Most weeks, The Upper Room gathers in Hurley Hall for prayer and small group reflections on the upcoming Sunday's Gospel reading. This coming Sunday (August 3rd), we will hear how Jesus fed the multitudes (Mt 14:13-21). I'd like to share some of what came out in my group's beautiful discussion.
My co-leader, Marie, observed that Jesus's humanity really shines through in this Gospel reading: he is grieved at the death of his friend and cousin, John the Baptist; he needs time for solitude with his Heavenly Father; his heart is moved with pity for the crowds; he identified with their hunger; he gives thanks to God the Father; and he even seems to be a bit of a jokester, telling the disciples to "feed them yourselves."
Of course, Jesus's divinity is also clear, as he teaches with authority, performs miracles, and satisfies the longings of the people as only God can. However, what we found remarkable is the way Jesus's divinity is revealed in and through his humanity. I remember Henri Nouwen remarking that where it says in our translations that Jesus' heart was moved with pity for them, the Greek says that it was a movement of his guts. God's merciful love is incarnated in Jesus's deeply human, visceral feelings.
Even the need for solitude with the Father is an expression of the Divine Life, inviting us into the intimacy of the Trinity. Indeed, there is a parallel: just as Jesus leaves everything behind to be with the Father, so the crowds leave their everyday lives behind to be with Jesus, for the "deserted place" is, biblically, the place where God draws his people away from earthly concerns to be with him and to satisfy the longings of their hearts in the way that only he and no earthly good can.
This invitation into his life is at the heart of Jesus's "joke" on the disciples. Although, ultimately, it is Christ himself who feeds the disciples and the people, he commands, "feed them yourselves," taking what little they had to offer and transforming it into a great feast. This should remind us of the Eucharist--and the text, even down to the cadence of the words, tells us so. We all recognize the pattern: he took the loaves (and fish), said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to the disciples. Just where we would expect to hear him saying "Do this," we read that the disciples did in fact do likewise, giving the miraculous bread to the crowds.
Although this was only a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, it was already a chance to partake of the divine life, for everyone down to a person gave from the abundance they received, just as Jesus gave from the abundance of the Father. Since the left-overs were picked up and gathered into baskets, no one clutched the blessing they received. Everyone was satisfied, everyone gave, and the crowd had to leave just as they had come--and just as Jesus had done before them--in the faith that God the Father would provide for all their needs.