The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. But these are far from ordinary times. Suffering underscores even the triumphs of the spirit like the empty stadium seats surround the Olympic athletes. And there are the very simple needs to take care of everyday: physical, mental, emotional in a world chirping with change. Still there is an inherent beauty in the most simple aspects of life: the rich plopping of raindrops on windshields, listening as a choice of kindness, gentleness in interaction with self and others. The miracle of the loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel acknowledges both the challenge of suffering and then possibilities and the importance of re-emerging in each generation, every stage of life.
The latter is visible in connecting with the first reading. Ezekiel captures the story of the manna in the desert. The Israelites at a loss, and the manna appearing to sustain and fortify. It is from a gentle, compassionate God looking at a people struggling through the desert. And centuries later, there is the Gospel account of Jesus looking out at a crowd on a very different type of journey. Gathering to hear Him speak, they are tired and hungry. He sees what is real in them, the basic needs in a very different setting. Interestingly, He inquires first of the apostles about how to manage this moment. They are perplexed by the numbers of people, the practical costs of feeding a crowd. It is a child who comes to the fore, a child as the sign of Hope, of a new generation and possibility. Five loaves and fishes. Baskets to share. A miracle unanticipated but invested in the wealth of fragile humans who were unaware of what could happen, did happen. Into the desert of human need comes the generosity of creation…and so the baskets are filled with remnants of a meal savored and enjoyed. And once again a gentle and compassionate God tenderly holds people close and empowers a moment that is more than what is even imaginable for people. It is not grandiose in either instance; it is simply food, a necessary nurturing. But it speaks of the even more critical and essential human need: love. The truth of that is incredibly easy to miss but both stories echo the human need to be loved and then to love in turn and carry it all forward.
There is the not-so-very secret. As persons, we stand at the gathering place too. And just as Teresa of Avila spoke of being the Hands and Heart of Christ, there is an adjacent reality: we can choose to be less. We can inflict damage and pain and allow ourselves to hurt, humiliate and destroy others. Or we can choose the kindness and gentleness of a compassionate God. The harshness of life is undeniable; the journey seems impossibly challenging at so many points. In those moments of hunger for a release from the grief and challenges, there is opportunity to share manna, to know the taste of the loaves, to take the leap towards trust and put others in front of self and really share the journey.