MY HEART IS MOVED WITH PITY FOR THE CROWD. Jesus states in express terms the disposition that motivated him to perform one of the outstanding miracles of his ministry. He felt the need to relieve the distress of those persons who had faithfully persevered in following him to the desert, listening to his words. Pity can be defined as love in the face of misery of one kind or another. It invariably includes some measure of empathy; the one who feels pity identifies to some extent with the suffering of the other, to a degree takes to himself what the other feels. Significantly, Mathew tells us, Jesus had already been working other miracles of healing that caused much astonishment in the people. Undoubtedly they were already impressed with his powers of healing and the hope of finding further blessings from him explains in good part their adhering to him so steadily for several days. His very presence, as well as his words, represented a promise that gave them hope of a better future. This was the context in which the Lord performed the striking miracle of feeding the multitude with bread and dried fish; it came as a free gift that matched a need they experienced, but that remained unexpressed.
Only later would his followers come to understand that in this miracle of feeing a large multitude was there contained a hidden reference to a still greater act of pity: the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In providing physical nourishment in such as miraculous way on this occasion, the Lord was preparing the way for a meal that was ordered to satisfy spiritual needs and longings. Whether he himself thought along these lines at the time, yet the basic concept was there as a seed, to grow and develop into a more explicit form when the proper season came. After Jesus’ death his Church saw many connections between his teachings and deeds with earlier teachings and actions of Moses and the prophets. We have just heard one such prophetic passage from the prophet Isaiah, that may well have been in Matthew’s mind when he described this miraculous feeding on the mountainside. Isaiah’s words are the more memorable for being associated with today’s Gospel:
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 mount he will destroy the veil hat veils all people, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. . . . On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!”
Obviously there is a greater promise here than had been realized for the people of Isaiah’s time; it was never altogether forgotten; on the contrary, it became the basis of a firm expectation that God would send his chosen Anointed Man, the Messiah, to effect its fulfillment. Jesus himself became aware that he was to provide this feast at which he himself was to be the nourishing substance. He understood that this meal had to be eaten in the Spirit, for no material food could effect so full a satisfaction that it would eliminate human need. In this spirit he instituted the Eucharist, the true banquet that supplies the human heart with all it requires to put misery behind and to know the fullness of life in the transcendent presence of God the Father. It is that spiritual banquet we are celebrating at this altar this morning as we honor one of the great saints of the Holy Land, Saint Sabas. W
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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