On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Look, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." The disciples said to him, "Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" Jesus asked them, "How many loaves have you?" They said, "Seven, and a few small fish." Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
Isaiah had a great feeling of hope for the future, when the Messiah would bring in God's new age and the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food. For the early Christians, this vision must have seemed on the verge of fulfilment in the work of Jesus -- and especially in his miracles of feeding the people.
Today's Gospel tells of the feeding of hungry people. We are all too aware of the obscenity of people for whom there has been no miraculous feeding, dying of starvation in our modern, affluent world. Sometimes, of course, there are moments of humane solidarity, when people know that, with good will, we could feed the world. Whatever we give at times like that resembles the loaves and fishes. When people share food and resources with strangers, they recognize our interdependence on one another. People in the poorest of developing countries have a struggle just to survive. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of the sheer scale of what feeding the world would require, and move on to "compassion fatigue" and then to numbed indifference. Like the disciples, we ask, "How can we feed so many, with so little?"
It might horrify the voters in democratic lands to recognise how the economic logic which sustains our way of life dictates that the most powerless are destined to go hungry. Our developed world makes tough trade agreements, creates food mountains and milk-lakes, and diverts financial and human resources into the arms trade rather than to development and education. Even if our leaders and planners are sensible, humane people, they are -- like ourselves -- caught up in the web of unjust expectations which is "the sin of the world."
Mahatma Ghandi once said, "To the poor man, God does not appear except in the form of bread and in the promise of work." The Eucharist renews the wellsprings of our humanity by a story of bread broken and shared for the life of the world. Can we help those who celebrate the Eucharist with us this Sunday to see a link between it and the hunger of the world? Does our parish support some project in the developing world, or can some local people to be enlisted for such a project? "Gather up the fragments so that nothing gets wasted." Global solutions lie beyond the power of our local parish, which is why we need to remember the lesson of the fragments. If we can put a little new heart into our efforts, that will be something worthwhile. If we can become conscious of our wastefulness of world resources, it may be the beginning of repentance.
Both of today's readings refer to the high ground. In the first reading, the prophet speaks of a mountain where the Lord invites all to a great banquet. There will rich food and fine wines, and all mourning, sadness and shame will be removed, and even death itself will be destroyed. Here is a vision which lifts us beyond the world as we know it towards another world where all is as God wants it to be.
In the gospel, Jesus goes some way up a mountainside, where a large crowd follows him. There in the heights above the Sea of Galilee, Jesus restored speech to the dumb, mobility to the lame, sight to the blind. He goes on to feed the hungry with very limited resources. He feeds them so well that all ate as much as they wanted, and, even then, there were seven baskets full left over. The vision of Isaiah in the first reading becomes something of a reality in the gospel. Both readings speak to us of a God who wants us to have life and to have it to the full. It was Saint Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. In the gospel, the Lord needed others to bring the sick to him; he needed the disciples to help him feed the crowd. He continues to need us if his life-giving work is to get done. Advent calls on all of us to be instruments of the Lord's life-giving and healing presence in the world. In Advent we pray, "Come Lord Jesus." We also offer ourselves as channels for the Lord's coming.