“This is a deserted place, and it is already late…”
This Sunday’s Gospel focuses on the very familiar scenario of Jesus being “moved with pity” for the crowds following Him, and of Him wanting to nourish His own, rather than having them move on to the local towns and villages. The Apostles, always thinking practically in their very human way, consistently, throughout the Gospels, beseech Jesus to let the people fend for themselves. Yet Jesus gently rebukes them, preferring to feed the people from whatever is available, and thereby showing off his great power.
What of this “deserted place?” It’s interesting to reflect on where Jesus and all of his followers are when this scene takes place. There is nothing around them…nothing for survival or subsistence. The people are relying completely upon Him whom they are following. And Jesus, in His mercy, does not send them away to look after themselves as individuals. He provides for all. He echoes the very words of Isaiah, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” In other words, Stop relying on yourselves for everything and come to me, because I can and will give you everything that you need.
But Jesus does not give the people food without first receiving something from them, does he? No. At no point in the Gospels does Jesus ever act in the same manner as His Father in Heaven, creating ex nihilo (out of nothing). Instead, he asks something of us first…some loaves and fishes here, filled water pots at the Wedding in Cana, etc. Jesus requires us to bring something of ourselves, and that’s what He uses. He takes our meager, insufficient offerings, and turns them into something that can feed multitudes and satisfy the longing of countless generations. But we have to offer it to Him first, and we must do so freely!
Many times we say to ourselves but it’s already so late, or I’ve been away from the Church and Her Sacraments for so long that there’ no point. We justify to ourselves the very behavior that keeps us distant from Christ and His Church. And we prolong our separation from Him with the exact same excuses that the Apostles use in this Gospel: “this is a deserted place, and it is already late”…or in our terms “there’s nothing here, I’m not feeling the love, and I’ve been away for so long that I’ll just give up entirely.” But Jesus rebukes us the same way He rebukes His Apostles, saying Give me something to work with—anything at all—and I’ll take care of the rest!
Our problems are only problems until we see them as opportunities for growth. Our sins are only sins until we seek forgiveness and can look on them as past mistakes. Our hunger is only hunger until we see it as a grace-inspired yearning for something greater than ourselves. And in the midst of that deserted place, when it is late, and when the pains of spiritual hunger overtake us, that is when the Lord Jesus stretches out His wounded hands to us and whispers gently the words of Isaiah:
Heed me, and you shall eat well,you shall delight in rich fare.Come to me heedfully,listen, that you may have life.I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,the benefits assured to David.