At the beginning of the 55th chapter of Isaiah we read: "Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk. Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen and your soul will live." This image of a compassionate God who provides nourishment free of charge for his starving people is presented in a different manner in the story of the multiplication of loaves which we read in Matthew 14:13-21.
Large crowds had been following Jesus. It was late in the evening. They were in a lonely place, far away from town. The disciples told Jesus to send the people away to buy themselves some food, since it would be impossible to find sufficient food for such a large crowd in the lonely place where they were. But Jesus took pity on the people. His compassion like that of the God of Isaiah led him to perform the miracle of the loaves by which thousands of people were fed and had scraps left over from the five loaves and two fish which they found in the camp. Through this miracle Jesus taught his followers then, and he teaches us today, that he is the Bread of Life, the ultimate food that satisfies humanity's most profound hunger. He teaches us today that he is the answer to the deepest yearnings of the human heart. If men and women would agree to go to him, then they would find the way to abundant life, peace that suppasses understanding and ultimate fulfilment.
The men and women of today are often experiencing a deep void inside, a profound hunger of the heart that is a consequence of alienation from their life source. In the desperate search for solution to this hunger of the heart, men and women have often encountered many thieves, rogues and brigands who are only out to steal, to cheat and to destroy. Many people are actually being fed on poison, while others are wasting their time and effort on what is not food at all. But the void created by the loss of the life of God cannot be filled by any other entity. Only God in Christ will satisfy the greatest hunger of the human heart and the yearning of human society. It is within this context and in the midst of this scenario that Jesus Christ presents himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (Jn.10:11), the Bread of life which offers the true satisfaction for the hunger of the heart (Jn.6:58), the true gate of the sheepfold (Jn.10:9), the way the truth and the life (Jn.14:6).
He says that as the good shepherd, the sheep that belong to him listen to his voice. He says that those who do not belong to his sheepfold hunger and thirst, they starve. They are also easy prey for wolves. Besides him, other people who parade themselves as shepherds are not authentic. Like mercenaries or hirelings, they lack genuine interest for the flock. They are interested only in themselves and what they stand to gain. They will abandon the sheep as soon as they see the wolf approaching. They are not shepherds but thieves, rogues and brigands.
Jesus invites all who hunger and thirst to come to him in order to find satisfaction, peace, consolation and salvation. He calls to himself all who thirst. They are to come and drink. He says in John 14:27 "I leave you peace, my own peace I give you; the peace which the world cannot give is my gift to you." Jesus is the resting place for all who have laboured and are overburdened, for all who have borne the heavy yoke of poverty, sickness, oppression, discrimination, persecution, loneliness, rejection, childlessness, problem children, and spousal infidelity and abuse, for he says in Matthew 11:28 "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Yes, it is in him and in him alone that even today the wounded heart can be healed, the broken family can be mended, and alienated humanity can be reconciled with God, with neighbour, and with the natural environment.
The core of the Christian mystery of salvation lies in the dramatic irony of the shepherd who dies in order to save his flock. This incongruous image contrasts sharply with our everyday experience, but as St. Paul says, that is the foolishness of God that is wiser than human wisdom, the weakness of God that is greater than human strength. We are dealing here with the power of love that overcame sin and death. It is by sacrificial love that Christ satisfies the profound hunger that plagues the human heart and makes so many human beings ever so restless. Jesus demonstrated through his suffering and death, profound love of and care for the flock, constant vigilance, fearlessness, and courage. Jesus is therefore the answer to the hunger of the world for genuine, committed and selfless leadership. Jesus is the answer to the hunger of men and women for true love, fidelity and communion.
Jesus is the answer to the world's longing for light. Amidst the darkness of sin and human depravity, expressed in idolatry and promiscuity, Jesus presents himself as the light. Within the midnight of hatred and weakness, manifested in war, armed banditry, political thuggery, hired assassination, murder and arson, Jesus offers the world light. Yes, in the dark tunnel of corruption, whose fruits are fraud, theft, bribery and a culture of settlement, Jesus says: "I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will not be walking in darkness, but will have the light of life".
Is there any hope for derailed and consequently hungry humanity? Yes. Our hope lies on the one hand in the very restlessness of alienated humanity, and on the other hand in the fact that God has totally not abandoned the world to the whims of the devil. Our hope is in the fact that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on earth by virtue of the Incarnation of Christ. Our hope is in the lasting take-over of the human heart by the rule of the holy God. For in the midst of the dark and habitual chaos of the earth, a light penetrates the darkness. This light is the light of the kingdom. It cannot be extinguished. When the battle rages on planet earth, we can take heart - not in the fleeting fortunes of men and nations, but rather in the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the ultimate victory of our God.
I shall end this reflection with the words of Malcolm Muggeridge in his classic work, The End of Christendom: He writes: "Let us then rejoice that we see around us at every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray…