Sunday, 26 July 2009

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

We are in for a treat. For the next four Sundays, the Gospel readings will come from chapter six of John’s Gospel. The Evangelist has no account of the Institution of the Eucharist but this chapter makes up for the seeming “deficiency” of the Gospel.

There is a connexion between physical hunger and spiritual satisfaction; between food and the Eucharist. Thus, an understanding of the Eucharist begins aptly with a basic human need: food. In the multiplication of the loaves, the scenario set up by John gives us a picture of 5000 hungry men. But in reality, when we include the women and children present there, a figure closer to 15000 might be more accurate. In feeding such a number, we are shown the abundance of God’s generosity.

The first reading confirms this generosity with Elisha becoming the sign or sacrament of God’s concern for His people. At first glance, Elisha seems to have dispensed with bureaucracy. He takes the bread, the first-fruits, meant for offering to God and distributes it to the people. That can be interpreted as a doing away with the “red-tape” surrounding the temple worship. But at a deeper level, the first-fruits, which are rightfully offered to God in thanksgiving, are but a reflexion of the generosity of God. The left-over shows that God is always generous in providence.

The Gospel reflects this providence. We have a boy with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. And yet, a miracle of stupendous proportion took place. How? Our scientific minds search for the plausibility of belief as we try to make sense of the possibility of it happening. But, the Gospel only records the instruction of Jesus to His disciples to make the crowd comfortable. Beyond that it remains silent. It only echoes what we hear each time we celebrate the Eucharist that “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and gave them out to all”... The emphasis was not on “how” He multiplied bread. The emphasis was on the Eucharistic tone of the miracle.

Thus, generosity is a foretaste of the greatest gift God gives us: The Eucharist. The multiplication of the loaves and fish shows us what God can do for us. But, when we are interested in the “how”, we tend to forget this side of God’s strength. When we think of the “how”, we come face to face with the impossible. That is where we will get such replies like: “My faith is not strong enough”. “I don’t have the strength”. “How can it be”, and etc.

The miracle is possible because it consists of bringing whoever we are and whatever we have to the Lord. He will make wonders out of what we dare to entrust Him with. The result is whatever God does will be enough for us and also enough for others.

But, sometimes God’s providence is presented as a Gospel of Prosperity. It simply tells us that the more you give, the more God will bless you. After all, this does tie in with the giving up of the boy’s 5 loaves and 2 fish. However, the miracle is not about our benefit as it is about who God is. It is not about the advantage of our giving nor is it about the receiving. Instead, the Gospel of Generosity is about our giving as God gives.

This is what it means that we are called to give so that others may have life. All we have, our talents, gifts, wealth, are considered blessings from God. But, the converse is not true that what we lack is to be considered a curse from or of God, if one follows the Gospel to its logical conclusion. The generosity of God’s blessing is an encouragement for us to give to those who are in need and in giving, nothing that we have is ever too small, too insignificant or too little.

The Miracle of the Multiplication is at once an affirmation of who God is and what we can be: generous like God is generous. The heart is the measure of the world and not the measuring tape. It is not the square miles of arable land, the square kilometres of potable water. But, instead, the bigger the heart is, the bigger the world—the smaller the heart is, the smaller the world.

The feeding of the 5000 or 15000 is indeed a miracle accomplished by no less than God. Yes, it is a miracle in which human effort is not missing because it is also a miracle of the heart. The boy who dared to share found that there was more than enough rather than not enough…. When one is worried and starts to grab, then there can never be enough.

In conclusion, the greatest of all miracles is the Eucharist. In order for us to grasp its possibility, Christ begins with what we can see: food. Food, a basic human need, can always be shared. Jesus worked his best miracle through food and now He will do it through the Eucharist.