18th Sunday Year A

See Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

Homily 1 - 2005

Today’s gospel is one of those we know so well.  Notice how Matthew consciously shapes the story: Jesus took the five loaves.. raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing.. and breaking the loaves .. he handed them to the disciples.  Jesus took, blessed God, broke, gave.  It reminds us of something else.  In today’s Eucharistic Prayer, I shall read: he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.  He broke the bread and gave it to his disciples...  The same four steps.  Matthew deliberately uses the same language because he wanted his own community (for whom he wrote his gospel), every time they gathered to celebrate Eucharist, to think also of the way that Jesus went on to tell his disciples: give the hungry crowds something to eat yourselves.

Why did Jesus feed the hungry?  Why does the St Vincent de Paul Society feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless (as another of Jesus’ parables will put it)?  (Why did so many of you respond so generously to the project of Fr Mick McKinnon in Peru?)  Because people are hungry, naked, homeless.

Was that really what Jesus was on about though, or was it only an incidental issue?  Let’s go back a step.  Why were people hungry, naked, homeless?  Was Galilee so poor that there wasn’t enough for everyone?  Hardly.  Galilee was the food bowl of the whole of Palestine.  Jesus wished to make a point.  

When the disciples shared, there was enough, and more than enough: twelve baskets full, in the story.  This brings us closer to what Jesus was on about – he wanted people to see the broader picture, and to live in line with that: To see that all people were loved equally by God - sons and daughters of a compassionate, generous and loving God.  To see more: if all were sons and daughters of God - a compassionate, loving and generous God - then they were brothers and sisters of each other, and, as responsive sons and daughters of such a God, they would treat each other with respect, justice and warm concern.  When people listen to God, tune their hearts in to God, and allow them to be changed, and then act accordingly, the result is superabundance - yes, of food, but also of joy, happiness, security and peace.  As God said in the first reading from Isaiah: Pay attention; come to me.  Listen, and your soul will live.

As we gather today, Jesus will take bread, bless it, break it and give it to us, and he will want us to remember our world where millions are hungry, naked and homeless... and he will say to us, as he said to those first disciples: Give them something to eat yourselves!  Can we afford it?  The disciples wondered that: All we have is five loaves and two fish! was their observation.  But they hadn’t taken into account the word of God.  Jesus simply said: Try it! Do it! Let your hearts be shaped not by checking out the economic rationalists but by listening to God.  Those in need in our world are also sons and daughters of God.  And so they are our brothers and sisters, wherever they are.  Remember the other occasion when someone asked Jesus: Who is my neighbour? and Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan gave the answer that even our national enemies are!

It is not just question of whether the hungry will ever experience the Kingdom if “those who have” never learn to share.  It’s more.  Will those who have ever experience the Kingdom until they learn to see everyone as equally sons and daughters of God, loved by God as much as they are.  We shall begin to experience the Kingdom as we allow our hearts to become like the heart of God...

May today’s Eucharist be a truly happy Eucharist for each of us!

Homily 2 – 2008 

Of recent weeks we’ve had the parables of the Kingdom – the seed that produced 100-fold, the mustard seed that grew to become a tree with branches for a multitude of birds, leaven to make enough bread to feed a hundred hungry adults.  The unexpected can happen!  Today, we have a sort of parable of the Kingdom in action – a crowd of 5000 men and probably as many women, comfortably fed from five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish.  The unexpected can happen!

But not by magic.  Isaiah was wise to that – as we heard in today’s First Reading.  God wants to turn it on – plenty for all: bread, corn, wine, milk.  But it’s conditional - Isaiah has God saying: Listen! Listen to me! Pay attention! Come to me! Listen!  If we listen, what shall we hear?  What difference will it make?  Isaiah again: With you I will make an everlasting covenant.  It’s like God saying: Let’s get married!  It’s not a mystery to us – we’ve heard it before.  We heard it in the Second Reading taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.  In case we didn’t hear it, he said it again: Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think that the problem is that we don’t listen; we don’t pay attention; we don’t come near.  Perhaps, we’re not as silly as we look - perhaps, unconsciously, we’re scared.  If we really listened to God’s love, it would undermine many of the religious, pious games we get up to.  It would undermine our sense of being in control, our ego, and we don’t trust ourselves to be out of control, and, perhaps, we don’t trust God: He’ll give us a bit of rope, maybe, but eventually he’ll get us.  So we often go through life yearning to love and to be loved, but never quite game enough to believe it – to believe in totally unconditional, unearned, love.

Needing to feel in control somehow, needing to feel safe, we draw our boundaries; we build our walls around ourselves; we become selective.  Everyone else does the same, and we come to define our identity by our differences; and differences become important.  The more insecure we are, the more we need the differences …  and our world becomes a world divided – us and them; and God’s Kingdom gets put up on the shelf – until everyone else becomes like me!  If only…!

Jesus struggled.  To believe all the time in the possibility of the Kingdom can be difficult.  Today’s Gospel started by saying that: when Jesus heard the news of John the Baptist’s death, he withdrew by boat to a lonely place.  Perhaps, he brought a sense of loneliness with him, deep in his own heart.  A great man assassinated by an insecure, power-hungry, tyrant.  A man who had been his mentor for a while, who perhaps had been instrumental in discovering his own vocation.  Jesus needed time and space to process the pain.

The world is frightened of God’s Kingdom – it seems too different, too risky, too unfamiliar, too unsettling.  Better to protect ourselves behind our walls, better to go on killing, if that’s what it takes, killing especially the prophets.  But the world does not count on resurrection.  We do.

Homily 3 - 2014

We may not always listen carefully to the Readings, but most of us remember snatches of the hymns we sing. In this morning’s First Reading, Isaiah had God saying, Come to the water, you who are thirsty. Though you have nothing, I bid  come, and be filled with the goodness I have to offer. Come! Listen! Live!

Listen! It sometimes hard to listen, hard to hear God saying, “You have nothing, nothing! And that is OK – I know that.” It is not a question of what we deserve or what we merit. All we need is to recognise that we are thirsty, and that we can bring nothing. It is not tit-for-tat. It is all gift – God’s gift. God wants us simply to live. Yet, instead of listening to God, we tend so easily to remain absorbed in ourselves. We focus on our failings, our constant distractions at prayer, our obsessive measuring of how well we are going. Instead of listening to God, we switch off immediately and let our ‘inner critic’ drown out what God is saying.

As God said through Isaiah, Pay attention, come … listen. The challenge, then, is to keep our gaze on God. It feels so counter-intuitive. Obsessively, we look at ourselves – and that is bad news. That is not the Gospel – the Gospel is Good News. Unconsciously, perhaps, we are scared – scared to believe that we are loved unconditionally. Yet, whatever about us, that is the way God is. God is love. God cannot but love. St John memorably said in one of his epistles that what matters is not our love for God but God’s love for us

The Second Reading today from St Paul makes the same point. Paul was simply carried away by the reality of Christ’s love and the wonder of it, Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. And, in case someone might be like my father who had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart but felt much less secure about God the Father, Paul went on to add, Nothing can come between us and the love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus. There is no difference between Christ’s attitude and that of his Father.

Look especially at today’s Gospel. Jesus saw the crowd. He did not start working out who deserved what. His first reaction was to see their need. His regard of love was simultaneously the regard of compassion. He healed their sick and fed them all. Were they worthy? The thought did not enter his head. 

To be truly content with that, we need to be converted, to allow ourselves somehow to be turned upside down. We need to feel the tension between spontaneous compassion and engagement [that shape us and change the world] and Send the people away to buy, without compassion or engagement [that misshapes us and leaves the world unchanged]. 

Perhaps we inevitably struggle to let go of the paradox of both/and. We are frightened of being upside down. But facing the paradox and following the gentle inner voice within is the only way to mature. Life provides the opportunities in the form of the perplexities, confusions, tragedies, sufferings and even joys that it serves up. However, if they are to work their maturing effect, they need to be pondered on over time and in stillness. We need to become contemplatives, contemplatives-on-the-run, perhaps, but contemplatives nevertheless - like Mary, of whom St Luke wrote, As for Mary, she treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.

Homily 4 - 2020

St Matthew put today’s story within the context of Jesus’ taking “compassion on the crowd” and “healing the sick”. Who were these people who walked on foot for hours, over rough terrain, to hear Jesus? They don’t sound like the physically handicapped. More likely they were the unemployed and the underemployed — “five thousand men, to say nothing of the women and the children” who would have doubled the crowd — all poverty stricken, without hope of improvement, their self-esteem broken. Jesus’ transparent care penetrated deep into their spirits. He loved them, he respected them, and they knew it — and wholeness stirred inside them.

They were hungry. Jesus addressed the disciples, “You give them something to eat yourselves”. I am reminded of the many ordinary Australians who, after the summer bushfires, reached out to victims of the fires, bringing loads of hay for their traumatised stock, and giving their energy and time to reconstruct miles of burnt fences. I think of the volunteers here in Hamilton who have organised and distributed meals for those put out of work by the Covid-19 pandemic. I think of nurses and doctors, of staff of aged care facilities — risking their lives in order to care. The list goes on. Who benefitted most? Whose self-respect and self-esteem grew most? Givers or receivers — or both.

“Loaves" and "fish” — a low impact diet! And they shared it together, respectfully, leisurely. No one missed out. Not just physically nourishing, but spiritually healing. Finally, “they collected the scraps remaining”. Fascinating! Jesus obviously had a profound respect for the natural world created by his Father and intended for all. They left no mess.

Matthew shaped the story to connect deliberately with Eucharist: “he took the loaves, blessed God, broke the loaves and gave them to the crowds” — no one excluded. Does our Eucharist today repeat the same dynamic — a celebration of mutual respect, shared together, our care healing each other as well as our hurting selves, and situating us thoughtfully and responsibly within our wounded world? With Jesus right in the centre of it all!