SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  JER 28:1-17; MT 14:13 -21  ]We do not mind being prophets of good news.  We are all so desperate for peace at all costs.  We want to be accepted by people and be loved by all.  We want to be known as nice people, amiable and agreeable.  As a result, very few of us dare to speak the truth even when we know that the truth must be spoken.  At most we will try to give some hints, hoping that those concerned might come to realize what we really want to tell them.   We are afraid that if we say things that are disagreeable to the ears of our listeners, they would no longer like us or see us as their friends and they might even marginalize us. This was precisely the way the false prophets in the Old Testament acted. Hananiah prophesied victory and peace for the kingdom.  He said all that the people and the King were so desperate to hear.  Instead of telling them what God wanted them to hear, he told them of things that were to their liking.  

In contrast, we have the prophet Jeremiah who was alone in proclaiming the Word of God as it should be spoken.  He spoke against all the false prophets, the King and the people’s expectations.   Jeremiah was brutally honest in his message.   Whilst he wished that the words of the Prophet Hananiah were true, he knew that this was not the message from God.  So he told them the plain truth, which of course did not sit well with his people.  Instead of welcoming the truth of his message, he was condemned, persecuted and castigated as a traitor and a wet blanket.

Indeed, how many of us can be as courageous as the prophet Jeremiah to speak the truth with such boldness even when all others are against us?  Most of us would succumb under pressure and at the first sign of hostility we would cave in and submit to the popular wishes of the group even if we know from the depths of our heart that this is not the truth or what the Lord is asking of us. Such tendency to gain cheap popularity and acceptance is very common, whether in politics, in the office or even in Church.  Whether we are dealing with individuals or at meetings, we dare not speak the truth frankly for fear of losing favour with our friends.

It is important that we make a distinction between being negative and speaking the truth.   Being positive does not mean that we compromise the truth. To be positive on the contrary, is to look at the whole situation in perspective and highlighting the good aspects of a particular situation whilst not denying the negative aspects as well.  Being true does not require us to be negative in outlook.  In fact, to be true is a positive thing, for by speaking the truth, we can also help a person or the group to face the problem squarely and find positive means to deal with the situation rather than to suppress it and pretend that it does not exist.

How, then, can we find the fortitude to be faithful to the truth that the Lord has planted in our minds and hearts?  Jesus shows us the way in today’s gospel.  We read that “when Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.”  The death of His cousin, John the Baptist, surely must have affected Jesus greatly.   Not only was He sad and distressed at the loss of John the Baptist whom He commended as a great prophet, but He knew that that would likely be his fate as well, since all prophets in the Old Testament were killed and martyred.  It was in such a bewildered mood that He became pensive and needed some time to calm His thoughts and heart. Hence, the need to withdraw to a lonely place so that He could pray to His Father and find enlightenment, encouragement and strength.

Yes, if we are confused, insecure and fearful of our future even though we know we are doing the right thing, like Jesus, we need to withdraw to a lonely place to pray.  In our solitude, the Lord will speak to our hearts and give us the conviction and the grace to be true to our beliefs and to His Word.  Hence, if there are moments when we are tempted to seek false compromises and make uneasy alliances with evil, let us quieten ourselves before the Lord and listen to the prompting of His Holy Spirit.  Only in the desert, can we hear the voice of God clearly.  Without withdrawing we can only hear the voice of our fear and that of the world speaking to us loudly.

To listen to the Lord requires that we follow the psalmist in deepening our love for the Word of God. Truly, if we are troubled and lack courage in speaking the truth, we must, with the psalmist, ask the Lord to teach us His statutes and to remove us “from the way of falsehood” and instead pay heed to His decrees and ordinances.  So being grounded in the Word of God, listening attentively to His Word, is the first step in finding courage to remain true to what we believe.  St Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

But for us Catholics, we are truly privileged, for besides the Word of God, we have the Eucharist to give us the personal presence of Jesus.  The multiplication of loaves in today’s gospel miracle is an anticipation of the Eucharist that the Lord would give to the Church at the Last Supper.  Jesus, who is the Word of God, is also the Bread of Life. Just as He multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand, so too through the Eucharist, He now makes Himself present to us all in the form of bread and wine.  By adoring and receiving the Eucharist, we remember His passion, death and resurrection.  Contemplating on His love for us on the cross and the power of His resurrection, we no longer need to fear the possible rejection by our fellowmen. With the assurance of Christ’s love for us and confident that we too will share in His victory over sin and death, we can with faith surrender ourselves and our lives to Jesus.

Today, we also take consolation that Jesus will be with us in our trials and difficulties.  He will respond to our prayers for help when we are disheartened and downhearted.  For even in His sadness, He put aside His pain and attended to the sick and the people who were hungry for the Word of God and His love.  We can also be confident that Jesus will stand by us whenever we need Him.  Learning from Jesus, we must also selflessly put aside our need for comfort and acceptance by people.  Instead, like Jesus, let us serve the people of God with selflessness.

Most of all, we can rest assure that with Jesus, there is nothing we cannot do.  He will accomplish His work in us.  Just as He made use of the meager food that was given to Him to feed the multitude, so too, by offering Him all that we have, He will use us mightily to proclaim the Good News which is the Word of God in its entirety, the Word that sets people free from falsehood, sin and evil so that they can share in the freedom and truth of God’s kingdom.