An Abbondanza as Beautiful as the Streets of Heaven: A Reflection by Karen Bell

When reflecting on the readings for this weekend, particularly the Gospel, I felt myself drawn to two distinct concepts: the duality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, and something I contemplate frequently – food.

First, let’s consider the dual nature of Jesus.  

Is anyone here an introvert?  Being introverted doesn’t mean you are a loner.  You love spending time with people, but it’s spending time alone, quiet time, that rebalances and recharges you.  I think  Jesus was an introvert.  He is a people lover, for sure, but He routinely has to set aside time away in order to find renewed energy to teach the crowds, stand up to the Scribes and Pharisees, and work God’s miracles among the sick and those on the edges of Jewish society.  Time and again, he separates himself in order to recharge. 

So, I can only imagine what He must have felt when he heard the news about his cousin — John, the great prophet, the Baptist, beheaded because Herod refused to turn down Salome’s request for fear of looking weak to his party guests.  Jesus receives this bitter news and craves time alone, time to grieve, time to pray, time to think.  And as He often does, He heads off to a deserted place, a place of emptiness, free from distraction, so he can talk to God and try to make sense of the senseless.  What is more human than that?

Meantime, the crowds find out where Jesus is going.  They are not dissuaded by the fact that He has gone somewhere remote and difficult to get to, some place far from the comfort and safety of their villages. They pursue Him because they are desperately craving something, too — His wisdom and kindness, His goodness and willingness to help them, and so, they make the journey into the desert.

Jesus, despite being hollowed out by the news of John the Baptist and desperate for solitude, gives it all up when He sees the crowd.  His heart is moved with pity for them, and He proceeds to cure their sick and to feed them all.  Christ welcomes them rather than turn them away to satisfy His own needs, and in turn, they are healed and fed, as our first reading states, without paying and without cost. And that’s where the shift from humanity to divinity happens.  There, in the emptiness that Jesus the man experiences, and in the emptiness of the desert encountered by the crowd, God’s power and love fill the void until it is overflowing. 

Which leads me to the subject of food.

Although I am only half Italian, that is the predominant culture in which I grew up.  I was surrounded by the Italian side of my family growing up, literally!  My great grandmother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my cousins all lived in my neighborhood, if not next door then just down the street.  One thing that seems to be true about Italian families, at least any that I have encountered, is that you can never… have… enough… food. 

Whether it was a summer barbeque, a Christening, wedding, or a holiday, there was always more food and drink than anyone could possibly consume.  (This is why we can be certain the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana were not Italian; the wine would never have run out.)  The host cooked and shopped for a family gathering like it was an Olympic event, and they fretted endlessly about the horror and shame they’d endure should they run out of food.  My great Aunt Mary held a Christmas Eve party for about 20 people every year until she died just a few years ago in her nineties.  As she got older,  everyone helped out by bringing something, and together we created a feast. Shrimp cocktail, fried dough, cheeses and wines, lasagna and pasta with lobster sauce, followed by trays of cookies, cheesecakes and cakes.  For Italians, food is love, which is why you can never have enough. We have a word for this — Abbondanza!

Abbondanza isn’t just about food, however. There are times in our lives when we enjoy “abbondanza” through the kindness of others. Can you recall a time when someone helped you through an illness or the loss of a family member, lent you a hand when you needed to move into your first apartment, or helped you pull off a big surprise birthday party for someone you loved?  These are all moments of profound abundance, invitations by friends, family and sometimes strangers, to come without paying and without cost, to delight in rich fare.

I am reminded of a favorite verse in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:38):

Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.

Each of us creates and receives these moments of abundance with and for one another. It’s the kind of treasure that we talked about last week.  

Getting back to food, Jesus creates “abbondanza” for the crowd when they are hungry.  He takes five loaves and two fishes, and in a harbinger of the Eucharistic meal, says the blessing, breaks the loaves and gives them to the disciples.   In this act of divine love, a few paltry offerings are transformed into abundance.  In the first reading, we hear, “Heed me and you shall eat well.”  In the Gospel, we learn the crowd all ate and were satisfied, and there were twelve baskets of leftovers. My Italian aunts would have clucked in approval.

My husband likes to say we each need to “bring our brick” and I agree.  In order to build the edifice of our community and world, we each need to bring our own small offering, no matter how paltry or insignificant, and together, through the grace of God, those simple gifts will be transformed into His kingdom on earth, an abbondanza, as beautiful as the streets of heaven.

I’ll leave you with two questions:

Where in your life do you need to trust God enough to follow Him into the desert? 

What small offering do you want to put into God’s hands so that He can multiply it?

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