Why waste money? This is Isaiah’s advice in the first reading. It’s good advice for any age and certainly so these days. But Isaiah is not concerned about economic indicators or national debt. Isaiah’s concern is faith in God. All the resources of the world cannot match the gifts of God. The prophet urges the people to put God first in their lives. Where a right relationship with God is the priority, people discover a way to provide for their other needs.
Where a right relationship with God is not the priority, things soon get distorted. Isaiah knew this from experience. He had seen his country weakened by the faithless policies of kings like Ahaz and Hezekiah. These two kings looked for security in the wrong places. In the end the kingdom was lost and the people were taken into exile. But in the first reading Isaiah is speaking to a wiser people. They have learned from their mistakes. Now they understand there is a thirst and a hunger only God can satisfy.
Isaiah would have been thrilled to be a part of the gospel scene this Sunday. A crowd of hungry people surrounds the Lord and his disciples. Jesus satisfies their hunger in a way only God could.
The gospel reading begins with news that John the Baptist is dead, executed by a king who was more concerned about his authority than he was about doing the right thing. He had promised before his court to grant any request of a girl who impressed him with her dancing. We all know the rest of the story. At the news of John’s death Jesus retreats to a deserted place. There is much to think about. The dangers of serving God in Herod’s world are now more apparent than ever. What awaits Jesus?
But Herod’s banquet of death is quickly replaced with a banquet of life provided by the Lord. The contrast could hardly be more dramatic. Once again Matthew presents his readers with two very different scenes. One leads to death; the other, to life. Which banquet would we choose to be a part of?
Surrounded by so many hungry people, the disciples believe the only way to satisfy their hunger is to turn to conventional means. They ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can go to nearby villages and buy food. Jesus challenges his disciples to reconsider. He challenges them to feed the crowd themselves. Jesus has been healing the sick within the crowd, clear evidence of the power of God in their midst. If the disciples are spiritually awake they will hear in the Lord’s word to them an invitation to rely on the limitless resources of God to nourish the people.
Five loaves and two fish satisfy a crowd of well over five thousand people. And there are fragments left over! Twelve baskets in fact. Each of the twelve apostles has enough to nourish even more people. They have been given a valuable lesson in the bounty of the kingdom of heaven. If they first rely on God, they will discover an abundance unrecognized beforehand.
The apostle Paul was well aware of the abundance available through faith. As he writes to the Romans he gives testimony to his own convictions about God’s overwhelming love. He is convinced that nothing of this world could possibly separate the faithful from the Lord’s love. He runs through a list of obstacles others might assume could separate them from Christ. The list ends with “the sword.” But, as we know, Paul won the victory of faith even against the sword.