Trust in Jesus' Power to Provide
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Frequently in the Sunday readings, the first reading and the gospel are linked together. This happens today.
Elisha feeds 100 people with a few barley loaves. Jesus feeds 5000 men with a few loaves and a couple of fish. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament passages are pointing to the Holy Eucharist when Jesus will feed us not with loaves and fishes but with his own Body and Blood.
In the first reading, the loaves are barley loaves, the kind that poor people usually ate. God takes even the most insignificant gifts and uses them to care for his people.
One interesting note in the Gospel has to do with John's mentioning that there was much grass in the place, probably an indication that it was near Passover, and therefore near a springtime feast and therefore a time when the grass would be lush and plentiful, again a veiled reference to the time when Jesus would give us the Eucharist.
One additional item in this Gospel story is John's mentioning some 5000 men. What about the women and children? Does John shows an a gender bias, or is it simply the way numbers were calculated?
For many years, what has attracted my special attention is the boy in the story. After Jesus had said "Give them something to eat, the apostles wondered how in the world they could feed this crowd. Andrew introduces to Jesus a little Boy who had a few loaves and a couple of fish, but "What good is that for so many?"
Some years ago, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II was speaking to the youth in Edinburgh, Scotland. I think it was the feast of St Andrew the Apostle. He said to them:
"Now the point I wish to make is this: The boy gave all that was available, and Jesus miraculously fed those thousands of people and still had enough left over. It is exactly the same with your lives. Left alone to face the difficult challenges of life today, you feel conscious of your own inadequacy and afraid of what the future may hold for you. But what I say to you is this: 'Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you and bless you, and he will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation."
These words of the Holy Father are words that people of all ages can take to heart. I've seen this played out many times over the years in my own life.
When I assumed my first pastorate at Holy Spirit in Bowling Green, the Gospel for my first Sunday was this one. I stood there looking at all those people and said "I feel like the little guy in this Gospel." As to whether the Lord could and did multiply the loaves and fish that I offered is not for me to say. I just recall how I felt then, and how I have felt often over the years.
What is the Lord saying to us? I think he is saying "I need your talent, I need your generosity. I need you. I need your feet, I need your hands, I need your tongue. Share with me what you have. He's saying to us:
"For today, I have only your feet to carry me into all the places You'll be visiting this week. I have only your hands to reach out to the helpless, the homeless, the hopeless. I have only your tongue to tell my brothers and sisters why I cam to live on earth, and why I suffered for them."
Jesus is saying 'If you faith is weak, bring it to me and I will make it strong. If your love for a neighbor, for a member of the community, for a spouse, a family member is growing weaker by the day, bring it to me and I will make it strong, I will renew it."
Just take the world situation today, wars, and civil disturbances all over the globe, especially in the Middle East. What can I, one person, do to effect a change? I can pray those words of St Francis: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
I met a man recently who is really disturbed about the present-day crisis in the Church. He meant the sex abuse scandal with the priests. He said " Father, I've got to do some serious thinking about all this." I took this to mean he was considering whether he should stay with the church." I just listened to him, then said "Just take it to the Lord in prayer." Jesus is saying "If your faith is weak, come and bring it to me and I will strengthen it for you."
Each one of us has heard the words of the Gospel, at least with our ears. Will we listen with our hearts? Will we trust Jesus to multiply whatever it is that we're willing to share with him? Jesus wants to feed and care for the many in our world who are hungry, who are lonely, who are weak, who feel frightened and weak of faith. Jesus says "You and I together can help. Let me know what you are willing to share with me, and I'll provide for their needs.
For you Sisters today: Of course we're wondering what God's plans are for religious communities, for communities like the Passionists. What is the future to be? We do not know. What we do know is that we should be bringing to God our deepest concerns, our questions, our most sincere prayers. We believe in you Sisters, in your wonderful dedication and devotion to the Lord's Sacred Passion. The Lord is saying: "Speak to me; tell me where it hurts. If you are fearful and anxious, tell me about it. Offer me whatever is closest to your hearts.
Read over again St Paul's words in the Second Reading this morning. There's enough there to concentrate upon and engage your spirits for hears to come. How do you think St Paul would apply the Gospel message to you today?