A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Vision, its realization, patience

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3). Come and eat. The Lord’s voice here has been compared with the cry of a water-seller, except that here the material to be drunk and eaten is free of charge. The opening section here is like the call addressed by personified Wisdom to the “simple”, to those easily led astray and in moral danger, to come to the feast she has prepared, and partake of her bread and the wine she has mixed (Proverbs 91-5). Today’s reading from the Book of Isaiah is chosen to go with the passage on the multiplication of the loaves in the Gospel reading. In the Book of Isaiah the passage comes at the ending of the section of the book generally known today as Second Isaiah, a collection of prophecies poetically presented in which the poet-prophet encourages his exiled compatriots in Babylon with God’s message that they will shortly have a glorious return to the homeland, to enjoy a happy future there. But this glorious vision of the future is not sufficient in itself. The exiled people must be prepared to accept it as true, as representing a reality, and to be ready to cooperate with God to make the vision a reality. That is what the prophet is encouraging the people to do in this reading. In the past God had made a covenant with David and his household. Now, however, the age of David as an individual and dynasty had passed. In the new age, now dawning, the covenant would be with the entire people, who would enjoy as a people the favours promised to David. All this was part of God’s plan, and a few verses after the present passage God will make it known that it will succeed. The word that goes forth from his mouth will not return to him empty, but will succeed in the thing for which he sent it.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 144[145]). You open wide your hand, O Lord, you grant our desires.

Second Reading (Romans 8:35, 37-39). No created thing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ. From his missionary experience Paul knew quite well what suffering and hardship were. He speaks of them more than once in his letters to the Corinthians, but was quite certain that with God’s grace he would be victorious. He would have taken encouragement from the trials of the Servant of the Lord and his unbounded confidence in God, as described in the Book of Isaiah (50:7-8): “The Lord helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” In the passages of this letter to the Romans read over the preceding Sundays Paul gives a magnificent vision of the future glory due to God’s children, and creation itself, and in store or them, reminding his readers also that the Holy Spirit within believers helped them in their prayers and brought their petitions to God. But the fulfilment of such a vision would depend on the fidelity of believers to God’s call, a fidelity that some believers would surely have doubted. Paul gives his answer to any such doubt, drawing undoubtedly on his own past missionary experience and the message of the Servant of the Lord. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul wrote this letter to the Romans in the winter of the years 57-58, and would have an opportunity to discuss his thoughts with members of the Roman Christian church from the year 61 onwards when he was taken captive to Rome. The Roman Christian community had need of the all the hope and the encouragement that Paul had given them, when Nero’s persecution broke out in the year 64 taking many martyrs, including Paul himself and Peter either that year or soon afterwards.

The Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21). They all ate s much as they wanted. Matthew (4:12) has already told us that when John the Baptist had been arrested he withdrew (from his wilderness experience) to Galilee. Now, on hearing of John’s death he withdrew to a lonely place. The news of John’s death must have affected him greatly, reminding him that his own would not be too far away. But Jesus did not have much of an opportunity to be alone, as great crowds followed him. The present reading stresses Jesus’ mercy and compassion in healing the sick. The passage does not tell us what else Jesus did apart from healing the sick, but goes on to narrate the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. Here again Jesus’ compassion is highlighted. The miracle is not performed as a sign of the kingdom, but to feed the hungry. In Matthew’s account of the event, the influence of Jesus’ action at the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is evident (Matthew 26:26): he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples – who gave them to the crowds. Some scholars believe the figures mentioned – five loaves, two fish, twelve baskets of scraps left over – have a symbolic meaning, but this is not at all certain.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Vision, its realization, patience

Vision is an abstraction. It is the reality, the world, the future, the individual just as an individual, or God himself, would wish, or plan, them to be. The place of human free will in the realization of this vision does not enter into the vision itself as such. Yet it is not the vision itself but the activity of the individual or public that will make the vision become a reality. And this human free will can complicate or impede the realization of the vision.

            Something of what has been said here is true of nearly all visions of a future reality. We have an example of it in today’s first reading from Second Isaiah, with prophecies of the future poetically presented on the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. In a sense we can observe it in Paul’s great vision of the future glory due, and in store for God’s children and even for creation itself, not an immediate glory but one for an end time. But the Roman believers to whom he wrote had to live in the real world, prepared even, if needs be, for persecution. The same is true, in a sense for thr vision of the Church of the Second Vatican Council, to take but a few examples – and not to speak at all of visions in the political sphere.

            There is a danger that the emphasis on visions, or aspects of them, yet to be realized can distract from the attention due to visions, or the greater part of a vision, already realized. And this holds for central visions of the Christian faith. Christianity itself it a vision, a vision of the mystery hidden for all ages and revealed in Jesus and in the Church. It is true, as the fourth Evangelist reminds us (John 1:18) that no one has ever seen God. But God’s only Son, who is nearest to his heart, has made him known. Jesus himself has said that anyone who has seen himself has seen the Father, that is, of course, anyone who sees Jesus in faith, and for what Jesus represents in God’s plan. The vision that was hidden, and yet to be fully realized, is already to be found in many way: in the Eight Beatitudes (“Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God”), in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Church’s inheritance. Paul often advises the readers of his letters to reflect on the richness that is their in their Christian inheritance. It would be a serious mistake to so stress shortcomings as to forget the riches of our Christian inheritance that are always with us.

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