Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
August 2-3, 2014
The Feeding of the Five-Thousand
Do you believe in miracles? In a world where rationalism and science are treated as the only real sources of knowledge, belief in miracles has dissipated before our very eyes. For the scientist, for the rationalist, for the 21st century “enlightened” mind, a so-called “miracle” is a misnomer…miracles are only unexplained phenomena, events that occur for which science or reason has only yet to find an explanation. It’s convenient for us to reduce miracles like this, because if we rob them of their mystery, or at least attempt to rob them of their mystery, we gain control over life and nature. If there is at least the possibility of discerning a scientific reason for an unexplained phenomenon, then there is the hope that human ingenuity could replicate it, that society could be bettered, and that humankind can proclaim itself the victor and king over nature. Now don’t get me wrong, science and reason are not bad things…they are extremely important, but they have their place. What becomes problematic is when we subject everything to scientific or rationalistic scrutiny. Our own egos and the fallacious belief that the human mind knows no bounds is precisely the reason why miracles are laughed off and scoffed at in today’s day and age. We lack the humility to admit that there are things that happen that we can’t explain, and won’t ever be able to explain…at least in this life.
But to be honest, we’re not completely unique when it comes to this mentality. Although we like to think of people in the ancient world as superstitious and uneducated, the truth is that they were, in so many ways, just as scientifically-minded and, unfortunately, just as arrogant as we are today in our “progressive” and “sophisticated” society. And in this morning’s Gospel we get a glimpse of this.
Our Lord, His disciples, and a vast crowd are in a deserted place…and the Lord is teaching. After a long day, evening has fallen and soon stomachs begin to growl. Despite the fact that the Lord has been curing the sick before their eyes that very same day, despite the fact that they have been journeying with Him for awhile now and have seen Him work many miracles, the disciples are struck with anxiety. The people are hungry, and the disciples are worried that if they don’t leave to get something to eat they’ll starve. Instead of turning to the God of power who was right there with them in the flesh, instead of trusting that Jesus Christ would care for them and tend to even their basic needs, they turn to Him and begin to whine and complain. “It’s dark…we’re hungry…we’re in the middle of nowhere. Can you just finish up so that we can all get out of here and go get something to eat?” In other words, the disciples would rather everyone go away and abandon the Lord for the sake of their bellies. In their hearts they do not believe and they don’t trust. The words of Psalm 78: 18-19 come to mind: “They tested God in their hearts, demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God and said, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’”
But the Lord would not allow the disciple’s lack of faith to deter Him from to tending to His people. In His love and power as God the Son, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in an unexplainable and miraculous manner, Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, fed the vast crowds with a superabundance of food. Just as the Israelites were given manna and quail in the desert in the midst of their hunger, so too were those who gathered around the Lord that day in that deserted place…all five-thousand men, without even counting the women and children. Some modern theologians, themselves infected by the same spirit of unbelief, have sought to undermine the miraculous nature of this event with idle speculation. They have posited that the real miracle was that Jesus just got everybody to share their food with everyone else, and that when they did there was more than enough to go around. This is nonsense…it comes from a desire to deny that God, not us, enjoys total power over all of creation. Our Gospel today calls us to see this power, the power of the Son of God, and to revere it.
The miracle of the feeding of the five-thousand, however, was not done by our Lord simply for the sake of feeding hungry people. And it wasn’t done simply to ignite the faith of the disbelieving disciples. That was surely part of it, but there was another, more ultimate purpose to this great miracle. It showed forth the great generosity of God, Who always gives in superabundance, and for this reason would beautifully foreshadow the greatest gift of superabundance the Lord would ever give to the world: His own Body and Blood. In an act of infinite love, the God Who fed the multitudes in the desert, handed over His own Body to death and shed His precious Blood on the cross…and now He feeds us, nourishes us, and gives us life with this same Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist.
But unlike for those who witnessed the feeding of the five-thousand, our eyes betray us…the great miracle of the Eucharist is a hidden miracle, seen only with the eyes of faith. In a few moments, right here on this holy altar, the Only-begotten Son of God miraculously will be present, truly, really, and substantially, under the appearance of bread and wine. He comes to us to save us and to give us life, to join us to His sufferings on Calvary, and to give us a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, if you believe in miracles…if you truly believe that God can do anything…then bow down not only your knees but your hearts and come receive the greatest miracle of all.