First Reading Commentary
In this Reading salvation is offered under the figures of food and drink. It is offered without cost to those who have a hunger and thirst for it. This gift can only be given by the Most High. Salvation comes from no other source.
If God’s offer is accepted, a new covenant is promised, a covenant that will be everlasting, a covenant which assures the benefits of David. Of course, we now know that God fulfilled this promise by clothing Himself in flesh and coming to us through the lineage of David in which His Sacrifice endows us with the opportunity for eternal bliss. As we await this free and remarkable gift during our current sojourn, our thirst and hunger is nourished by our Lord’s own Body and Blood.
Second Reading Commentary
How much comfort can one Reading bring! It is soothing and relieving to trust that even beings as powerful as the angels (good or fallen) and something as unavoidable as death cannot separate us from Christ’s love. Saint Paul could as easily had written that nothing can destroy our Lord’s love for us but his choice to use these powerful examples should move us to reflect more on Christ’s love for us and hence deepen our love for Him.
There’s nothing to suggest that after hearing about Saint John the Baptist’s death Jesus went into hiding for fear of His own life. In fact, Saint John Chrysostom covers this by suggesting that Saint Matthew would have plainly written that Jesus “fled” to a deserted place, instead of “withdrew”. Plus this is Jesus - God Almighty we’re talking about and if He withdrew out of fear through the emotion of His Human Nature, it seems highly unlikely that, as God, anyone would have been able to find Him. Considering how the rest of this story turns out, it’s clear that Jesus had every intention of being found by the crowds. The apostles quite obviously didn’t detect Divine Providence at work during this moment as they wanted to dismiss the crowds.
By having everyone sit on the grass Jesus clearly wants to give the impression of a formal meal and says the blessing much like a father or head of a household would have done in those days. The breaking of the loaves is significant as Jesus would also do this later at the Last Supper. Receiving through the hands of the apostles is also significant because without a priest there is no Living Bread or Body of Christ to receive. While this story is symbolic of the Eucharist, it would seem that Saint Matthew’s larger intent was to point us to the more historical event of Holy Thursday.
This Gospel informs us that Christ’s Heart was moved with pity for the crowds. As we’re in line to receive the Eucharist, it’s not a bad idea to hold onto that image of our Lord being moved with pity for us. When we come to Mass we bring with us our stressful lives, waiting in line and moving forward to receive Him Who nourishes the soul.
Most worthy of further prayerful reflection on this Gospel account comes from the ancient text. From there, by the language used, it is clear that when our Lord’s “Heart was moved with pity,” Jesus is experiencing emotions very similar to that of when His friend Lazarus died. This is beautiful when we move ahead two-thousand years and understand that we are those people which moves our Lord’s Heart to pity. We need to be fed, and Jesus fulfills that need at each and every Mass. We are being fed with the Bread that is supersubstantial.
Interesting that the word “mercy” does not appear in our liturgical text, though one cannot dispute that what Jesus does in this Gospel account is an act of mercy. The Latin word “misericordia” translates into English as “mercy” - but misericordia is a compound word: “miseri” means “misery” or “distressing” - and “cordia” means “heart”. Thus Jesus has a distressed Heart – and, of course, a loving Heart. Love is quite familiar with suffering; thus divine love has an enigmatic relationship with unimaginable suffering. It is that unfathomable, perfect love of Jesus which embraces His Mystical Body with all its burdens and crosses. All the baggage of this life that weighs heavy on our spirit, mind and body, Jesus is right there with us.
More fascinating, though, and really quite mysterious is the Greek word used to describe our Lord’s pity. It translates more accurately as compassion. Compassio is the Latin word for it but again that is also a compound word – “com” and “passio” which means “jointly suffering”. This Greek word, however, is only used in the New Testament, and only when Jesus is the subject. What the Gospel writers are trying to describe in their human, limited conveyance is the relationship of everlasting newness between God and His human creatures; and that Jesus is the reason there is no longer any distance in that relationship. The sufferings that we endure - mysteriously have also become our Lord’s sufferings. Thus it is not enough to say that Jesus has pity or compassion for us, but that is as far as a human language will allow us to journey. What’s going on here is far beyond those limits.
We all know what it is to love, and the pains we feel when the person(s) of our love struggles. Now multiply that love times infinity and if you are able to solve that equation, you will be the first human being to ever fully grasp how much God loves us.