Nm 11:4b-15; Ps 81:12-17; Mt 14:13-21
Sweet! That’s newspeak for great, cool, and awesome! So many things are called sweet, yet life these days is not like honey from the rock. Our psalm today recalls the struggle the people had with the Lord. The people complained, grumbled and murmured in the desert. Their relationship with their Liberator Divine had become anything but sweet. As the first reading for Mass reveals, the people were longing for the benefits of slavery in Egypt. They did not enjoy the desert provision of their Liberator. In response to this first reading which describes the early days of freedom from slavery from the people’s perspective, Psalm 81 describes this rebellion in the desert from the LORD’s perspective. Israel was disobedient and did not listen to the word of the LORD. So the LORD gave them up to their hardness of heart, and they wandered aimlessly according to their own counsels. The people were lost and without a shepherd, because they had rejected the LORD and his prophet, Moses. Still the LORD desires the hearts of his beloved people. “If only my people would hear me, and Israel walk in my ways, quickly would I humble their enemies; against their foes I would turn my hand.” This people had rejected the LORD and his prophet, but the LORD sought them, again and again with the purest delight. He continued to make new promises to his beloved children. He promised them bread of finest wheat and honey from the rock. Indeed, the LORD is still faithful to his promises, and the LORD wants only one thing: to fill us with honey from the rock! Indeed, the LORD desires to make our whole life sweet.
Not only are the people weary, their shepherd, Moses finds this people to be a burden too heavy to carry. He asks the LORD for death, “so that I need no longer face this distress.” Weariness is contagious; complaining is catchy; murmuring is destructive. Moses is ready to give up his vocation. The people have already done so. They have cried out in lament, “Would that we had meat for food!” It is this most basic human need that moves the people. We too are weary with nothing but this manna. We too hunger for protein. We long for meat to eat. Saint John of the Cross wrote about his own great hunger. He pleaded with the LORD in the language of lament saying: Why do you send me all this beauty in creation…I’ve had enough of your gifts Lord! I want only you! Give yourself to me! Nothing else will satisfy. Indeed, lamentation gives way to jubilation. The Lord was angry with his people’s complaint, but he did not ignore the needs of his people. Their lament became his invitation. The LORD came to supply their every need. He took away their hunger and gave Moses every reason to hope and to continue the journey of faith.
The Lord Jesus sought out a deserted place to be alone after hearing of the death of his Prophet Friend, John the Baptist. By his witness and his martyrdom the Baptist had given the Lord Jesus a glimpse of his own future. Perhaps the Master wanted to be alone and consider his own future glory—upon the cross and in the resurrection. However, the crowds followed him on foot because they were not wealthy enough to take a ride to hear the teacher. When the Master saw them his heart was moved with pity for them. He spent the rest of his day healing the sick and comforting the needy. When evening came his disciples were also moved with pity for the crowd who was at this point hungry, really hungry. The disciples asked the Master to dismiss them so they could make their way home and by some food along the way. The Lord Jesus responded, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” The disciples did not complain, murmur, or grumble. They did have their objection though, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have.” This was hardly enough for the Master and his disciples, much less this huge crowd. Here’s another impossible situation in the desert; the hungry crowds and the less than resourceful leaders. The Lord Jesus blessed this humble and inadequate offering; his sacred hands broke it, and it was given to his disciples for distribution to the crowds. Not only is there enough for every hungry soul to eat, there are even twelve baskets of fragments left over. Indeed, as some of the Fathers reflect, these fragments are still nourishing all those who move the Lord’s heart with pity. In our hunger he feeds us, no matter how much we groan.