Image: Volunteers from St. Vincent de Paul providing food for the hungry
In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah is describing an image of a bountiful table full of delicious food and drink, a veritable feast for the senses. He is speaking to a people who are terribly hungry. The people of Israel had been in exile, held captive in Babylon for many years, and were now desperately looking forward to the return home. Imagine the longing of a starving man given the promise of a mouth-watering meal and you will have an idea of the longing in the hearts of a people looking forward to returning to their homeland.
In our northern lands we do not lack for delicious food. Like Isaiah’s vision, nature provides a bounty of fish from the water, animals from the land and birds from the air. Even if our wallets run empty our freezers never seem to. But there is much more to life than just filling our stomachs.
Our Gospel today speaks about food as Jesus multiplies a small offering and provides a meal for the five thousand who are gathered. It is an impressive miracle which makes a lasting impression. Although it was their physical hunger which provided the opportunity for Jesus to provide the meal for, it was a deeper hunger which Jesus was addressing, and which brought the people to that field in the first place.
More than food, Jesus offered a message that people were longing to hear. He spoke about his Father’s love for them and the fact that, though they had strayed, God would never abandon them. He gave them hope that even in their suffering there was nothing to be feared and that they could find strength and help in God for the difficult times in their lives. Food for the stomach lasts for a moment but food for the soul gives us what we need to survive a lifetime.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he says that, “nothing can come between us and the love of Christ”. Even if we do not have enough food or we are lacking in anything that we need, it does not diminish the love that God has for us. There is no divide that keeps God’s love from us and, as long as we place our faith in God, we will persevere.
This is a message which needs to be shared. While our communities do benefit from the blessings of the land, we do not live necessarily live in a paradise. There are many among us who are spiritually hungry, lonely and afraid, bruised and hurting. Not only do they need to hear the comfort of these words but also to experience them being put into action.
It is not just enough to share the hopeful words of Jesus and the prophet Isaiah, but we must be willing to embody what they mean. We need to allow God to perform the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves through us. Taking our meager gifts and talents, God can transform the work that we do to provide life giving nourishment to those who are in need, food for the body and soul.
When the disciples wanted to send the people away to find food for themselves Jesus said to them, “you give them something to eat.” That is the invitation that we receive today. We are called not just to come to the table and eat but to make sure that the table is open to everyone and that no one is missing or being left out.