As a new student monk residing at Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine motherhouse in Rome, one of the first small tasks I had to master was to memorize the Latin version of one of the traditional monastic forms for grace before meals. The opening of this prayer was an adaptation of the Psalm we sing together at mass today, beginning: “Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine…” — “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps 145:15-16).
That Psalm gives beautiful witness to the gratitude of every believer, ancient and modern, for the abundant generosity of God who not only gives us the good gifts necessary to maintain our physical lives, but who also upholds us through his spiritual gifts. The same message is contained in a striking passage from the prophet Isaiah, where we hear the word of the Lord exhorting us: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”
Later the prophet continues: “Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the steadfast loyalty promised to David” (Isa 51:1, 3). In the first text from Isaiah we see the images of food used in a double sense: first as actual nourishment for our bodies, and secondly as a symbol of the spiritual sustenance which God freely offers to all. In the latter text this spiritual meaning becomes clear and the covenant the Lord established with Israel is identified as the font of all saving blessings that God bestows—the gracious response to the hope-filled eyes of all who look to the Lord.
Jesus brings this reflection on God’s bounty, begun with images from the Old Testament, to perfection in the Gospel. There, having just heard of the brutal death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus seeks to be alone to mourn the loss of his kinsman and forerunner, yet he is pursued by “a vast crowd.” Instead of turning them away in their need for physical healing and spiritual guidance, Jesus, even though he himself sought the sustenance of prayerful union with the Father, returns to his flock like the Good Shepherd he is and gave them more than they anticipated.
Having spent what we can imagine was a long time that afternoon teaching them and healing the sick among them, his disciples urged Jesus to send the people away so they could buy food. A Good Shepherd feeds his own flock, however, and so Jesus replied: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves” (Matt 14:16). We all know the rest of the story: Jesus took the meager rations found among the people—five loaves and two fish—and he blessed them and distributed them to the teeming crowd and all were satisfied, with twelve baskets full of fragments left over.
Jesus provided that day for the temporal needs of the people who came to him—simply stated, he fed them. He did far more than that, though, and seeing the deeper spiritual value of his actions is an important part of today’s Gospel lesson. Moved by Jesus’ teaching and actions in the Gospel let us pray that, as the Psalmist says, our eyes might always look hopefully to God, and we might find in him our every need, temporal and spiritual alike, satisfied abundantly.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Photo: Seth Harbaugh at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, the Holy Land.