SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ NUM 11:4-15PS 81:12-17MT 14:22-36 ]

We can easily identify with the sons of Israel when they lamented, complained and bemoaned of a better life they had in Egypt.  What is the use of freedom when our stomach is hungry?  This was what they said. “Who will give us meat to eat? Think of the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! Here we are wasting away, stripped of everything; there is nothing but manna for us to look at!”

Moses felt the burden of leadership.  He was sandwiched between God and his people.  On one hand, he felt the hardship with his people.  It was not easy to survive in the desert because water and food were lacking.  On the other hand, he knew that if the people were to continue grumbling, God would not be happy, for He brought them out of Egypt because He heard their cries under the harsh treatment of Pharaoh.  He led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, where milk and honey flowed.   Torn between God and His people, Moses felt devastated.

Oftentimes, we too feel the same overwhelming burden of responsibilities.  Parents are exasperated with their children because they work hard to provide for their needs but their children are never contented and not cooperating by studying hard and helping out in the house.  Children are not happy with their parents because they feel they do not have enough material things and freedom to do whatever they want.  Looking after the sick and elderly can be very trying for us too, because it seems we can never please them enough.  They are always unhappy over this and that.  They are stubborn and want things their way.  They do not acknowledge that they need help.   It is the same for those in priestly and religious life.  No matter how much we sacrifices we make, it is never enough for the people.  They have nothing but demands and when these are not met, they complain and criticize.   It is very difficult to satisfy the needs of everyone.

Like Moses, we are also tempted to give up in such a situation.  We are tired of being parents, superiors and caregivers.  Like Moses, we say to the Lord, “Was it I who conceived all this people, was it I who gave them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, like a nurse with a baby at the breast, to the land that I swore to give their fathers?’”  This is what we say as well, “Why should I give myself to the Church when all I get are these uncalled for complaints and criticisms?”  Or sometimes, parents regret having children, saying, “Why did I give birth to them?”  Children would say, “Why did you bring me into this world to suffer?  I never asked to be born!  So it is your duty to look after my needs.”  In our frustration, we too would say what Moses said to the Lord, “Why do you treat your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour with you, so that you load on me the weight of all this nation? If this is how you want to deal with me, I would rather you killed me!  If only I had found favour in your eyes, and not lived to see such misery as this!”  Have we not said this many times to the Lord, “Let me die quickly! I am very tired of this life!”   How can we provide them all that they ask for?  Truly, by our own strength we cannot do all this!  We cannot meet their needs.

If we feel so overwhelmed by the trials of leadership and responsibilities, we need to learn from Jesus how to deal with such a situation.  We read that Jesus too was overwhelmed by the challenges in His ministry.  When “Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist”, He knew that He had to withdraw to consider the implications of the death of His cousin.  He too would have to share the same fate as his cousin and the prophets if He were to continue with His mission.  Whilst dealing with His grief, and the precarious dangers ahead of Him, He had also to deal with a crowd that was hungry for spiritual and physical food.  He wanted to withdraw “to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.  But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot.  So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and heeled their sick.”  He did not even have time to find rest for Himself or to deal with His grief or take stock of His mission.  But there were so many who needed Him.  Indeed, when “they came to land at Genesaret”, they “took all that were sick to him, begging him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak.  And all those who touched it were completely cured.”   Such was the overwhelming demands made on the Lord.  But He was able to remain calm and composed.

What was Jesus’ secret to remaining calm and composed?  He spent time in prayer.  We read that “after sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray.”  It was His constant communion with the Father that gave Him strength to carry on the burdens of the people.  Prayer had always been the constant source of Jesus’ strength.  His intimacy with the Father, the assurance of His love for Him gave Jesus the courage to continue giving Himself selflessly and generously to the people.  Otherwise, He too would have given up carrying such burdens for others, just like any of us.

Indeed, we cannot rely on our own strength to do God’s work!  This was the mistake of Moses for he said, “Where am I to find meat to give to all this people, when they come worrying me so tearfully and say, “Give us meat to eat”? I am not able to carry this nation by myself alone; the weight is too much for me.”  This was the same question that the apostle asked Jesus when He told them to feed the five thousand. “But they answered, ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.’”  But Jesus did not rely on His own strength. He prayed for divine assistance.  “He took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing.  And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds.  They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining, twelve baskets full.”

We too must learn from Jesus.  God is always with us as He was with Jesus. He never leaves us alone.  This was what happened to the apostles. Without Jesus, they panicked when the storm set in.  We read that “the boat, by now out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind.  In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him on the lake they were terrified.  ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear.”  In the storms of our life, we might not be able to see Jesus, but He is there in our midst.  He is not a ghost or just a figment of our imagination. He is really with us.  “At once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I!  Do not be afraid.’”

We must come to Him for strength.  Jesus is always there for us if we come to Him.  That was what Peter did.  He said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.”  And Jesus said, “Come.”  “Then Peter got out of the boat and started to walk towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.  ‘Lord!  Save me!’ he cried.”  Like Peter, we must come to the Lord to seek assistance.  He promised us the strength and the grace to accomplish His task but along the way we doubt His love and His presence.  “Jesus put out his hand at once and held him.  ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’”  Truly, we should never doubt the presence of Jesus who is with us in our trials.  He is holding us by our hands and pulling us up when we are sinking.  We only need to cry out to Jesus as Peter did in times of fear and discouragement, “Lord, save me!”  “And as they got into the boat the wind dropped.  The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”

Truly with the psalmist, we can rely on the Lord.  The responsorial psalm invites us, “Ring out your joy to God our strength.” When God is our strength, we will find joy in our struggles because we know we will overcome.  We just have to obey the Lord and walk in His ways.  “O that my people would heed me, that Israel would walk in my ways!  At once I would subdue their foes, turn my hand against their enemies. The Lord’s enemies would cringe at their feet and their subjection would last forever. But Israel I would feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock.”  So we need not fear if only we continue to walk in His ways and not follow ours. “My people did not heed my voice and Israel would not obey, so I left them in their stubbornness of heart to follow their own designs.”  If we do not follow His ways, we will only destroy ourselves.