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AUGUST 3, 2008 EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 55:1-3
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

One of the most difficult aspects of studying Scripture is to develop the knack of hearing the text as the author originally wrote it, not as it's been falsely interpreted through the centuries.

Perhaps the classic example of the misread is the disciples' statement in Matthew's 19:10 no-divorce passage, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." For almost 1800 years (since Greek thought and philosophy "hijacked" Christianity) many have interpreted their statement as correct; virginity or celibacy is to be preferred to marriage. Fr. Quentin Quesnell's groundbreaking 1967 Catholic Biblical Quarterly article finally uncovered Matthew's original meaning. As a redaction critic, Quesnell demonstrated how Jesus rejects his followers' solution to his tough teaching on marriage. Their argument is simple. If you can't divorce, then just don't get married. Play the field. Never commit to one person. It flies in the face of Jesus' actual teaching. Yet, 40 years after that article, we still hear their statement quoted in defense of mandatory priestly celibacy.

Something similar happens when we hear today's gospel pericope. We insert something into the text which Matthew doesn't include. We end up talking about Jesus' miraculous feeding of the crowd instead of the disciples' miraculous feeding of the crowd.

God's care of God's people is a constant biblical theme. The authors of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures frequently zero in on that aspect of God's personality.

No writer has ever expressed this concept better than Paul, especially in his well-known Romans 8 passage. He praises God's love of us present in Jesus' love of us. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" the Apostle asks. "Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No! . . . I am convinced that neither death, nor life . . . Nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." No biblical lines are more encouraging.

But how do we actually experience God's love? Sometimes we look for it "in all the wrong places."

Our misdirected looking is behind both Deutero-Isaiah's words and Jesus' actions.

"All you who are thirsty," the prophet proclaims, "come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat;' come without paying and without cost . . . . Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? . . . Come to me heedfully; listen, that you may have life." The message is clear: don't' waste your time and effort looking for any security which doesn't come from God.

But how's God's security actually filtered into our lives? Matthew's Jesus tells us it comes from those around us. Throughout today's gospel narrative the emphasis is on Jesus' command to his followers, "Give them some food yourselves!" He constantly refuses to accept any of their excuses. When they finally produce their insignificant amount of food, Jesus doesn't multiply anything. He simply takes the "five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he says the blessing, and gives them to the disciples," who finally do what he initially told them: they share what little they have with those around them. The result: everyone is more than satisfied!

Jesus teaches that people should be able to depend on us to provide God's care of them; even in those instances in which we're convinced we have nothing to share. It's easier for us just to morph into a referral service, tell them to ask God for what they need, and walk away from the situation. It's far more faith-filled to fall back on the blessing with which God has endowed even our smallest offerings and be a concrete source of God's care.

That's what the text actually says.