On that day it will be said: / “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! / This is the Lord for whom we looked; / let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” / For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
Isaiah 25: 9-10
Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
Matthew 15: 30
The beautiful vision of the coming of the Lord that is foretold in Isaiah is, for Christian believers, fulfilled in the description of Matthew. The recognition of its fulfillment, however, remains always an act of faith, for it is only realized as we welcome all of humanity in all of our vulnerability, suffering, and brokenness. The kingdom is both still to come and already here. In its present form, however, it manifests as a gathering of those who are weak and vulnerable, who need and who respond to each other.
In today’s gospel passage, the disciples are focused on what they lack. They have but seven loaves and few fish, so their understanding is that they must send the crowd away. Jesus, however, shows them that when we share with, rather than fear, each other there is more than enough for all of us. The condition, however, is that we trust in God, that we act out that faith by sharing in common all that we have. It requires of us to overcome our fear that the “demands” of the others on us will leave us without enough for ourselves.
The striking juxtaposition of the readings for Wednesday of the first week of Advent are among the greatest of spiritual challenges to us. The great feast of salvation that Isaiah foretells is fulfilled only as a gift to all of us, in all our differences, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. The generosity and graciousness of God toward us can only be known by us when we come together in generosity and love to care for each other and never turn another away because we fear not having enough.
We hear much, at least in American culture, about the need for “self-care.” Is it possible, however, that this now largely accepted value is but a manifestation of our mistaken societal values of individualism and self-reliance? Today, Jesus teaches the disciples, and us, that we are never to send others away because we fear we have too little to give. Instead, if we give what we have to Him and allow him to bless and give it, we shall discover that there is always more than enough for all of us. For our part, however, we must first recognize that even the little we think we have is not ours alone but belongs to all. It is only in our poverty, in this sense that everything we have been given belongs to everyone, that we know the richness and generosity of God. It is only as we share all we have with each other that we are able to know and rejoice that “God has saved us.”
Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.
It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis. How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralysing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favour the recognition of others!
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 209-10