It is good to remember, when reading Matthew’s Gospel, that it was not written with Twenty-First Century men and women in mind. The author or authors, guided by the Spirit, wrote the Gospel for First Century Jews after the year 70 CE when the Roman Empire destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem leaving the Jewish community scattered.
If the Jews saw the Temple as the sacred spot that centered their lives, what happens when it is destroyed? If they had hoped to overthrow the Roman rulers, how could God have permitted such devastation?
Following the destruction the Jews broke into several factions, each trying to reinterpret their identity and mission. One faction was the followers of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew is written to strengthen this group’s resolve to live entirely different lives with an entirely different
understanding of what God wants. God does not want empire building, political dominance, or pride in the Jewish people as set apart from non-Jews. God welcomes everyone, including Gentiles.
Matthew thus bolsters his narrative with quotes from ancient Jewish literature, what we call the Old Testament.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah, we see the universality of God’s love and promise. “…the Lord of hosts will provide for all people…” We are promised a spectacular banquet and, in poetic terms, the destruction of what all people fear most: death.
Jesus models how God’s reign is to be. He heals the lame, blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others.
Then, in his compassion, he recognizes the physical hunger of the “great crowd” by having his disciples practice their life mission by feeding the people themselves. God worked through these disciples to make sure there was more than enough food for everyone.
What does all this mean for us Twenty First Century humans? Each of us, in our personal and communal discernments, are asked to listen to one another and to the silent God to understand what we must do. There is more than enough food for everyone, but we must share it with one another. We might financially support those who feed the poor, it might mean regularly working in a dining room feeding the poor, or working to change public policies that favor the corporate agricultural interests over local farmers growing healthy foods for their neighbors, especially the more needy.
If you gave to a soup kitchen a match of your tips from every fine meal you ate in a restaurant, think of how you could expand opportunities for healthy diets for the most vulnerable.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are our way to God. Choosing which ones match your talents, interests, and opportunities are the work of discernment in long silence, sittings with God.
The New Jerusalem is not in Jerusalem. It is right where you are right now. Opportunities abound to serve the lame, blind, deformed, mute, hungry, lonely, and many others all around each of us.
We take seriously our discipleship. Daily prayer deepens our awareness of where God is at work in our lives.
Take time to be still today and listen for God moving within you.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.