Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus receiving the news of the death of John the Baptist. He and his disciples go off to a lonely place, probably intending to grieve and pray in peace. But there is no peace for Jesus. The crowds come and find him, out in the countryside. Matthew tells us that Jesus took pity on the people – in the original Greek of the Gospel, that he was ‘moved with compassion’ for them. Even when he was sad and grieving himself, Jesus didn’t stop caring for the people. He healed their sick and then, seeing that they were hungry, he gathered the crowd together and fed them, working a miracle with the little food that his disciples were able to bring.
The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand points to the greatest miracle of our faith. Jesus feeds us with his own body and blood in the Eucharist. It is when we gather for Mass that we are most fully the Church; Vatican II teaches that our celebration of the Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of our life as a Church. The coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for us to gather and eat together. We have had to wait patiently to celebrate the Eucharist again, and now we have to resume our celebration gradually and cautiously, making sure that we keep everyone as safe as possible.
But we are still a Church, even when we are apart. Jesus is still moved with compassion for us, his disciples. He still heals us and feeds us with his Word, and he still calls us to show care and compassion for one another. God pours out his gifts upon us, even in the most difficult times.