The word “desert” is an interesting word.

As a noun it means a barren place like the Sahara Desert: where living conditions are hostile, where life cannot easily flourish because of a lack of rain and extremes of temperature.

But “desert” can also be a verb. With the stress on the second syllable, the word “desert” means to abandon, to leave. A ghost town, for example, is a settlement deserted by its inhabitants.

In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 9:11-17), we hear of a “deserted place.” The disciples come to Jesus and advise him to send those who have been listening to his words to go and find food. For as they tell Jesus, “we are in a deserted place.” We might say they were in a “desert,” where the people’s physical needs could not be met.

Jesus responds to the situation in that “desert” place. He takes the five loaves and two fish that are available, blesses them, breaks them, and then gives them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. Miraculously all are fed and there are even leftovers.

This feeding in a “deserted place” recalls God feeding his people in a similar situation. On their way to the Promised Land, Moses and the Chosen People wandered through the desert, a truly deserted place. There God fed them with manna from heaven. That connection hinted at by Luke is made clear in the Gospel of John. In his account, the people who have been fed say, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Like God who fed his people in the desert, Jesus feeds the 5,000 in a desert-like place and he continues to do the same today. At Mass, bread and wine are taken, blessed, and shared. Through them, the Lord feeds us with his very life-giving Body and Blood as we wander through our “deserts,” through our “deserted places.”

We can feel lost in a desert when we find little meaning and purpose in our lives, when we feel misunderstood and unappreciated, when the financial successes and promotions we thought would make us happy fail to do so. We can feel lost in a desert when society’s values seem to be more and more divorced from those of the Gospel.

We can feel we are in a deserted place when relationships end, when loved ones are taken in death, or when friends abandon us when we are hurting. We can feel we are in a deserted place as we age and the number of place settings at our Thanksgiving table keeps decreasing.At those times, more than ever, we need the strength and encouragement the Lord offers us in his life-giving word and in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

The Lord who compassionately cared for the crowd of thousands is ready to care for us. When Jesus is in our lives, none of us is ever completely alone in a deserted place. The Eucharist we share proclaims the Lord is with us!

© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski