Homily 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Both today’s Gospel and First Reading from 1 Kings, deal with feeding the hungry. What is message that the scripture writers, and Christ in particular, want to get across to us?
Let’s look at the the current situation in the world today. Back then, five loaves and two fish could not feed a crowd of five thousand men plus at least as many women and children. It was impossible. A year’s salary could not have bought enough for such a crowd. It is the same today. Who has enough natural talents and wisdom which are sufficient to defeat the forces of evil that seem to hold the world in tow? How can the meager resources of a single parish or diocese suffice to do battle with media moguls, corrupt politicians, international banking cartels, and other agents of the culture of death? Whose innate strength is sufficient to put an end to the selfishness, lust, and greed that rage within the human heart? It’s too much for us, which may be one reason we tend not to think about it too much. We only have five loaves and two fish; by ourselves we can do nothing.
What was the real issue here? Is it simply providing food and other stuff to people who don’t have food and stuff? Sure, Christ feed the people but something much deeper is going on. Scripture scholar Reginald Fuller write that “It is impossible to ascertain precisely what happened during that feeding. However, it is clear from all the Gospel accounts that it represented a significant turning point, almost a crisis, in the Lord’s ministry. We know that at some stage Jesus broke off his Galilean ministry and went to Jerusalem, and in all the Gospels the feeding is a pivotal point in the narrative.
In Mark’s first version of the feeding, we are told that Jesus packed the disciples off in a boat while he dismissed the crowd. The reason for this becomes clear in John’s Gospel: it was to prevent the disciples from being infected by the dangerous nationalistic messianic enthusiasm of the crowd.”
Today’s world presents a different danger. In trying to solve the world’s intractable problems, the danger is the push towards reliance on: social justice initiatives, partisan political solutions or disruptive activism.
Oblate Priest Father Ronald Rolheiser tells the following story. “A person once quipped: ‘What would you get if you crossed a radically liberal social justice advocate with a conservative pious daily Mass communicant? The answer? Dorothy Day!’ That’s a piece of wit which it can serve to throw some light on how one might begin, today, to live out the first corporal work of mercy, the command to feed the hungry.
We live a situation of compounded complexity of every sort, political, social, and economic. There is no simple way to get resources from the rich to the poor, from your table to the table of someone who is hungry. How can you live out Christ’s command to feed the hungry, given the complexities of today’s world? The answer is to understand our real mission. The mission we have received is not primarily to solve the world’s problems. The mission we have received is to become saints.” A saint is someone who has had an encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here. That’ why St. Monica currently exists.
Jesuit priest Dennis Hamm, S.J. writes that “The meaning of the episode is not how the physical needs of a particular audience were met on a certain afternoon in Galilee. The meaning, rather, has to do with the “real Jesus”—crucified, raised, and present to the believing community.” The meaning is about grace that is poured out from The Cross. The focus is on who Jesus is and what he does for those who follow him.
Fr. Rolheiser continues, “Certainly feeding the hungry means to consume less ourselves, to do some fasting, to live in a simplicity that puts us in more solidarity with the poor. But feeding the hungry STARTS with prayer. We have some bad habits that only God can cure and thus only the outside power of God can ultimately transform ourselves and only then will the world be transformed.
When the Apostles hand over their paltry resources to the Lord, they become more than enough to do the job. Only if we put all we have and all we are into Christ’s hands, confiding in him and not ourselves, can we hope to fulfill our life mission and make a real difference for the good of the Kingdom – in our hearts and in society at large. What we could never achieve on our own, we can immeasurably surpass with God. As Jesus himself put it, “For you, it is impossible; but for God, everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Audio version of the homily is here: