August 5, 2019
“They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over– twelve wicker baskets full.” (Matthew 14:13-21)
The following homily was originally delivered at St. Pius X Catholic Church in 2014
A little background before I share a story: When our children were young, Carol and I would prepare them before walking into Sunday Mass at St. Pius X. We would remind them that we were entering the House of God, and that they all needed to be on their best behavior. We added that if they were quiet and really listened, God would talk to them.
Our two daughters paid close attention to what we said, and were generally well-behaved and attentive. Not so much with the boys. They didn’t really care whose house it was – they were going to do whatever they wanted.
And now the story: We were having lunch in McDonald’s one afternoon. Mary, our oldest, was about 4 years old. The pastor of St. Pius X at that time was Fr. Jim Sweeney. Long-time parishioners will remember Fr. Jim as a big man with a big personality. He knew no strangers and you always knew when Jim Sweeney was around.
He walked into the same McDonald’s that afternoon. After ordering, he walked around the restaurant, waving to parishioners and stopping to chat at most of the tables, including ours.
Mary could not take her eyes off of him. She was mesmerized. When Fr. Jim moved on to the next table, Mary leaned over to Carol and I and asked, “Why is God eating lunch at McDonald’s?”
Today I will be talking about God and food, or more precisely, God and being fed.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us: “…receive grain and eat…drink wine and milk…eat well…delight in rich fare.”
And in the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the familiar story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. While initially there was concern about the 5,000 going hungry, later in the story we are told: “They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve wicker baskets full.”
Food is mentioned in both scripture passages. But not just subsistence food, not the bare minimum to get by, but abundance! Free-flowing milk and wine! Twelve wicker baskets full!
Why this emphasis, in both the Old and New Testament, on food? No one likes a good meal more than me, but surely God does not have my lunch menu on the top of His priority list.
These readings that speak so much about food have little to do with eating, and everything to do with being fed.
It is important to note who it is that is being fed. From Isaiah, “Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty…who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost…”
As for those who were among the 5,000, the Gospel tells us: “When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them…”
The people being fed, being nourished, were not simply a group searching for a unique dining experience. The people being fed were depleted, hopeless, to be pitied. They were searching for something. They needed to be fed.
We know what that feels like, don’t we? Because we’ve been there. Or perhaps we are there now.
We need to be fed, and yet what we take in doesn’t satisfy us. We find no free-flowing milk or wine. Our wicker baskets are not full. We encounter scarcity or emptiness rather than abundance.
We need to take a hard look at what food line we are standing in. To whom or to what are we turning to be fed?
While there is much to be gained from reflecting on our own hunger, the message we hear today is one of hope, one of joy. Four times in Isaiah we hear the Lord inviting us, literally begging us, to come to Him: “Come to the water!” “Come, receive grain and eat…” “Come, without paying and without cost…” “Come to me heedfully…” God invites us over and over again into his loving arms to be fed.
In the Gospel, the 5,000 were not fed because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. The 5,000 were fed because they followed Jesus. They were hungry and turned to the One who could truly nourish them.
The miracle that day had nothing to do with loaves or fish. The miracle occurred as soon as they left their homes to follow Jesus.
Paul’s letter to the Romans captures the essence of the theme that runs through all of today’s readings: “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God…”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.
He tells us to come to Him. What He feeds us will satisfy. The love of God is free-flowing. It fills our wicker basket hearts. What we seek in other places, God offers us in abundance.
At a time when newspapers are full of stories of hopelessness and Godlessness, pause for a moment to envision a world in which everyone turned to God to be fed.
Once fed, once nourished, we will have the strength to feed others. As Jesus suggests, we can “give them some food ourselves.” Imagine the hope and the joy that would be found in such a world. God’s presence would be felt everywhere. He would be everywhere.
We may even find Him eating lunch at McDonald’s.