Ordinary Time 18, Year A
- You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing (Ps. 145:16)
Death is said to be the great equalizer: it is the same end we human beings meet whether we are high or low, rich or poor, wealthy or wanting, young or old, man or woman, wise or foolish, tall or short, black, brown, white or yellow, African, American, Asian, European or Oceanian, or whatever may be the characteristic or trait we can creatively and endlessly cite and use to distinguish ourselves from one another or even, not infrequently, to discriminate also against each other (cf. Ps. 49; ; ; ). But along with death, equalizing factor too is hunger or thirst or any human need, for that matter, that unmistakably points to human vulnerability and mortality.
They were equal in their being pitiable all, those making up the vast crowd that moved Jesus to compassion and prompted him to cure the sick. They were equal too in that they would all sooner or later be in need of food at a time and in a place where finding enough of it for everybody would be close to impossible. They were equal insofar as they all needed Jesus.
Jesus, of course, did not disappoint. The five thousand or so folks, not counting women and children, were equal because “they all ate and were satisfied,” following Jesus’ multiplication of the available five loaves and two fish and his handing them to the disciples for distribution to the crowds. All those present were one and equal in their partaking of a meal of such overflowing abundance that left-over fragments filled twelve wicker baskets. They were one and equal as well in being seated on the grass and not showing, except for the disciples earlier, the least concern that they were in a deserted place late in the day.
And why would they care really? After all, the Lord was their shepherd; he led them to a fresh and green pasture in order to restore their strength and set a table for them, no matter the dangers lurking there; he would guide them along the right path and they would have nothing to fear even if they should be overtaken by darkness (cf. Ps. 23). Their shepherd would keep them safe in his love and inseparable from it. Moreover, as one who experienced hunger and thirst and could sympathize with his brothers and sisters, because he was like them in every way but sin and was a tempted just like them, the shepherd would surely teach them how to satisfy human hunger and thirst rightly and to the full (Mt. 4:2; 21:18; Heb. 2:17; 4:15).
Human hunger and thirst, as Jesus’ life makes clear, are not satisfied by bread and water alone. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). The food that satisfies, and which otherwise we would have known nothing about had he not told us, is doing God’s will (cf. Jn. 4:32-34). For the object of our hunger and thirst is more than just food and drink. What ultimately underlies our hunger for food and our thirst for drink is our loathing of death and our craving for eternal life. Hence, it is not enough to work for food that perishes; we are to work for the food that endures for eternal life that the Son of Man gives (cf. Jn. 6:27-68).
And Jesus repeatedly identifies himself to be this food. He says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” He assures us that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, we do not have life within us, declaring in no uncertain terms that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. There is really no one else to turn to but Jesus who, as Peter admitted, has the words of eternal life.
So in the end, it is Jesus who is really the great equalizer in his giving his body up and shedding his blood for all. Having made himself poor for our sake, though he was rich, so that we might become rich by his poverty, he makes possible for our plenty—even if it only means having five loaves and two fish—to supply everyone’s need and result to the equality that God’s lavish abundance guarantees (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9-15).