“But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Matthew 14:13-14
Who was this Jesus who could draw vast crowds into a remote part of the country just to be with him? What were they seeking from him that they would travel so far from their homes with nothing to eat? It was Jesus’ teaching that attracted them – his descriptions of the kingdom of God that filled their hearts with hope and expectation.
As evening came, the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away for food. It’s interesting that the people themselves did not make this request; they seemed content just to listen to Jesus. Wanting to continue to care for the people, Jesus fed them miraculously and abundantly – more than 5000 of them! First he gave them teaching and then he gave them bread – food for the soul and food for the body; food for the spiritual life and food for the earthly life.
Jesus continues to feed his people. He offers them the ultimate “soul food’ his own body, fully present in the Eucharist. He offers, but he does not force himself upon us.
Through scripture study we learn that the 2 fish and 5 loaves that Jesus shared among the crowd belonged to a young boy. See how abundantly Jesus uses even the smallest of gifts that we offer to him?
The people who were fed by the loaves and fishes were impressed by Jesus’ powers. They wanted to make him a bread king to satisfy their hunger and other needs of daily life. They allowed their earthly desires to take precedence over their spiritual ones. Because they misunderstood the king and his kingdom, “he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up to the mountain by himself to pray.” Matthew 14:22-23. He is more than a supplier of free bread. He is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), who brings the rule of God to us and gives us His goodness and love.
The Wedding at Cana is found only in the Gospel of John. John’s gospel was written after the other gospels. Rather than give another chronological account of Jesus’ life as the others had, he focused on the meaning of these events. In the same way that Jesus used parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, John uses real events layered with symbols and reoccurring themes to reveal spiritual truths. In his telling of the Wedding at Cana John highlights the themes of compassion, the role of Mary, the sacraments and of faith.
It appears that Mary has been helping with the wedding festivities – it is she that notices the wine has run out. It was common for a wedding party to last many days. To run out of wine midway through the celebration would have been a cause of great embarrassment for the host. Mary in her compassion turns to Jesus for help.
We know that in the wilderness Jesus spent forty days in prayer and in fasting, devoting himself to knowing and submitting to God’s will. Yet here, he immediately adapts those plans at his mother’s request even though he says, “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come”. While Jesus’ response might sound like a rebuke to us, it causes Mary no distress. She knows that ‘Woman’ is a term of honour and respect. She confidently turns to the servants and instructs them to ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Mary’s compassion is rewarded and her role as intercessor is clearly established.
Jesus tells the servants to fill six water jugs to the brim. These jugs were used as part of the Jewish washing ritual. Then the water is turned to wine and the dirty made clean. Jesus not only creates wine out of wash water, he produces an abundance of the very best wine. We often see in Jesus’ miracles how he lavishes us with his grace! We are also reminded of the sacraments; the wine turned to blood in the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The disciples would have been well aware that both a wedding feast and an abundance of wine were prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Their eyes were opened as they recognized who Jesus really was and believed in him.
The bible often uses the Wedding Feast to symbolize Heaven, and we know that Jesus loved to laugh and party with his friends. What a joy it will be when we are all gathered together with him in a celebration that will never end!
The temptation of Jesus is the gospel reading for the first Sunday of lent each year. It is the basis for our Lent Tradition. However, the example that Jesus gives us is worth applying to our lives all year long.
Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit immediately following his Baptism. He has received his ‘calling’ from God and now he removes himself from the distractions of the world in order to pray and prepare himself for this mission. This is a powerful example for us whenever we are faced with an important decision or action. We are told that Jesus does not eat for the entire 40-day period.
There are many examples of fasting in the Bible and the church still encourages this practice. Fasting is a symbol of penance but it is also a sign of humility – a willingness to submit ourselves to God and trust in his care. It is an effective spiritual tool when combined with prayer.
The number 40 is significant in the Bible. It is a number that symbolizes eternity. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself for a ministry in which his redeeming sacrifice would last for all time. Noah, Elijah, Moses and the Israelites all spent 40 days (or years!) in their own time of spiritual cleansing.
Jesus is tempted by Satan during this time. Catholic teaching tells us that there are three types of temptation. External temptation occurs when one simply acknowledges the temptation but does not sin. This was Jesus’ experience. Internal temptation occurs when one considers the temptation and takes some pleasure in that. There is a degree of sinfulness in this. The final temptation is that to which we consent. This is always sinful.
The devil tempted Jesus in three ways; physical desire (turn these stones into bread), desire for glory (throw yourself down and the angels will catch you) and desire for power (worship me and I will give you the world). The devil’s objective was to entice Jesus to turn away from his divine role as the Son of God. The devil wants Jesus to reject God’s authority and claim power and glory for himself.
Jesus might have used his divine power to combat the devil but that would have set an example we could not follow. Instead, he used means available to us – prayer, fasting, watchfulness, not dialoguing with temptation, having the words of scripture on our lips and putting our trust in the Lord.
Although Jesus, being sinless, has no need of repentance, and therefore no need of baptism, he acts as humanity’s representative. He asks John to baptize him so that he might identify himself with us sinners. His baptism is an acceptance of the human condition. Going down into the water symbolizes death. The Old Testament has many examples of people passing through deadly waters into new life. Think of Noah and the floodwaters or Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.
When Jesus comes up from the waters of the Jordan River the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord. The voice of God proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Christian baptism we, too, are claimed as sons and daughters of God. But, unlike John’s baptism, our baptism is not merely symbolic. We truly receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are now connected to Jesus. The baptismal waters symbolize both death and life. We are joined to Jesus’ death on the cross and are reborn as brand new creatures – children of God! We receive the divine inheritance of eternal life as well as the Holy Spirit. With these gifts we also receive new responsibilities.
Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his ministry and so it is for us. God has a special plan or vocation for each one of his children. We are of course, too young to grasp this as newly baptized infants but as we age and grow in spiritual maturity, and especially as we prepare for Confirmation, we ask the Lord to reveal his plan to us. This often takes much time, prayer and faith to realize, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have received in Baptism we are well equipped to serve the Lord.