Completing our Deepest Hunger

Isaiah 25:6-10

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines. On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enwrapping all nations, he will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away his people’s shame everywhere on earth, for the Lord has said so. That day, it will be said: See, this is our God in whom we hoped for salvation; the Lord is the one in whom we hoped. We exult and we rejoice that he has saved us; for the hand of the Lord rests on this mountain.

Psalm 22         In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.

Matthew 15:29-37

Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel. But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.

Advent is a time of hope.  We hope in the promise of God, in whom “nothing shall I want” (Psalm 23).  God provides a rich banquet, that takes away hunger – the deepest hunger. The beautiful texts of Isaiah are full of promise and abundance.  God will wipe away the tears from every cheek and take away the shame of his people everywhere on earth. 

Perhaps this points to the biggest hunger of humanity.  People long to feel good about themselves, to be happy and content with their lives.  The joy of life can be so eroded by the wounds of shame, and the behaviour it breeds.  We under-estimate the stigma of shame.  It poisons our perceptions and incites our defensiveness.  Leading us to sin.

On one level today’s readings are stories of feeding people’s physical hunger.  Jesus, “feels sorry for all these people and desires that they not be hungry.” 

But for the early church of Matthew these are highly symbolic stories as we can see in the use of sacred numbers: “they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat.” Three days of hunger.  Three days of Jesus passing from the emptiness of death to the life of the risen one. And later we read, “How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’” Seven the number of completeness. 

And when all have eaten as much as they wanted, what is left?  Still there remains ‘seven’.  People’s deepest hunger is fed, and they are now complete.  We find our completeness in God’s promise to feed us with finest wheat and with the bread that gives life and freedom from sin.  We have much to hope in.

L’Avvento è un tempo di speranza. 

Speriamo nella promessa di Dio, nel quale “nulla mi manca”.  Dio offre un ricco banchetto che toglie la fame, quella più profonda. I bellissimi testi di Isaia sono pieni di promesse e di abbondanza.  Dio asciugherà le lacrime da ogni guancia e toglierà la vergogna del suo popolo ovunque sulla terra. 

Forse questo indica la più grande fame dell’umanità.  Le persone desiderano sentirsi bene con se stesse, essere felici e soddisfatte della propria vita.  La gioia di vivere può essere erosa dalle ferite della vergogna e dai comportamenti che essa genera.  Sottovalutiamo lo stigma della vergogna.  Avvelena le nostre percezioni e incita alla difesa.  Ci porta al peccato.

A un certo livello, le letture di oggi sono storie che danno da mangiare alla fame fisica delle persone.  Gesù “si dispiace per tutte queste persone e desidera che non abbiano fame”. 

Ma per la Chiesa primitiva di Matteo queste sono storie altamente simboliche, come possiamo vedere nell’uso dei numeri sacri: “Sono tre giorni che sono con me e non hanno nulla da mangiare”. Tre giorni di fame.  Tre giorni in cui Gesù passa dal vuoto della morte alla vita del risorto. E poi leggiamo: “Quanti pani avete?” “Sette”.  Sette è il numero della completezza. 

E quando tutti hanno mangiato quanto volevano, cosa rimane?  Rimane ancora il “sette”.  La fame più profonda delle persone è stata saziata e ora sono complete.  Noi troviamo la nostra completezza nella promessa di Dio di nutrirci con il grano migliore e con il pane che dà vita e libertà dal peccato.  Abbiamo molto da sperare.