BREAD AND COMPASSION – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year A; Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

August 2, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Genesis 32:22-31 or Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Lectionary for Mass (RC)

Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18 (see 16)
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, August is getaway month. In France, where the country approaches near shutdown levels, the government has legal requirements in place to ensure that at least some bakeries will remain open this month to satisfy the famous French craving for fresh bread. Even bakers need a vacation, however, so in many places, bakers work out closure schedules among themselves.

There are times when we just need to get away. We read in today’s Gospel that after receiving news that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, Jesus went away by himself – quite possibly to grieve, to pray, to find space for reflection. Like French bakers, however, Jesus was needed by the crowds, who not only followed him to his getaway spot, but arrived there just ahead of him. This faraway place is the setting for the feeding of the multitude, one of the few stories recounted in all four of the Gospels.

There are three elements in this story that stand out for me: the relationships of Jesus with the crowd, with the disciples, and with God.

First, the crowd evoked the compassion of Jesus. A few chapters earlier, the Gospel writer tells us that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). In today’s passage, when Jesus again sees a great crowd, we are told that “he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Mt 14:14). Instead of running in the other direction, Jesus spends his time with the people and attends to their needs. His compassion pours forth from a heart attuned to the hopes and fears of people that he loves.

Second, did you notice the dialogue between Jesus and the disciples? They seem daunted by the thought of a crowd of hungry people—with no bakery nearby—and so they urge Jesus to “send the crowds away” to fend for themselves back in the towns and villages. Jesus instead invites the disciples to share his compassion for the people by providing them with food themselves. We can probably relate to their concern, even alarm, that they were lacking the resources to address the enormity of the task. Yet as he directs them to bring to him the little that they had, Jesus is reassuring them that they had enough, that they were enough, to respond with compassion.

Finally, Jesus reveals the bedrock and source of his compassion for others in his relationship with God. He takes the loaves and fish, blesses and breaks the bread, and gives it to them so that all could eat and be filled. With complete trust in the boundless generosity of God, he made eucharist—he recognized that all good things come from God alone and he gave thanks as he broke and distributed the little that they had. When we embrace Jesus’s spirit of trust and thanksgiving, we can recognize what we do have rather than lamenting what we don’t have. What we view as meager resources are actually God’s gifts bestowed on us to evoke wonder, thanksgiving, and compassion for others, allowing us to become vessels of God’s generous love.

Before the summer draws to a close, be sure to enjoy some French bread—but be thankful and share it as you taste the compassion of Jesus.

A Hymn for Today: “They Came, a Milling Crowd”

Lutheran hymnwriter Herman Stuempfle (1923-2007), created this text that connects today’s Gospel story of feeding the multitude with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in which Christ continues even now to feed his people.

They came, a milling crowd,
And gathered round the Lord.
He loved them with a shepherd’s heart
And fed them with his Word.

And then, when evening came,
They hungered and were fed
From offered loaves he blessed and broke
And made their living bread.

How great the mystery!
The loaves were multiplied,
And still we feed upon the crumbs
And still are satisfied.

Come, friends, and share the feast;
Here drink the wine supplied
By him who is both guest and host;
For us, the crucified.

All praise to you, O Christ,
By whom we now are fed,
Our Host, again you share with us
Yourself, the living bread.

Text: Herman Steumpfle, © 1993, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Image Credit: SueBee Homemaker

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.