Isaiah 55: 1-3; Romans 8: 35, 37-39; Matthew 14: 13-21
As I was watching baseball the other evening, the, now famous, Dos Equis beer commercial had come on, which uses the tagline, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” If we could use it and add to it, and hungry my friends, I think we can be provided an opportunity to reflect upon these readings this weekend. Stay thirsty and hungry, my friends.
I believe Jesus felt that hunger and thirst in the context of today’s gospel. Just prior to this passage, as we heard at the beginning of this reading, John the Baptist had been beheaded. It would have been a troubling time for Jesus at the death of his cousin, companions in many ways and certainly contemporaries of their time, and now at the banquet Herod was hosting, his life was taken away. Jesus, vulnerable as he may have been had that hunger and thirst. Any of us in that situation would have questioned why and felt somewhat deflated, vulnerable in our own way. Jesus goes off to a deserted place, in the evening, when our defenses are usually down, to pray.
But it’s not just about him. Others follow where he goes. They don’t know where he’s going or what’s about to happen, but in Jesus’ own grief and pain, leads the crowds not necessarily to where they want to go, but to where they need to go, where they will be fed with life, both physically and spiritually. Before their very eyes, and in the longing and thirst within their own hearts and souls, bread is broken and shared and they are satisfied. Their needs are provided; “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
It stands in stark contrast to the banquet that Herod had hosted. His was one of desiring power, living in fear, anxious, deceit, and so on; It may have satisfied a temporary want of being liked or something else, but in the end, it leads to death and emptiness, a thirst and hunger that will never be filled. Herod, with very little conscience, leads to divisiveness and death. Jesus, in turn, feeds with life and gives life.
That same image is used by Isaiah in today’s first reading. All who are thirsty, come! You who have nothing, come! You shall eat well; come, listen, that you may have life! The Israelites knew what it was like to be in exile. Their history is rooted in the exodus. No, it’s not where they wanted to go or be, but it’s where they were led. In being led to the deserted place they become more aware of the hunger within and the thirst for something more in life. No, it wasn’t easy and it came with many challenges, but they followed where they were led and heeded the call to be fed what was needed.
Now Paul, in his letter to the Romans says that nothing can separate from the love of Christ. Yet, these readings, in their hunger and thirst and being led to a deserted place, certainly feels like separation. It’s true. God doesn’t separate and sparingly love us in any way. But me and you, and our often fragmented selves? We at times make choices to feed that hunger and satisfy that thirst with something other than our relationship with God and the living Christ. We seek it elsewhere and we begin to divide, and separate; we live in fear and jealousy; we participate in the banquet that Herod provided. We don’t have to look much beyond our world, our politics, and even our Church at times to see how that is true. In light of so much violence, hatred, and so much other negativity, it almost seems as if Herod’s banquet has taken over in our world, and maybe even in our lives.
My friends, our prayer this week is that we stay thirsty and stay hungry and to seek the One who feeds and answers all our needs. The more we look out into the world to feed us, the more we will hunger and thirst and never be satisfied. Like the disciples, we are invited to the banquet of life that feeds and nourishes. Our prayer is simply the line from that commercial…to stay thirsty and hungry my friends, and seek out and within the one that nourishes and provides all that we need.