By Bishoy Dawood
Matt. 14:13-21 recounts the miraculous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men, women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. While our minds may be distracted by the historical and scientific questions of such a miraculous feat, what I’d like to focus on in my reflection here is the inclusivity of Christ in this story, and what it means to us as lesbian and gay Catholics today.
We find first that crowds of people followed Jesus on foot from the various towns around the Sea of Galilee, and that when Jesus saw them, he disembarked from the boat in which he had travelled to this deserted place: “his heart was moved with pity for them.” Though Jesus had wandered over the sea to be by himself, perhaps in mourning for the death of his cousin John the Baptist, he turns with pity to the crowd that followed him. Christ was not incarnate to be alone in a deserted place, but to be among his followers, to heal them and fulfill them.
“We hear stories of bishops and priests who apparently want to enforce canon laws to refuse giving communion to lesbian and gay Catholics. Yet, it is Christ himself who welcomes the pilgrim crowds, the hungry crowds; and to those who might wish to exclude crowds from the Church, his response was inclusive: ‘There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.’”
When evening came, the disciples realized the large numbers of the crowd, so they asked permission from Jesus to dismiss them so that they may go to their villages and buy food. However, Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” He then asked that the five loaves and two fish be brought to him, and ordered the people to sit down on the grass; meanwhile, he took the little food, looked up to heaven, blessed, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowds. All present were satisfied, and there were even leftovers!
What Are We Hungering After?
The story here recounts the feeding of the crowds with physical food, but there is another level of spiritual meaning behind the literal reading of the Gospel account, where we, as lesbian and gay Catholics, find the Gospel — the Good News — of inclusivity and our spiritual nourishment. As lesbian and gay Catholics, we often yearn for the nourishment of our souls, and despite the difficulty of the journey, we still desire to follow Christ, as the crowds mentioned in the Gospel walked on foot to follow Christ.
Our following of Christ, hearing his word, and being fed by the spiritual bread he offers that nourishes our whole being, is done through the Church. It is in the Church that Christ still turns with pity to heal our hearts and minds that are in pain because of rejection, persecution, and social sin. It is in the Church that he is still among us, and takes bread, looks up to heaven, blesses, breaks the bread, and gives them to the disciples (the priests), who in turn give them to the crowds to be nourished.
“It is from this Gospel that we learn that the Church is not limited to feeding the elect and (seemingly) perfect few with five loaves and two fish, but that the Church has the potential to be an inclusive community of believers that could freely feed a lot more people than what the disciples realized.”
Often, we encounter crowds that denounce feeling dismissed by the disciples: we hear, for example, stories of bishops and priests who apparently want to enforce canon laws to refuse giving communion to lesbian and gay Catholics, and other such kinds of discourse that end up making people feel excluded and not nourished in body and spirit by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Church. Yet, it is Christ himself who welcomes the pilgrim crowds, the hungry crowds; and to those who might wish to exclude crowds from the Church, his response was inclusive: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”
Christ, and thus his Church, which is his Body, cannot exclude and remain deserted, because in his incarnation he willed to dwell within all people: he did not come to be alone, but be among his followers, to heal them and fulfill them. And by being welcomed to the banquet that Christ offers, we find ourselves, like the crowds, sitting comfortably on the grass after our long journey on foot. For Christ humbled himself to share in our humanity, so that we may be partakers of his divinity.
A Banquet Freely Given
Christ invites us to his banquet freely! He gives his nourishment to our bodies and souls freely to all those who seek for him, and refuses no one. This is what Isaiah prophesied: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You have no money, come, receive the grain and eat; Come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” (Isa. 55:1).
Christ is moved by pity to heal us, and makes no demands in return for his healing and rich fare of spiritual food.
So, then, what about us lesbian and gay Catholics, and our relation to the contemporary Church? What are we to do with those who scream out biblical verses and canon laws to exclude us? I believe that we are to heed what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ! (Rom. 8:35-39).
Let us always hear the good news of the inclusivity of Christ, and keep seeking the spiritual nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ, participating and being active members of the Church. It is by doing so that the disciples who wish to exclude will remember that the mission of the Church is to include, rather than exclude, so that no one can go buy food for themselves, but eat and be richly filled with the grace of Christ.
It is from this Gospel that we learn that the Church is not limited to feeding the elect and (seemingly) perfect few with five loaves and two fish, but that the Church has the potential to be an inclusive community of believers that could freely feed a lot more people than what the disciples realized.