St. Matthew presents the story of the feeding of the multitude immediately after the report of the death of St. John the Baptist. Upon hearing this news Jesus seeks some solitude going to a deserted place. Can there be any doubt that Jesus was mourning the death of both a relative and a friend. Jesus’ human nature would have subjected him to the same feelings of loss that we encounter upon the death of a loved one. Added to that was the fact that he was already aware of the plots that were being hatched to kill him.
Despite this, the crowd follows him. Rather than hide himself from the people, Jesus sets aside his own need for solitude and deals with their illnesses. He works throughout the day so that it becomes obvious that they will need something to eat. Just as God had fed the Israelites in the desert, Jesus also feeds the crowd in this deserted place.
Jesus acts in such a way that it is impossible not to make the connection between him and the actions of His Father. Through his teachings, his miraculous cures, and the example of his life, he shows us the Father. His words to his disciples make it plain that they are to do what he is doing. They are to provide food for the crowd themselves.
The Church has established the corporal works of mercy to remind us that we too have been enlisted in the ministry of providing for others in need. We are called upon to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to visit the sick and shelter the homeless, to visit prisoners and to provide for the poor, and finally to bury the dead. The example of Jesus is our motivation and our commission.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.