Seventeenth Sunday of the Year
We begin with the beautiful image in day’s psalm, ‘You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing’ to reflect God’s abundance and generosity. This gesture of welcome, open hands and sharing is in contrast to closed hands or fists suggesting individualism, negligence and violence.
The readings suggest how the impossible is made possible. There are many ways to be a disciple of Jesus and to recognise miracles in our lives which we fail to do because do not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. And miracles happen in times of scarcity, not plenty.
There is a similarity in the first reading and gospel. As Elisha and Jesus respond to the needs of people before them, they are confronted by ‘facts’ and bewilderment by those they enlist for help. In each case, those who provide food are the poor whether the poor farmer or the child in the gospel. In the story of Elisha, there is no suggestion that loaves were multiplied. It seems that each person took only a little so that others also got some. Elisha receives the resources but rather than hoarding, chooses to share with others. I will not mention the recent hoarding of pasta, paper towels and toilet rolls when another Covid-19 lockdown was recently announced. It is for us to reflect on what we have and what we need. The people may not have been completely filled but everyone got some food and there were leftovers. No over-consumption here. This is the real life situation in places today where hunger is an everyday reality.
The gospel story is reminiscent of the Elisha story. It is located at the Sea of Galilee, Gentile Country. In recent weeks, we have focused on the image of shepherd and prophet. As we see embodied in Jesus, the prophet looks out at people, understands their needs and responds to them. In recent weeks priests in the Philippines have been murdered or disappeared. A former Missionary of the Sacred Heart, Rustico (‘Rust’) Tan, aged 80, was murdered by unidentified people after a long history of being in solidarity with the poor and unjustly treated. He has in the past been abducted for his activities. This week, Redemptorist Fr Rudy Romano, a staunch defender of the dignity of the poor and vocal critic of oppression, has been abducted by military personnel. These prophetic people, like many others, look outward to see people, listen to them, and respond by calling them to solidarity to care for one another.
Little is much in God’s hands. But we can let the ‘facts’ and the ‘scarcity mentality’ contaminate any human response with the question, ‘What good is so little among so many people?’ Philip in his budget review thinks only of the cost and what money can buy. His focus is on problems, impossibility, and scarcity. We could ask, what good are a few doctors in Haiti? or in African countries? or a few individuals raising their voices for justice and peace? or rescuing people seeking refuge, peace and security? What can any of us do? How can we respond? The uppermost question is a perennial one: ‘where will we get enough food/medical care/housing for this crowd? Too often we fixate, and cop out, on the great need and the scarcity of resources when we are repeatedly reminded that the problem is about distribution.. Where the disciples, like many of our contemporaries in power and with power, seem ‘realistic’, Jesus sees the same hungers knowing what to do. It will happen through us, and only through us. He appeals to our hearts and our humanity. It is at this level that things get done. The boy in the gospel was prepared to share what he had. It set off a chain reaction where the people shared what they had. It is this behaviour that is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. We have seen restaurant and café owners provide free food at their doors to people on the street whilst their businesses were unable to have customers inside. Many of these are Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims. Yet, governments often fail, not because they cannot but not the will. This is highlighted in the most recent Oxfam Report and the World Health Organisation that has condemned the hoarding of Covid-19 Vaccines by Western countries and developing countries miss out. More than 30,000 children die every day of preventable causes associated with hunger and diseases connected with unsafe drinking water. If this number of people died in air crashes, the airline industry would be in panic and recognise that something is wrong with the system. Yet with hunger and other diseases, no one in authority will call a system that champions the free market and less regulation as defective. They believe the free market is the solution to all of the world’s problems. We are questioned about the changes we need to make so that others might at least have some. We need to question ourselves as to what changes we need to make in the light of the disproportionate consumption of the earth’s resources, and extreme inequality in all countries.
Jesus’ compassion made him sensitive toward the hungers in people he encountered: He fed people hungry for the truth with his teaching; his compassion fed the sorrowing; his mercy fed the marginalised; his caring fed the sick, the dying and the lonely. His love fed each person’s hunger for acceptance and love. Jesus’ action stands out and challenges us as disciples. At the end of John’s Gospel, at a lakeside breakfast, Jesus looks at a weak and wounded Peter and three times tells him: ‘Feed my sheep’ (21:15, 16, 17). Today, Jesus looks at each of us, weary as we are, battered as we might feel, and says ‘Feed my sheep.’ It is up to use to find the way. It may be the neighbour we listen to; it may be the grieving parent; it may be the homeless person who needs to be acknowledged and fed. When hungers are acknowledged and tended, God becomes present both to the hungry and to those who share, present in the eating together, present in the broken body of Jesus on the cross, present in each one of us who brings the empty vessel of our lives and allow God to fill it. Today’s gospel cannot be isolated from the John’s account of the washing of the feet at the Last Supper: ‘What I have done, I command you to do. Serve one another. Pour out yourself in love for one another.’ It is also communion. Without that communion or service of others, the communion of the Eucharist is robbed of its fruit in one’s life.
It seems of all the marks of difference between people, nothing is as drastic as hunger. The physical sensation of hunger sets a person off from those who are well-fed who can be hard put to even imagine the desperation of an empty stomach. The voice of humanity is crying out among the many who are starving. Hunger is not just a phenomenon of the distant poor, but there are more and more among us as well – even in the so-called wealthy countries. Often, they are judged as lazy, useless, etc. Many fail to see the despair and fear brought on by hunger. They cannot see the causal link between their own privilege and the suffering of the dispossessed. The beginning of overcoming the divide between the well-fed and the starving is to first acknowledge that it exists.
Let us allow Jesus to feed our imagination. Look at his life. As Jesus awakens our consciousness, let us encourage others to do the same. Let us strive for a paradigm shift in thinking and seeing our problems from the perspective of those who are dying every day and are languishing among us. This is where miracles happen, if we want to believe in them. They only seem to happen in situations of scarcity rather than plenty. There is no need for them where there is plenty. Let us bring to mind the normally forgotten people, near and far, who have little to eat – and those forced to move because they have little to eat… and then are labelled economic refugees. Our world hungers for peace, security, community, meaning and wholeness. Can we make a difference? Can we touch peoples’ hearts, minds and wills? ‘Can we believe that we have the power - a few loaves and fishes - to make a difference? Withholding our gifts or mocking the smallest efforts of others could mean we miss seeing a miracle. Our refusal or inability to respond ‘eclipses’ or hides God’s presence from our world? It has been eclipsed by the oppression and domination in church and society throughout history; the abuse of power and wealth; the complicity in crimes against humanity; and certainly by silence and bystanders. We have heard from time people accused by church leaders for politicising the ‘eucharist’. If it is not political, leading to action, then the eucharist can have no transforming impact on our lives. If our participation in the eucharist does not impact the stranger at the door of our home or our nation; the homeless child; the person who is suffering domestic violence; the woman or man on our streets; on our contribution to peace our community, then what is the point?
In a cartoon, a character was telling a friend that he had asked God what God was doing about the problems in the world. The response from God was: ‘I made you’. When we leave today, the priest will say ‘Go, the Mass is ended’. The worship is ended but the service begins! May the words, ‘You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing’ which reflect God’s abundance and generosity, become part of our everyday living.