The True Miracle
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Fr David McLean suggests that the greatest miracle of Christ is the gift of compassion.
On the face of it, in today’s Gospel reading we have an account of one of Jesus’ miracles, where he feeds 5000 with just five loaves and two fish. It testifies to Jesus’ divine power. In number, it surpasses those satisfied in similar miraculous feedings in the Old Testament, suggesting that, in Jesus, we have something on offer from God that is far greater than what has gone before: the offer of a new covenant with God that cannot be broken.
It also, however, encourages in us a desire to minister to those in need, even when the situation seems impossible. Jesus is seeking solitude with his disciples, but they are followed by the crowds. Jesus did not send the people away to fend for themselves. Instead, he stood firm in his faith, prayed to God, and took the initiative to feed the people. He had no responsibility to do this but was driven by his compassion for people in need. A compassion that we all share. Jesus is not annoyed by the persistence of the crowd, but instead has compassion for them. He observes that they are like sheep without a shepherd. There is a suggestion here that ministering to others includes providing leadership.
For us, that could mean leadership in the church, including vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Alternatively, it could mean active participation in the life of the parish. Also, it could mean providing leadership in the communities in which we live. For the laity, there is the option of entering local politics, or even national or international politics. Politics is an area where matters really can look impossible from a church perspective, where the issues of the day are far distant from the concerns of the Church. There certainly is a need for politicians motivated by faith to speak up for the real needs of the crowd.
The needs of the people explicitly talked about in today’s Gospel reading are food and physical sustenance. There will undoubtedly be allusions to the need for spiritual food and sustenance of the spirit, but there is still the need for actual food. The need for actual food is just as pertinent today as it has ever been. The hungry are with us today as much as ever. It may be more obvious, however, that the hunger results from human shortcomings.
Yemen will do as an example, though there are many more: Yemen is a country which is quite capable of feeding itself, yet people starve, and newborn babies go hungry. The people are suffering and now have COVID-19 to contend with, which is a challenge even to the most developed countries. This situation arises from the intractable civil war that has been raging for years. Intractable, because the regional superpowers (Iran versus Saudi Arabia and UAE) fight a proxy war by constantly rearming their chosen faction in the civil war within Yemen. In their turn, the global superpowers support their chosen regional power. The result is that the war goes on and on, and the people suffer and go hungry. The people of Yemen suffer as a result of human sin, even if it is sin by omission, the sin of doing nothing. If ever there was a need for politicians who would speak out for a suffering people, Yemen is it.
In all today’s readings we are told that God will provide food for all those who trust in him. That trust does not mean waiting for a miracle. In Christ we have a solution to famines, but not the solution of miraculous intervention. Faith is not about waiting for God to do things for us, but about us doing what God wants. Famine is not a call to faith but is rather the result of lack of faith. There is famine in the world, because we do not live as God wants us to live.
Perhaps today’s readings ask us to act on our compassion for those in need, whether by word or deed, and trust that others will see the justice of our cause and join us. Then, a dire situation which seems impossible may receive Christ’s love through our actions.