There are only three stories that appear in all four gospels. Resurrection? Not really, Mark’s original ending concludes with the empty tomb and fearful disciples. The Last Supper? John omits the meal and tells the story where Jesus washes his friends’ feet. Good Samaritan? Only Luke. Jesus’ birth? Only Matthew and Luke, and they have different versions. No, there are only three: the Passion, the Baptism, and the one where he multiplies food to meet a crowd’s needs.
That last story is today’s gospel. One standard interpretation emphasizes Jesus’ ability to perform extraordinary things. Another is that those gathered reached into their own stashes of food and shared with those who had not. Each has its place. But briefly I want to take on that first interpretation, where Jesus can do extraordinary things. Because I don’t think they’re extraordinary by nature; rather they’re exceedingly ordinary and simple, but we just don’t want to do them.
Right before the crowd’s hunger becomes the focal point, Matthew mentions how busy Jesus is healing all sorts of people. He’s sitting, presumably teaching, and “they placed them at his feet, and he cured them.” Matthew doesn’t describe anything Jesus says. Maybe he didn’t say anything new. Maybe no one remembered it. I like to imagine he kept getting interrupted, and eventually he just threw his plans to teach out the window (when I imagine this, Jesus is chuckling to himself about the futility of making plans). He’s compassionate, and that’s the teaching. Be compassionate.
There’s a bunch of clichés that could be used here. Put your money where your mouth is. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. And there are some good saint quotes too. St. Francis of Assisi’s “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” comes to mind. And that’s just it. The gospel is simple: be compassionate. To this person. Right now. Right here. Yes, this will probably disrupt my plans. And not be beneficial to me. And cost. And take time I’d rather spend doing something else.
The gospel is simple. Am I willing do it?
— Michael Finucane, Religion Teacher