Frances writes on the readings for this coming Sunday :-
Second Isaiah wrote from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC, so our first reading (Isa 55:1-3) comes from a time of great stress. The Babylonians had enslaved the educated and skilled people and taken them off toBabylonia where they toiled in various ways for their masters. Clearly no matter what their tasks – and some of them may not have been entirely laborious; they never ‘satisfied’. Always, at the back of the exiles minds was the knowledge that they were a captive people, working at the bidding of their overlords and subject to their whims. The wine, milk and corn they consumed was inevitably bought with great price, at the cost of their freedom.Israel’s whole history became marked with a longing for true redemption which they encapsulated in their hope of theKingdom ofGod. This kingdom; this self understanding would often be shaped by echoes of the national unity and power once seen around 1000 BC in the reign of King David. Of course, anyone who knew their history would have been all too aware that David messed up on numerous occasions, culminating in the taking of the census of warrior men; the seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah and the rebellion of Absalom. David’s reign was not then unalloyed success, but it did represent their ‘finest hour’, against which they could measure all subsequent success and failure.
It would be to these images of plenty and prosperity that Jesus would appeal as his ministry developed as we see in our gospel story of the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21). Just as Isaiah had evoked an earthly paradise where water and the necessities of life were enjoyed in plenty without cost so Jesus fed the crowd which followed him – without money by way of a miracle in which a small token amount of food was multiplied and became the sustenance of a sizable army of followers. We see here that Jesus achieves this miracle by prayer to the Father using the three verbs so beloved of the institution of the Eucharist: he took the loaves, blessed them and broke them. Isaiah promised the people God would make an ‘everlasting covenant’ with the line of David and as we know, the Eucharist, here prefigured in the feeding of the 5,000 would forge a new and everlasting covenant in the blood of the Lord Jesus. For the families gathered following Jesus what they saw and ate was miraculously given and welcome sustenance, a sign of the imminence of the Kingdom; promise of good times, of plenty and freedom forIsrael. They were yet to learn that the price of this eternal bounty would be paid in the sacrifice of Jesus. What our Lord was doing with these miraculous events was tracing Israel’s past back with them in the promise of a future utterly transfigured in his likeness, one in which their whole worship of the God they thought they knew so well – as the giver of life-sustaining goodies would shift dramatically to the vision of the God who became human, in Jesus to draw us into God’s life.
We know from the story of Christianity that the majority of Jews would ultimately reject the Christian message of redemptive love found in the life and passion of Jesus; it would be a step too far for them. But God’s message was taken up by the Gentiles as Paul reminds us in our reading from Romans (Rom 8:35; 37-39). In this great chapter Paul wrestles with the enormous problem of wayward humanity and our total unworthiness before God and learns to accept quite simply that God is so great that nothing, absolutely nothing can get in the way of his love for us manifested in Christ. Many are the human trials we all suffer he says, yet God’s love for us is greater than any of them and surmounts them, just as he did in the Exodus and the Exile. The remarkable thing about Paul’s thesis and the foundation of his trust in our salvation is not his reliance on the power or the majesty of God but the very thing which so deterred Jews from believing: the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. For Paul and for us the awesome God of the Old Testament has come stunningly close in the person of Jesus. Our task is to learn to accept and live in the love of God made man, believing in his intimate care and concern for each of us every moment of our lives and of his providential involvement in our lives. This surely is to mirror Israel in exile and its reliance on the God revealed by Isaiah and, even more relevant, to recognise Christ in the mundane and daily events of our lives as did the 5,000 in Galilee. What we have to learn is that Christ is always with us, it is we who cut him out and exclude him from our lives, not he who is far distant. Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. As St Augustine would write, ‘You were within me and I was outside”