Monday August 4, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Numbers 11:4b-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 14:13-21)
We have in the readings today almost a repeat of what we saw yesterday at Mass, that is, the people out in the desert grumbling against the Lord and against Moses and wanting meat to eat and complaining about the manna that God had given to them. And then in the Gospel reading we hear about Our Lord, Who is taking the five loaves and the two fish and multiplying them so that it feeds five thousand men, as well as the women and children who were not counted in that number. One can figure perhaps that there may have been even as much as, say, fifteen thousand people when you think about the number of women and children who would also have been there. When Our Lord does this, it is very important for us to see the difference between what happened in the Gospel and what happened in the first reading.
In the first reading, Moses is frustrated, as one can understand. Just think of a million and a half people all grumbling against you. Nobody is happy with anything, they are angry that you have led them out of their land of slavery, they are hungry, they are hot, they are thirsty, it has probably been a few weeks since any of them had a bath. They are not pleased with their situation and they are all grumbling against Moses. So we can understand why Moses would walk up and say to the Lord, “Why do You treat Your servant so badly? If this is the way it’s going to be, do me the favor of killing me at once!” Of course, the Lord was not going to accept that. But isn’t that the way all of us tend to be? When things happen and it just gets to be a little too much, we go right to the Lord and say, “Just do me the favor and get me out of here. I’ve had enough of this. I can’t take it any longer. Get me out!” But the Lord does not do that because there is a reason why He allows all of these things to happen. In our humanness, we want to take flight, we want to run away from our problem. But the Lord says, “No, you stay right in the problem and you deal with it. But I will help you to deal with it.” And the grace is there if we are willing to open our hearts to be able to accept it. But that is always the difficulty for us; we get so focused on the self at that point that it is hard for us to be able to discern the grace of God at work.
We see in Our Lord the attitude that we have to have. He hears of the death of Saint John the Baptist and immediately He goes to the other side of the lake, to a deserted place to be alone. Now there are two possibilities of why that could be. One is political, because if He was in the same country where John the Baptist had been when he was martyred (Actually, it would have been a country that would have been run by the brother of Herod the Tetrarch, who put John the Baptist to death. Along the Sea of Galilee there were four different countries that were bordering the sea.) He might have wanted to go to a different place where there was not somebody reigning who was related; that would be the political move. Or one could simply say that when He heard of the death of John the Baptist He was grieved and He wanted to be alone, which, again, would be a completely normal sort of thing. But when He disembarked He found the people there; they had already beat Him to the other side. And rather than complaining, rather than going to God and saying, “I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore. Do me the favor of just blotting me out. Get rid of me right now. I’ve had it!” instead He has pity on the people. He teaches them and then He feeds them. So we see the response of God in caring for His people and providing for them. We see the human response to try to run away from the problems, and God not allowing us to do so but instead giving to us in abundance so that our souls will be fed with what we need to be able to deal with the problem at hand.
That is the pattern we have to see. First of all, to try not to run away from the problem, but even if we do, we need then to turn to God and we need to see the pattern He has established: that no matter how great the need – and all of us, certainly, can look over the course of our lives and we can see that same pattern because we have all had them many times before – we see that God does not pluck us out of the problem, but rather He gives to us the grace we need to deal with the problem and to work through it. Usually, we learn a great deal from having done that.
And so, as we look forward to our future, we see the same thing. We would like to be removed from the situation, and God does not do it; instead, He gives to us the grace. That is what we need to learn to do: to simply go to prayer, to seek the grace, to seek the guidance so that we know what to do, and then to cooperate with the grace so that we will be able to receive what God is providing: the grace in abundance. As He fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, think what He will do for our soul if we are willing to come to Him, to seek His teaching, His counsel, and to allow Him to feed our souls. There will not only be enough – there will be an abundance – and there will be some left over when it is all done if we are willing to trust Him, to turn to Him, and to cooperate with the grace that He will give us in abundance.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.