This is a lonely place

POST BY PGallagher

There is no need for them to go [1].  With these words the Lord responds to the suggestion of the disciples: send the people away [2]

Forgetful of the power of Christ, his followers are tempted to think that there is no way of truly helping those who are seeking the sustenance which only he can give. Sending such seekers away seems prudent and modest.  Let them fend for themselves, while there is still time. Foraging alone they will not be in competition with everyone else. Jesus does not accept these arguments. There is no need for the people to leave his company.  He always summons to responsibility both his disciples and more casual seekers of his help.  Pay attention, come to me [3]. To stay close to the Lord is to find all the support one needs.  The lack of something essential, which presently appears so damaging, will turn out to be the means by which Jesus draws us even closer to himself. Nothing can come between us, and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked.  These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us [4].  It turns out that our being autonomous does not require us to move away from the Lord’s company. A misreading of his call to each of us to do what is required of us can take us too far from him and from those others alongside whom he intends to nourish us.  Christ’s sacrifice inspires great generosity and an apostolic daring but it also shows that we should never stray too far from the Cross, which is where his precious gifts to us are distributed so abundantly.

This is a lonely place [5].  Isolation is often spiritually profitable.  Jesus withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could by themselves [6].  News of the death of John the Baptist provoked a retreat. The loss of one so close prompted prayer. After sending the crowds away Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray [7].  To pray is to focus on the Father and this may require a complete withdrawal from other company. The Lord is close to all who call him [8].  However sometimes the Lord invites the disciples to pray with him. Their spiritual support is welcome.  0He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test [9].  Prayer is sometimes alone with God, sometimes in company with other disciples and sometimes it sustains us as we share the divine gifts with those to whom we are sent.  To risk the isolation of the lonely place that is prayer is to open oneself to what God might be asking.  You give them their food in due time [10]. His plan for us embraces the ways in which we are to be treated in the same way as all his friends have usually been treated and also those particular tasks, which no one else is being asked to perform.  Prayer unites us to all the other children of God and sometimes invites us to stand out from them. If when we pray, we stand by the Cross, then we are sometimes witnesses of the magnitude of God’s love for the world and sometimes of his feeling that he has been entirely abandoned.

And the time has slipped by [11].  Absorbed in the company of Christ, we lose track of the hour. Time for prayer and for reading the scripture is not measured out grudgingly. They all ate as much as they wanted [12].  Taken up with our conversation with him, we forget, for the moment, our other preoccupations.  In the deserted place, where time stands still, we are properly focused on God.  The timelessness of our meetings with him can make us suppose that time has run out.  They pressed him to stay with them ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over’[13].   The Lord has differs from us about tardiness and urgency.   He gives us plenty of time and asks us to return some of it to him.  He never drives us away and there is always comfort for us in his presence.  However he also requires us live as he has taught us. It can feel, at certain moments, as if he has withdrawn from us.  He challenges us to get on with doing some of the work he has assigned to us: give them something to eat yourselves [14].   His Spirit remains with us, but our responsibility is exercised genuinely and freely.  On Calvary, Jesus said: it is accomplished [15] not with no time left but because of the time that he had been given, he had made the best possible use.

There is no need for them to go [16].  Jesus drives no one away, neither disciple nor seeker.  He has already given us more than enough to share with others.  Eager to act responsibly, our nerve nevertheless fails.  Our weaknesses are too strongly apparent to us.  Why spend your wages on what fails to satisfy [17].  Why would anyone come to us for help who are so helpless?  The memory of old failures properly to assimilate what the Lord has given us overwhelms us.  How can we feed others when we have rejected, for ourselves, the nourishment which truly sustains.  We want to share with integrity.  The sustenance to be distributed must have already nourished us, must it not?  Wait, let us see [18].  Some bystanders at the Crucifixion did not depart wondering if anyone would help Jesus.  The history of our living our faith is what awaits their interest: there is no need for them to go.

They collected the scraps remaining, twelve baskets full [19].  Could it be that Christ, who calls all to obey his commands in freedom, does not distinguish so sharply between those who distribute his gifts and those who, also on his orders [20], simply receive.  Those who help may be fed afterwards, with what remains.  Disciples need not banquet privately before their work.  They are content humbly to wait for what is left over.  The time of prayer alone in the deserted place is not always a building up of resources for when the crowd grows demanding.  Listening to God, and pouring out our heart to him, we learn to do his will.  Forgetful of ourselves when we are with him, we are also self-denying when it comes to the distribution to others of his much-desired gifts.   The crowd is fed but not by us.  The Lord who is sacrificed sustains his people.  Our own need may seem pressing, but sometimes we are asked to hold back until others have been served.

The disciples think that the people should be sent away.  They consider that they have nothing to offer.  The location is isolated.  Time has run out.  They are wrong on all counts.  Jesus wants as many as possible to stay close to him.  He will provide all that is necessary.  There is, with him, great abundance. His disciples will carry from him to each person present all that that person needs.  And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds [21].  There will be plenty left over.  Isolation is an invitation to prayer.  To be alone with God is not to be alone at all. Lovingly, he has much to say.  Patiently, he listens to all that we express.  In conversation with him, we learn what he wants of us.  Sometimes there is urgency about his commands, but he always gives us enough time.  What seems at first to be a lack or a weakness turns out to be the means by which the crucified Lord enlists our help with his mission.  For I am certain to this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not nay power or height, or depth nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord [22].

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ


[1]              Matthew 14.16

[2]              Matthew 14.15

[3]              Isaiah 55.3

[4]              Romans 8.35 and 37

[5]              Matthew 14.15

[6]              Matthew 14.13

[7]              Matthew 14.23

[8]              Psalm (145) 144.

[9]              Matthew 26.40-41

[10]            Psalm (145) 144.

[11]            Matthew 14.15

[12]            Matthew 14.20

[13]            Luke 24.29

[14]            Matthew 14.16

[15]            John 19.30

[16]            Matthew 14.16

[17]            Isaiah 55.2

[18]            Matthew 27.49

[19]            Matthew 14.20

[20]            Matthew 14.19

[21]            Matthew 14.19

[22]            Romans 8.38-9