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Showing Love in Action
Gospel Reflection for April 21, 2023
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
"Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little."
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?"
Jesus said, "Have the people recline."
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
"Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted."
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
"This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
As a convert to Catholicism, to say that my first Catholic mass was very different from any church service I had ever experienced before is an understatement. I had read about the liturgy. I had watched mass on television. I knew what to expect, but the physical interaction was very foreign. There was the participation, the responses and communal prayers, the standing and kneeling and going up for a blessing before I was confirmed. There was holy water. There was incense and bells. When I was confirmed, there was the chrism oil the priest applied to my forehead. Then, there was the Eucharist. The sheer physicality of Catholicism is unique and powerful.
The priest who confirmed me is a wonderful minister, but… well, his homilies were not the best. That just was not his strong suit. He is a kind, caring, very intelligent man and I count him a close friend even though we are in different parishes now and we rarely see each other - he is like family. He would readily admit that his less than 10 minute long homilies are usually just simple explanations of the day’s gospel. His masses are short. That does not matter, because he stands in “persona ex Christi” in the person of Christ to everyone in the church. He emphasizes the real presence in the Eucharist. He is a good confessor. He baptizes babies, marries couples, administers the anointing of the sick and rushes to the bedside of the dying. He often dines with the parishioners and even invites those who may be struggling financially out for a meal and picks up the check. He plays basketball with the kids. In his deeds more than his words he shows the love to everyone.
In this passage, Jesus fed the masses… not with profound words, but real, physical food.
Whenever I think of food, I cannot help but think of my grandmother. She was not your typical grandmother… if there is such a thing. She did not express love easily with words or physical affection. Her domain was the kitchen and the garden. She expressed her love best through food. Whenever her children or grandchildren visited, she would withhold no effort in making their favorite meal. For breakfast, she would cook for me soft scrambled, farm fresh eggs whisked with fresh cream, homemade, cured and air dried spicy pork sausage and a fried, spicy pork liver sausage called “liver pudding” which is one of my favorites, homemade buttermilk biscuits with butter, stone ground grits with tons of butter, fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, homemade grape or pear preserves grown on the property and the honey her father gathered from the bees he raised under sweetgum trees, that was almost as black as molasses and pleasantly burned the throat. From the youngest age, she would serve me sweeten coffee with milk to wash it all down. For supper, she would either serve me a huge platter of fried chicken thighs with hot sauce, or pan fried beef with real, from scratch brown onion gravy, potato salad, a platter of fresh vegetable form the garden, including some hot peppers just for me, collard, mustard or turnip greens cooked with pork seasoning, rice with stewed tomatoes and okra, butterbeans, field peas, sweet corn drenched in butter and a platter of fried cornbread! Don’t forget dessert though, that was either German chocolate, red velvet or coconut layer cake or a banana pudding. Yes, such feasts were standard at my grandmother’s table every day of the year. But, if I brought in fresh caught fish, a bushel of oysters, game, wild picked fruit etc., etc. she would praise my efforts and put even more work into presenting what I had contributed to the family as an extra special delicacy.
Yes, my grandmother loved me!
Today, Jesus doesn’t offer the people following him beautiful words. He does not give them insights into theology or wax poetic on the kingdom of God. He does not teach on morals and doctrine. The people were hungry and He fed them. What a beautiful expression of both His humanity and His generous provision for our physical needs! Like my grandmother, I express love through food. Nothing makes me happier than to cook for someone I care about. We pray, “Give us this day out daily bread…” How wonderful that we have a God who provides for our needs! This is not some remote force that is indifferent. This is a God who loves me in a way I can understand! When He walked among man, He gave them fish and bread. Now, He gives us His body and blood. He gives His all to us, and asks only love and obedience in return. Our constant disobedience, he forgives again and again, and invites us back to the table.
Yes, Jesus loves me!