Homily for the Wednesday of the First Week of of Advent, Mt 15,29-37

More and more, I am inclined to think that the Eucharist is not just a memorial meal meant to commemorate the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples. It was not only the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem on that Holy Thursday evening, on the night he was betrayed.

I think Eucharist was every time Jesus brought people to eat together and made them experience what I’d call a “kingdom meal.” Two of these are known as the stories of the feeding of the multitude. In Matthew chapter 14, we have a first feeding, where five loaves and two fish are stretched to satisfy five thousand people, leaving twelve baskets of leftovers in the end. In today’s Gospel, Matthew chapter 15, we have a second feeding, where seven loaves and some fish are stretched to feed four thousand people, leaving seven baskets of leftovers in the end.

Our Gospel today is every bit Eucharistic. It describes Jesus doing exactly as he did in that upper room on that night of his last supper: he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it for distribution. It is set on that grassy hill overlooking the lake, after three days of healing session. He concluded the three days with a meal that completed their kingdom banquet experience.

I think he did this too in the house of Zaccheus in the company of tax-collectors and sinners. I wouldn’t be surprised that he did it very often in the company of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He also did it at that wedding feast at Cana. He did it with Peter and his fishermen companions at the lakeshore of Tiberias. Luke tells us Jesus also did it at Emmaus with those two runaway disciples. In short, he did it during many instances that he sat at table to eat with his friends.

He turned every meal into a kingdom of God experience that Isaiah proclaims in our first reading today. The prophet calls it the meal that “destroys the veil of sorrow that covers the faces of peoples,” the meal “that wipes away their tears,” the meal “that destroys death.” In today’s Gospel, it is a meal that is able to stretch seven loaves of bread and some fish for four thousand people. The more you take, bless, break and give it away, the more it multiplies. That’s how it goes in a kingdom meal. The leftovers are always more than what they started with.

Jesus did not just proclaim the kingdom of God; he made God’s Kingdom come. He made the future break into the present. He celebrated the presence of God’s kingdom in the here and now. It was what people saw with their own eyes when he broke bread with the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute. When he ate with sinners and made them experience God’s forgiveness, when he ate with sick people and made them experience healing.

It never seems to be enough for Jesus to warm people’s hearts with God’s Word as he did with those disciples on the way to Emmaus. It wasn’t enough for him to just heal the sick, or forgive their sins, or deliver them from the bondage of the evil one. He never seemed to be fully satisfied until he was able to break bread with them.

It’s like his mission was not complete until he has literally broken bread with the people whom he encountered. His few loaves of bread and fish in the Gospel are no different from that last cup of flour that the widow of Zarephath baked into bread and partook with the hungry prophet Elijah. And look what happened afterwards: the “jar of flour never went empty, nor did the jug of oil run dry.”

Jesus seems quite used to doing what the poor usually do in the Philippines when they have nothing but a cup of rice left. They stretch it by adding more water and salt into it so that it becomes porridge—if only to be able to feed more people. People know what stretching rice into porridge means; it means generosity in poverty. It means multiplying the little that we have so that more people can partake of it.

What it multiplies is goodwill, care, compassion, love. It raises our humanity however broken it is. It has the power to make miracles, to make the crippled dance, the mute sing, the blind watch, and the deaf enjoy musing. Does that remind you of a song? Yes, that old folk song about four beggars and what happened to them in the town San Roque—the healing saint sought by victims of plagues. I think it is also about how they experienced God’s Kingdom at San Roque. And today’s Gospel gives us a clue on how we too can experience a kingdom meal: when we can stretch whatever little food in order to share it with the hungry.

All it takes is to start with what is there and not look for what is not there—to be thankful for it, and to break it. In the Filipino experience, to add more water to the rice and make porridge out of it. Jesus did it too when he added water to the wine that had run short at Cana. And remember what they said after he gave it away to be tasted by the headwaiter? “Hey, you have kept the best wine until now!”

The food of the kingdom is like that. The more you break, stretch and share it, the more it multiplies. The more water you add on the wine, the more tasty it becomes.