The reading from Isaiah describes a victory banquet, the Psalm portrays the Lord as a shepherd and the Gospel has Jesus performing a set of miracles including the feeding of the 4000. I see in these readings the openness of God’s community to broader circle.
I find it interesting that, although the passage from Isaiah is sandwiched between descriptions of the destruction of the enemies of God’s chosen people, this is a text that that holds out the opportunity for salvation with a much broader scope. The author writes of the desired celebration and new order including “all peoples”, “all nations” and “all faces”.
Some biblical analysts have tried to pin down the exact location of the miracles and Jesus’ audience in today’s Gospel from details in the corresponding text in Mark’s Gospel. My sense is that the point, which the author of Matthew’s Gospel is trying to make, can be discovered in how the text flows from the previous verses. Immediately preceding today’s Gospel is the story of a Canaanite woman (someone outside the Jewish community) who comes to Jesus asking that her daughter be healed. Jesus’ initial response is that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, but Jesus yields and heals the child because of the woman’s persistence and her faith. When I imagine myself in the context of today’s Gospel I see a crowd of new and different followers. Jesus has already worked miracles and fed the 5000 for a Jewish audience. Now I picture Him repeating these acts but this time for broader group of those with faith.
This also leaves me a sense that the Psalm of the Good Shepherd, which was initially meant for the people of Israel, has a universal meaning.
My grandson is just starting to walk. It is challenging task for him. He falls, but he immediately gets back up and tries again. He does not exhibit fear or frustration, just persistence. My prayer today focusses on my need to go beyond what might have previously been viewed as limitations following in the spirit of the Canaanite woman and of my grandson.
My Good Shepherd,
I offer You thanks for the many times that You have returned me to fold after I have strayed.
Help me to recognize Your enduring love and care for all people.
Give me the courage to follow Your example of patient and forgiving service.
I tend find the strength to do this when it involves those close to me.
I am more challenged when it involves people who are outside my immediate circle.
I pray for the willingness to extend my bounds to include all of those in need.