Have you been watching the news that depicts rows of cars and lines of people waiting to get food? These Americans find themselves caught in the midst of something over which they have no control. Most tell the reporters that they have never had to seek that kind of help before. Some of our leaders suggest that we should limit aid to these people because otherwise they will not look for jobs—preferring the handout to honest labor. We speak this way about millions of people who depend upon the kindness of their neighbors. Whatever reasons could be offered for why we cannot “care” for these our countrymen/women and their children, challenging their integrity is not one of them. The effort to do so angers and embarrasses me.
What a good time to listen to the readings from this past Sunday (August 2)!
The first reading offers words of Isaiah. The prophet writes to compatriots who return from Babylonian exile. Listen to his concern for a weary and destitute people:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost! (Isa 55:1)
Bread and water (joined by wine and milk) satisfy and give life to these taxed travelers. Their needs are without question and the Lord—through his people—provides for them in their return to the land. Compassion and generosity are the hallmarks of the response.
The Responsorial Psalm—Psalm 145—continues that thought with a reminder of how the Lord responds to the physical needs of his people.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Ps 145:8-9)
After each verse, we repeat: The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
Lastly, the Gospel tells a tale of Jesus attending to the needs of a weakened crowd. We hear the wondrous event of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish—the most frequently told story in the New Testament. After nourishing this gathering with his words, he also recognizes that one cannot ignore the demands of an empty stomach or an ailing body. People must be fed and cared for. When his disciples urge Jesus to send them away, he responds:
“There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
Jesus provides for this people. Education, health care, and nourishment arise in the story of the multiplication. These elements parallel the current needs of our brothers and sisters.
In this contentious time when politics can influence decision-making, the biblical stories about food direct our attention to what is most important. They invite us to think about the goodness of the Lord and the virtues of compassion and generosity. We depend upon one another. We can share what we have received. “The Lord is gracious and merciful” and God’s people—we—should be so as well.
When we look to the stories of our founders, we know that Vincent and Louise encourage us in this effort by their example of service to those suffering from disease and war, from homelessness and loneliness. This saintly man and woman continue to be our guides.