01 Aug, Monday of Week 18
Num 11:4ff. Hankering for the plentiful food they had back in Egypt,the people complain; Moses feels he cannot bear their ingratitude any further.
Matt 14:13ff. Out of compassion, Jesus cures the sick and multiplies food in a deserted place.
Facing the Hard Road
We have striking contrasts and confrontations to meditate on today. While providing food in the wilderness, Moses succumbs to the people’s complaint, while in a similar context Jesus feeds the crowds. We hear of prophets quarreling with one another and of Jesus’ being mistaken for a ghost. How can ordinary folk and know who is from God? People must have shaken their heads in dismay at the clash of prophets, when the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it. Scholars can put a footnote at the bottom of the page in our Bible, explaining that only Jeremiah truly had the word of God, while Hananiah was a false prophet. Back then, however, the common folk were caught in the struggle of prophet against prophet. As we turn to the first reading we may feel scandalized at Moses’ impatience, so much have we come to venerate and esteem this extraordinary man who spoke with God face to face (as in last week’s readings). These passages that initially disturb us need longer reflection.
On another occasion even God wanted to do away with this people and start all over again with Moses’ children to form a new chosen people (Exod 32:10). Perhaps two important lessons gradually emerge in our mind. First, conversion and changes of attitude and practice are seldom if ever accomplished quickly. Also, the people led by Moses out of Egypt were “a crowd of mixed ancestry” (Exod 12:38) and in the verse immediately preceding the selection for today we are told about a foreign element among them (Num 11:4). The Hebrew word might well be translated “riffraff.” Such a people – possibly ourselves in earlier days – will be moulded into a “kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exod 19:6), but only after long years of purification and training. A second observation: Moses’ impatience ought not to surprise us; he was human enough to be tempted, as even Jesus was (Hebrews 4:15).
The narrative about Jeremiah and Hananiah carries important lessons for us. Sometimes God’s answer came suddenly or at least definitively to the prophet. One like Amos does not seem to have waited long at all. He summed it up succinctly: The lion roars – who will not be afraid. The Lord God speaks – who will not prophesy. (Amos 3:8) Each of these phrases ends with an exclamation mark, not a question mark, as there was no doubt or question in Amos’ mind. Yet, for Jeremiah there was a delay, especially after Hananiah took the yoke from his neck and broke it. At that, Jeremiah went away, and only some time afterwards, did the word of the Lord come to him. Jeremiah was for a time silently embarrassed, in a quandary with his timid self, waiting for an answer to give Hananiah. Eventually Jeremiah was vindicated, but in the meanwhile he had to put his faith in God, strengthen his conscience and pray for wisdom.
Jesus’ disciples too had to wait and in the meanwhile were tempted to follow the easier way out of trouble. We read in the first gospel account: As evening drew on, his disciples came to him with the suggestion, “This is a deserted place and it is already late. Dismiss the crowds so that they may go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.” Whenever we ourselves are faced with difficulty, our first response should not be dictated by an easy way out, nor by our command of financial or other resources, but by loving, tender compassion and personal care. In this part of our heart we hear God’s word. At such times we too should imitate Peter and cry out, “Lord, save me.”
First Reading: Numbers 11:4-14
So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the Israelites. And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for in your might you brought up this people from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; for you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.