We begin pondering the readings for today from a place of need. Human life on earth is filled with an unending series of needs. We need food and water, we need clothing, we need a place to live, we need meaningful work, we need friendship and love, we need healing when we are sick, comfort when we are in pain, and so on. The Lord assures us through the prophet Isaiah that he can meet our needs. He can relieve our hunger and satisfy our thirst. The Responsorial Psalm makes clear that the Lord’s promise extends to our other needs as well: “He answers all our needs.”
The Lord reveals that he gives to us freely, without demanding any payment: “Come, without paying and without cost.” He delights in caring for his people, purely out of his great love for us. We see a wonderful manifestation of this love in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus tends to the needs of the large crowd, first by teaching and healing them, and then by miraculously feeding them with bread and fish.
However, while it is true that the Lord wants to give to us freely, without requiring us to “earn” his gifts – which we could never do anyway – still there is something we must do in order to receive what he wants to give us. We must come to him and accept his gifts. This seems so simple and obvious. No matter how much someone wants to give something to us, even if he has the gift all prepared and in his hands, waiting to give it to us, we will not actually receive the gift if we do not come to the person and reach out to accept it. Imagine if someone in the crowd in the Gospel would not take the bread and fish that the disciples were handing out. Such a person would still be hungry, despite Jesus’ miraculous gift.
Strangely enough, this is what we often do with God’s gifts. He says in the first reading, “Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” If we do not come to him, if we do not listen to him and heed his words, then we will not receive his gifts, not because he is not trying to give them to us, but because we will not accept them.
The psalm says, “The eyes of all look hopefully to you.” Sadly, in our present world, this seems not to be true. Few people seem to have their eyes fixed on the Lord, hoping for his help. Most of us either do not acknowledge our need, or we look to many other things, hoping that they will satisfy us. The Lord implores us in the first reading not to make this mistake: “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” This is a good question for us to reflect on: what are we spending our time, our energy and our money on in an effort to satisfy our needs? What has been the result? Are we being satisfied? Why continue in the world’s way when we can see that this has never satisfied us and never will?
The first reading ends with this promise from the Lord: “I will renew with you the everlasting covenant.” The covenant which God made with his people, beginning with Abraham, is, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” In every generation God renews this same promise. Nothing can ever stop him from loving us. St. Paul makes this very clear in the second reading: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, 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.”
There is, however, one thing which can come between us and God’s love for us, and that is our own hard-heartedness. Even though God never stops loving us, and no power outside of us can ever separate us from his love, we ourselves can turn away from God and refuse to receive his love. We can break the covenant which God makes with us by rejecting him and following other gods. This is why the psalm tells us, “The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” In fact, he is near to everyone, but the one who turns his back on the Lord will not experience his nearness. It is like two people who are together in a room. They might be very near each other physically, but if one turns away and refuses to acknowledge the other’s presence, there can be no closeness between them. In the same way, the Lord is always near us, but we are often not near him because of our own pride and self-centeredness.
Jesus in the Gospel shows us the right way to relate to God. First of all he withdraws to a deserted place to have some quiet prayer time with the Father. Then when the crowds come to him, his heart is moved with pity for them and he serves them. Finally, when he receives the bread and fish from the disciples, he looks up to heaven and asks a blessing. This is how we can truly satisfy our needs, by coming before the Lord, putting our hope in him, and sharing his gifts freely with others, always “looking up to heaven” for the Lord to fill us.
Do I acknowledge my need for God’s help, or do I look to other things to satisfy this need? Am I convinced that nothing – persecution, death, or powers – can separate me from the love of God? Can I recall the many times that the Lord gives to me freely without expecting anything in return?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.