Self-forgetful abundant love MATTHEW 14:13–21
By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
In this weekend’s gospel, Jesus mirrors for us the self-forgetful abundant love contained in His two commandments to love God and neighbour.
There are several reasons why Jesus would have decided to “withdraw by boat to a lonely place” (Matt 14:13).
He might have needed time to be alone with the Father, to pray and grieve over the death of John the Baptist. He may have decided to remove Himself for a while because after Herod had John killed, he then received news about Jesus’ miraculous healing powers and believed Him to be John risen from the dead. (Matt 14:2). It is also possible that like us, Jesus simply became tired and needed to rest.
Whatever His reason for needing solitude, He forgot all about it as He stepped ashore and saw the large crowd, who had arrived on foot from different towns, waiting for Him. “He took pity on them and healed their sick” (Matt 14:14).
As evening came, the disciples, perhaps out of concern for Jesus’ initial desire for solitude, said to Him, “This is a lonely place and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food” (Matt 14:15).
Jesus instead tells the disciples “…give them something to eat yourselves” (Matt 14:16). Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the disciples, and us, that love has its demands and that one of those is being people of hospitality.
The disciples then tell Jesus that they have only five loaves and two fish, clearly not enough, in their minds, to feed the 5000 plus crowd. He then asks them to bring Him the food and to invite the crowds to sit down on the grass, demonstrating hospitality and care.
Let us imagine the scene. The people sit on the grass and Jesus (standing), “…took the five loaves and two fish, raised His eyes to heaven and said the blessing” (Matt 14:19).
Jesus foreshadows here the Eucharist; the blessing, the breaking and the sharing of bread. He teaches the disciples, and us, that blessing and giving thanks to God is the way to growth in the Kingdom; that scarcity is transformed into abundance when we exercise faith and patience. There is always more than enough for our needs and to feed the hungry poor when we practise self-forgetful abundant love.
When we pray for the abundant, transformative love of Jesus, He will take the tiny bit we have and multiply it so we can serve God and others out of an abundant heart.
In handing the disciples the food to share, we recall that down through the ages, the hands, feet and bodies of us, His new disciples, would continue to do the work that He requires in the world today.
We remember those who like Jesus, practise self-forgetful love in a myriad of ways. Members of our families, the people in the helping professions and those on the frontline of the pandemic and adult children who care for their elderly parents. Some care for others and receive little financial reward, if any, for their efforts.
Those who pray for others with the fervour and frequency with which they pray for themselves; including for the conversion of perpetrators of violence within their communities; bringing support and counselling to the victims.
Those who practise self-forgetful love in the plurality of prayer rather than the singularity of prayer; a ‘we’ disposition instead of ‘me’—followed by action.
This is self-forgetful love, the kind that Jesus demonstrates to His followers down through the ages.
Examen: Is there an individual or group my heart takes pity on? The Lord is leading me there. I must attend in prayer and action to encounter Him in self-forgetful abundant love.
Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, and a founding member of Prayer Rhythms for Change – a prayer and social action group at St Dominic’s RC Church, Morvant.