all whose livelihoods have been affected
through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are ill, those awaiting or undergoing
medical treatment or surgery.
We pray for all who are being cared for at home or in nursing homes.
Grant them your peace and healing.
We give thanks for all frontline workers in our health service,
support and strengthen them through times of stress.
Guide with your wisdom all who are engaged in medical research
and working develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We give thanks that you give life, and life eternal.
As we rejoice in your resurrection,
we remember all our departed loved ones.
May we come with them to the joy of your eternal kingdom.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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