Imagine being tired from weeks of particularly difficult work with lots of people demanding lots of things from you. After being promised a break, a little time away, when you get to the secluded place, a mountain of all places, all you see coming on the horizon is crowds of people…more people…constantly wanting more and more from you. This is where the Apostles start in today’s Gospel reading.
These crowds of people are hungry; they’re needy. Philip looks at Jesus, asking, “What are we gonna do? There’s no way we can feed all these people!” Andrew notices, “All we have is a snack for ourselves.” Jesus’ response: “Have them take a seat.” I can just see Peter and the others wandering through the crowd, yelling, “Please be seated…find a seat…please sit down.” All the while, they’re thinking: Great, now they’re expecting something & we have NOTHING!
Meanwhile, Jesus, unfazed by the concerns of the Apostles, quietly and calmly takes the loaves, gives thanks, breaks them, and hands them to the 12, “Go; give these to the people.” Peter obediently takes the ½ loaf he’s been given, and gives it to the first person he sees. I imagine Peter, the former head of a successful fishing business, thinking: Well, there goes my lunch! And worse: Everyone else will think we’ve got food for them, and we don’t! So Peter slowly walks back to Jesus, thinking of ways to explain all this to the starving crowds. When he gets back to our Lord, there He is with another ½ loaf of bread, “Give this to the people.” Peter, puzzled, takes it, perhaps thinking: Maybe He had some hidden in his pocket. So he goes out with it, hands it off, and walks back slowly, thinking: He can’t possibly have more; now we really have a problem… And there Jesus is with another ½ loaf of bread, “Give this to the people.” Dumbfounded, Peter mumbles, “Okay” and off he goes, and this continues until all 5,000 men are fed.
As the distribution continues, I’m sure the gears are turning in Peter’s head, and the questions shift from: Where did He get that? to: Who is He, really? And his attention and his gaze shift from the loaves to the Lord in puzzlement, wonder, and awe. And I imagine that every time Peter returned to Christ, there our Lord was, smiling at Peter and the others with a penetrating gaze of love, saying with His eyes, “Are you beginning to see? Are you beginning to trust Me?” After being fed, the people, with their own agenda, want Him to be their king, a king who will fight against the Romans, liberating Israel, that they might return to the glory days of David and Solomon.
While the Lord fled the mistaken crowd, who liked the idea of their full bellies, He also wanted to correct the erroneous understanding of the Apostles. See, the 12 were wrong; they didn’t think Christ could do anything in this moment. Obviously, their own resources – physical and spiritual – have been exhausted; perhaps they’re thinking: This is Your fault, Jesus; You told us to bring nothing for the journey. They thought they were getting a break from all the hard work they’d done, but they still hadn’t learned that all the good they’d done was really the work of the Spirit in them. They were relying on their own power, more than on God’s power in them, and they certainly didn’t think Christ could do anything about the problem at hand.
The crowds, too, were wrong about Christ; as soon as they saw what they wanted in Christ, they got excited. Here was someone who could satisfy their desire for hunger, freedom, and glory, but merely bodily hunger, political freedom, and earthly glory. This is why Christ fled from them; He didn’t want them to misunderstand that His mission was that they might hunger for holiness, have freedom from the slavery of sin, and know the glory of His Father’s Presence.
While we see the errors, what we fail to do is avoid making the same mistakes. How quickly we, too, can be wrong about our Lord and the things of God; perhaps it’s the Mass, or reading Sacred Scripture, daily prayer, or the spiritual life in general; perhaps it’s the Church or the Faith as a whole. Like the Apostles, we might have seen God do amazing things in our lives, but we can quickly forget that it was more His doing than our own. In our nation and, especially in our Diocese, we have been blessed with such an abundance, but with that comes a temptation to rely more on our credit card, bank account, or paycheck to get what we need more than relying on God. When the real challenges in life arise, there are some things money can’t buy, as they say. When we’re presented with the Mass as an essential component of our lives or with daily prayer and the reading of Sacred Scripture, or with the Church and the Faith, we can be tempted to think: what good can those things do? I go to Mass, I say my prayers, I do what I’m told…and nothing changes or things actually get worse!
Like the crowds, we do see God doing little things in our lives, and we want more, but we can treat God more like an ATM than our Father: “God, I want this; I need that; give me…give me…give me.” When I don’t get anything out of the Mass, daily prayer, the Scriptures, the Church or the Faith, I’m tempted to walk away.
Pope Francis said about a year ago in an interview: I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. If the Church is a field hospital, then, in some sense, what the Church gives us, and what She is, is medicine for our souls. Think about the nature of medicine: I’m sure anyone with kids, young or old, have seen this scenario: they don’t like the medicine you give them or they take it and don’t understand why they’re not better 5 minutes later. The effectiveness of medicine, rather, should be decided based on those who use it as the doctor prescribes.
Those who have taken this spiritual medicine most perfectly are the saints. They have accepted the medication, which sometimes doesn’t taste good, sometimes hard to swallow, sometimes doesn’t make you feel good, but they had faith in their heavenly Father to know that Dad knows best! It’s no different for us; our Daddy does know best; He’s given us His Son, Who gave us the Church, the Sacraments, Who commanded us to imitate His example of daily prayer, and obedience to the Commandments and the Beatitudes.
Just as with Peter, so too with each of us, every time we turn to Him, there He is smiling at us with a penetrating gaze of love, saying with His eyes, “Are you willing to trust Me yet? Are you beginning to see how much I love you?”