Giving of yourself: a reflection on this week’s Gospel (Matt 14:13-21)

I am a big supporter of intentional living as opposed to just cruising on by. Intentionally getting up early to dedicate time for God, for exercise, for gathering thoughts for the day. But this is a struggle. Some days, like the wet windy winter days I am in now, make the doona more attractive than the floor. I find myself bargaining, or rationalizing, or excusing, or shaving time from this end and that. There are all sorts of reasons for me not to do anything, if I wanted to find reasons. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I convince myself that these reasons are valid.

But one primary reason for me to do these morning activities is so that I can be at my best longer through the day. I can more fully give of myself if I am in the best condition. I, a server, can serve for longer if I am able to do so. And those that I serve (think family) are more appreciative of my giving a better self, as opposed to the self that was worn out at the end of a working day, the self that is the remains – the scraps – of the best self which had been given to seemingly more important endeavours.

Multiplication mosaic, Tabgha, Israel

Turning to the gospel we find Jesus and his disciples afloat searching for a lonely place. Why? I mean, they often spent time alone. But why in this occasion? It was upon hearing the news of the death of John the Baptist when the need of isolation and comfort wells to the surface within him. Being fully human he would surely have experienced the deep sorrow accompanying the loss of a loved one, a family member, a teacher and mentor; a sorrow shared with the disciples especially the ones who were once disciples of John the Baptist.

Yet among this sorrow Jesus ignores his own need and takes pity on the pressing crowd. The disciples seem to humour him and come along until, perhaps having enough of entertaining others, they seek their own comfort. Dismissively the carnal excuse they give is food. It is when the crowd is gone that the disciples could return to mourning the death of John the Baptist. And presumptively so could Jesus. Resolute Jesus continues to address the needs of the crowd: initially spiritually, but now also carnally, negating the dismissive excuse of the disciples.

Having in mind not only the needs of the crowd but also those of his disciples Jesus performs the renowned miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Following the formula we will see at the institution of the Eucharist Jesus gives the multiplied bread and fish to the disciples to give to the crowd. They have become more involved in the community, and with Jesus, when they sought to separate from them.

Responding to those natural and very human emotions of sorrow and sadness need not limit us from the work we do in service to others. One way to ease the pain is to both acknowledge the hurt and the loss but continue the daily grind whatever that routine may look like. With the numerous accounts of the multiplication of the loaves and fished in the gospels it would be safe to assume that this miracle is one performed on a number of occasions even perhaps a semi-regular occurrence. This then shows that the crowd and the miracle have some sort of ordinariness (if one can possibly use this word to describe the life of Jesus). He addresses the need of the disciples and the need of the crowd in one simple but divine action. And he was with them every step.

We can find reasons why we do not wish to serve and some of these might be valid. But to the capacity that we are able we are to allow Jesus to nourish us, guide us, renew us and lead us through pain, sorrow, sadness and hurt to become better servants of his people. More is expected of us as his servants and we can do that when we give him room intentionally to work in us, to give of ourselves in a hungry world.

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