Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sharing God’s Abundant Gifts

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
December 1, 2010

By Colleen O’Sullivan

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain. (Isaiah 25:6-10a)

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over – seven baskets full. (Matthew 15:32-37)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. (Psalm 23)

Advent is a time of waiting, a season of joyful expectation and longing. Once again we ponder the mystery of the all-powerful God coming into our world as a helpless infant in a rude stable in Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts to welcome Christ anew each day. We look with hope to that day when Christ will return as King in glory to redeem all his creation.

In the first reading, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we look ahead to the great banquet that God promises on the Day of the Lord. He says he will set before us the most sumptuous feast imaginable. That promise may have had a much bigger impact on someone in Isaiah’s day than it does on you and me. We just go to the grocery store when we need more food, but as most people in Isaiah’s time were likely just one poor or failed harvest away from starvation, the promise of rich food and choice wines might really have sounded like heaven to them! It probably sounds equally good to the jobless, the homeless and the marginalized among us today as well.

God also promises that he will destroy the power of death over us and will wipe away all our tears. What a picture of salvation Isaiah paints! All our needs – physical, spiritual, emotional – will be met. We will be free to exclaim: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

In the Gospel reading, we see once again Jesus’ great compassion for all people. He has just finished healing the mute, the deformed, the lame and the blind who have been brought to him. Now he goes up the mountain and the crowds follow him. He realizes that they must be very hungry, because they have been there for three days. So he turns to the disciples to feed them. There are no Giants, Safeways, Trader Joe’s or Shoppers to run to. So, the disciples aren’t sure what they can do. This mountain is a pretty deserted place. But Jesus takes the little food they have – seven loaves of bread and a few fish – and giving thanks to the Father, breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowd. To the disciples’ surprise, it turns out to be more than enough. They even have leftovers!

This is a story with more than one level of meaning. We feel the great compassion and mercy of Jesus for all people. We are reminded of the great messianic banquet awaiting us that Isaiah talks about. We are inevitably led to reflect on the meaning of the Eucharist in our lives as well.

What most catches my attention in this account of the feeding of the crowd is the way in which Jesus gives the disciples what they need to minister to others. Jesus doesn’t do it all himself; he depends on his disciples to help. He asks them to distribute and share what he has abundantly provided them. We are Jesus’ disciples today and he is depending on us to help him minister to the needs of those around us. Jesus gives himself to us every time we receive him in the Eucharist. He is the most abundant gift we can receive, but he doesn’t give himself as a gift to be hoarded. Jesus gives himself to us as the food that nourishes us and enables us to go out into the world to minister to those in need as did his first group of followers.

There are many ways to share Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters this Advent season, but since today’s readings have food and feasts as a common theme, here are a couple of suggestions for ways in which you can help feed the hungry:

Almost every parish has a food pantry. You can help keep yours stocked with non-perishable items or give a check to your parish for that purpose.

In Alexandria, Christ House, a homeless shelter/food pantry run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, is in need of food. To find out how to donate and what specific items are needed, go to www.ccda.net/programs_christhouse.php.

If you want to go further afield, Food for the Poor, Inc. feeds countless hungry families throughout the Caribbean and Latin America each day. For further information or to make an online contribution, go to www.foodforthepoor.org/.