August 6, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 32:22-31 or Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9 (1a and 9a)
2 Peter 1:16-19
“Ho!” It may seem odd, even startling, to hear a Scripture passage that starts off with this kind of expression.
Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, however, begins in just this way: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is 55:1). Stranger still perhaps than “Ho” is the invitation to buy without money. What’s going on here?
Pay attention, everyone. You are being welcomed to a feast unlike any other. Free food and drink are just the beginning. The overflowing generosity of God isn’t just about filling stomachs, but also about reviving spirits. It speaks to a people who have been jaded by the experience of exile and oppression with the promise of “an everlasting covenant,” (Is 55:3), a new way of living as God’s people for all the nations to see. Ho! Pay attention!
Speaking of paying attention, the “crowds” in today’s Gospel reading have made Jesus take notice. In his grief for the death of John the Baptist, he withdraws to a deserted place, but the crowds seek him out. He is attentive not only to their persistent presence, but to their great need. His grief has room for compassion, and so as soon as he steps off the boat, he begins to cure the sick.
As the day wears on, the disciples become nervous. Apparently, the crowds have followed Jesus into the wilderness without any thought of food. They were perhaps more trusting than the very practical disciples who had calculated that the five loaves and two fish available were no match for a great crowd numbering in the thousands. When they suggest that the crowds should be sent away to buy some food for themselves, Jesus responds to their great surprise, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16).
Jesus then teaches them how this is done—how compassion is put into practice by placing complete trust in God’s abundant generosity. Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish that are on hand, then looks up to heaven and blesses them. This is how we are to pray, to live, and to serve—with our eyes turned upward in thankful praise. In Jewish practice, blessing is not some kind of zap that is pronounced over a person or object, but rather a heartfelt expression of praise for the God who does great things for us. To bless the bread is to give God thanks for generous love toward us: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God.”
Jesus then breaks the loaves and gives them not to the crowds, but to the disciples. In the face of human need, they—and we who follow Jesus today—are to be the vessels of God’s generous love and compassion. Jesus teaches us that we have enough, that we are enough, if we will lift our eyes to heaven in trust and thankful praise to the God who alone can fill the needs of suffering humanity.
Each time we gather at the Lord’s table, we rehearse this way of living. We are at once the crowds who come with needs and hungers and the disciples who bring meager provisions of bread and wine. We take these good things, then lift our eyes to heaven and give thanks to the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us at every moment. As the bread is broken and shared, we receive all that we need for our life’s journey—the bread of life and the cup of salvation. We not only celebrate or receive the eucharist—we are formed into a eucharistic people who live and serve in thankful praise. Recognizing the abundant generosity of God, we can in turn give to others with the confidence that there will be more than enough for all.
A Hymn for Today: “Your Faithfulness, O Lord, Is Sure”
In this hymn, longtime Hymn Society member Joy F. Patterson has paraphrased the last section of Psalm 145, which is appointed for today in the Lectionary. This psalm expresses well the spirit of today’s Gospel reading, as it blesses God for overflowing goodness and compassion, providing food and “satisfying the desire of every living thing” (Ps 145:16). Listen here.
Your faithfulness, O Lord, is sure
in all your words, your gracious deeds;
you gently lift all burdened souls
and well provide for all our needs.
The eyes of all are fixed on you;
by you their wants are all supplied;
your open hand is bountiful
and every soul is satisfied.
Lord, you are just in all your ways,
and kind in everything you do;
forever near you stand to hear
and help all those who call on you.
My mouth shall speak your praise, O Lord;
my soul shall bless your holy name;
let all things living join the song
of praise, from age to age the same.
Text: Joy F. Patterson, b. 1931. © 1990, Joy F. Patterson. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tune: WINCHESTER NEW, MORNING SONG (Barthélemon)
Image Credit: Loaves and Fishes, John August Swanson, 2003
“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.
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