What God Offers

Is 55:1-3 • Rom 8:35,37-39 • Mt 14:13-21

One ordinary way to raise money is through charity luncheons and dinners. Most of the time we know that the invitation we receive to a special luncheon or an evening gala comes with strings attached.

A woman felt honored to have received an invitation from her bishop to attend a luncheon to honor the work of Catholic Charities in her diocese. Nowhere was there mention that this was a fundraiser; but after the sumptuous lunch, the pitch began. Before the video presentation had ended, she knew she was expected to make a big contribution to Catholic Charities. Commenting to one of her table-mates that she hadn’t realized that the pitch for money was coming, the gentleman said, “I discovered a long time ago that the cheaper the ticket at such events, the more expensive the meal!”

Our passage from Isaiah was written while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. As the Book of Isaiah progresses, a casual reading gives us the sense that the exiles longed to return home to Jerusalem. This is the period in which the prophecies for a Messiah become explicit. We think we see a people yearning for something far more than what they were experiencing, but this was not entirely the case.

Those taken into exile were the business leaders, the government leaders, the rich, and the intelligentsia of Jerusalem. Removing them and relocating them was then — and still is today — one of the favorite ways of controlling a conquered people. Because the exiles were educated and already doers in their homeland, over time they became equally successful in Babylon. As the Babylonians had hoped, these exiles were being assimilated into Babylonian culture. They intermarried, and they slowly began to worship Babylonian gods. As time went on, they all but lost their native language, Hebrew, and began speaking Aramaic, the language of Babylon.

Certainly there were some who stayed faithful and yearned to return to their homeland, but what we see in our passage today is Isaiah’s attempt to lure those who had become comfortable in Babylon back to a sense of their true identity. A couple of generations removed from the original exiles, descendants had to be taught about their origins and why they should want to leave the land they had grown up in.

Isaiah began his task by asking the people to reflect on the lives they had come to live. Their life in exile was not essentially different from that of today’s immigrants to the United States. Upon arrival in the States, immigrants struggle mightily. They work hard. They send money home to their families. They begin learning the language. Their children born here enter schools and start becoming far more educated than their parents.

They, like the Israelites, begin to have success in their new surroundings. Originally having had every intention of returning to their homes, they begin to feel that they fare better here than they would if they were to return home. Children of immigrants born in the United States have no sense of the countries and villages their parents came from. They don’t even speak the language of their grandparents or even their parents. Why would they want to leave? How can they leave? They have everything they want. The downside, however is that so many Catholic immigrants slowly leave the Church and, like Americans, begin investing in large-ticket items to express their status. Gradually they abandon the values of their homelands and adapt all too quickly to American consumerism.

Isaiah asked the Israelites to examine this very phenomenon. In adapting to the surrounding culture, values and practices, what have they given up? What have they abandoned? Isaiah had to call them back to God and back to the teachings of the Law and the Prophets. Isaiah was not speaking about water and good, free food in today’s reading. He spoke of the Word of God. The Word of God is the feast that satisfies. God never offered wealth or power or even great comfort. What He did offer through the Covenant — and continues to offer us today — is satisfaction with life. Isaiah is asking us to remember our relationship with God.

Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.

What God offers is truly free, but, like a charity luncheon, there is a cost. We might have to sacrifice some current values and earthly things, but what God offers is well worth the price.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.