Today’s readings are familiar ones – the story of Israel’ complaint over having to eat manna, provided by God in the desert, instead of the rich menus they had known in Egypt. And, the Gospel is the beautiful scene of Jesus miraculous work to feed a large crowd by multiplying a small amount of loaves and fishes. What can we draw from these familiar scenes? What can they provide us?
We reverence the Scripture as the Word of God, as that document in which we are able to discover, with the eyes of faith, the nature of who God is. We cherish the Scripture as God’s revelation, as his opening to our human understanding the mystery of his own eternal self.
The readings given for today’s Mass draw a rich and comforting image of the nature of God. The Numbers reading depicts the Hebrew people, recently freed from bondage in Egypt, in the desert and facing starvation,struggling for survival. God has provided for them – manna, bread from heaven,which they now find tastless! But in so doing, God has provided richer fare, a glimpse into his own inner being. And he is revealed as one who understands human need, who is close to those he calls his own; he is revealed as Compassion itself. That is the tragedy of Israel’s complaint – it blinds them to the great gift they received along with the manna: the knowledge of God’s own inner being as Compassion.
The Gospel reading, taken from St. Matthew, has echoes of the gift of manna in the desert. And of course, it is the disciples who voice a complaint – of the impossibility of feeding so many with so few resources. Jesus action reveals the nature of the God he has come to reveal. And, again, it is a God close to people, understanding of human need, not afraid to intervene, to help. His action reveals a God whose name is Compassion.
This day, may we be alert for the signs of God’s ever-present Compassion. And may we be willing to be its agents, extending compassion, divine mercy to those about us in need. And may the God who is Compassion, act in the lives of those unemployed, those facing starvation, those knowing spiritual starvation. May we know the mercy and compassion of our God.
Fr. Jim Thoman, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.