What is “this” referring to…

Homily – July 26th, 2015
8th Sunday of Matthew

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Christ is amongst us! He is and ever shall be!

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, we read the now familiar story of the multiplication of the loaves of bread and fish to feed the >5,000 people.

Now what is missing from the reading (14-22) is the prior verse, verse 13, which states: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.” The question begged is to what is “this” referring to. “Now when Jesus heard this…”

It is very important that we know what preceded the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. So let us step back one verse: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.” The “this” to which Matthew is referring is the execution of John the Baptist. When Jesus heard of the execution of the Baptist, he withdrew – no doubt in prayer, in sadness, and grieving for the execution of the new Elijah that had come to the earth to announce the coming of the Messiah, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We must remember that John was not only a prophet, he was also a cousin of our Lord. We can imagine them growing up together – playing, frolicking as children do, and knowing each other well. We can envision how over time and years, they each took a different path in announcing the work of the Father – and the startling meeting that took place at the river Jordan wherein John said, it is you who should be baptizing me . . . to which Jesus responded, let it be so for now. In other words, Jesus was saying: let us (John and Jesus) do the work of the Father and follow His will. And thus John baptized Jesus.

At this point the biblical role of the Baptist diminished, while the role of Jesus ascended. There was no less love between them; thus when Jesus heard of John’s beheading it was natural that he would grieve – and perhaps seek to be alone . . . to pray.

It is at this point that we get into today’s gospel reading. Imagine, Jesus is going off to pray – to be alone, but the people are following him – seeking him out. And Jesus cannot turn away from the people. Despite his grieving, Jesus is responding to the needs of the people. He is praying for them; He is healing them of their illnesses and infirmities. In His time of grief, He is not attempting to escape them, but welcoming them. You can probably safely say that He is giving them the love that He had for the Baptist. Jesus is not only doing what the Father wants, but what John the Baptist would have wanted Him to do for the people – share his love.

And in doing so, the daylight is beginning to fade . . . and the apostles are worried about earthly things, like dinner time and the people getting hungry. They in fact suggest to Jesus that he dismiss the crowd so that they might return to their surrounding villages and obtain food.

But Jesus will have none of this earthly answers and what He does is miraculous – a miracle in more ways than we can imagine. Our surface and earthly minds tell us that, very simply, he took five loaves of bread and two fishes and fed the multitude. And . . . yes, he did do that. But he did so much more.

Think of this contrast . . . and this contrast is important.

John the Baptist was murdered as a result of a promise made at a royal earthly banquet. Present at the banquet were the local royalty, those in favor, and held in high esteem by the ruler of the day.

In contrast, Jesus fed the weak, the poor, and the suffering – the common man – at, also, a royal feast, a heavenly feast; at a banquet served by a miracle of God, the Father through His Son.

In the former, we have the banquet of man. In the latter case, we have the miracle of the Heavens.

But the analogy goes beyond that. We are contrasting the meal of man, pretending to be a god (small ‘g’) . . . and a heavenly banquet by God Himself. What we have before us is the difference between a pretend ruler, an earthly ruler, an earthly minister – and the Eucharistic Meal that is to be served by God in His Holy and Heavenly Church. This is why we are here today, for the latter – not the former. This is why Jesus took command of the apostles and the multitude – He did not ask, “he ordered” – “and they all ate and were satisfied.”

This is the Eucharistic Meal that our God is offering us today, despite the tragedies and difficulties of this life. This is the Eucharistic Meal that God is offering us in the next life – the eternal life. Only this time he is not “ordering” – He has given us the freedom to chose, to participate, and to love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.