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The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018

Today’s readings tell stories of scarcity and abundance.  There was scarcity and abundance in the reading from the Book of Kings when only twenty barley loaves fed a hundred people; there was scarcity and abundance in the gospel story when only five barley loaves and a couple of fish fed a crowd of five-thousand.  In both stories, people were not only fed and satisfied, there were even leftovers. Lots of leftovers!  It seems that God cannot be outdone in generosity!

     That’s certainly the message in the reading from the Book of Kings. The servant of the prophet Elisha, faced with the impossible challenge of feeding one-hundred people with just twenty barley loaves was, not surprisingly, quite certain that many of the people were going to go hungry.  Elisha, on the other hand, was confident that God would supply for what was lacking.  And Elisha was right. God did.

     In the gospel reading, it was Philip, the apostle, who was convinced that, no matter how much Jesus might have wanted to feed that crowd, there was simply no way he could.  But Jesus found a way.  He always did.  And the way he found actually gives us a place in the story.

     Let me explain. If he had wanted to, Jesus could have fed that huge multitude out of thin air. It would have been enough for him simply to have spoken his all-powerful word for abundant food to have come out of nowhere. But Jesus was not a magician. His miracles were not magic acts or sleights of hand, And his miracles were never about him: they were always about others. They were always compassionate responses to human need that included a human component, a human contribution. Or put it this way: for Jesus, divinity was never a shortcut around humanity. Never.  And so, today’s story starts at a very human level. Jesus takes what little that was available to him – five loaves of bread and a couple of fish that a young boy in the crowd happened to have - and he turns that obvious insufficiency into more than enough to satisfy an immense crowd of hungry people.

     The reason I said that we have a place in the story is that we are a little like that young boy.  With his nice little stash of food - more, certainly, than he needed for himself - the boy had it made. We could even say he was wealthy. And he could have hoarded his wealth – could have insisted on holding on to his food, saving it for himself.  After all, what concern was it of his that there were a whole lot of people around him who were hungry?  But, no, he was willing to let go of everything he had.

     My friends, that young boy is our link to the story. We – not all of us, of course, but many of us (and I very much include myself) live pretty comfortable lives. Like the boy, we have more than we need. We not only have full cupboards and fridges at home, we have full closets as well, and bank accounts, credit and debit cards, and maybe some life savings, too.  Like the boy, we can choose to hold onto what we have, or we can welcome the opportunity to put what we have at the service of those who have little or nothing.  Maybe not all we have, like he did, but at least some of what we have.

     We can learn a lot from young people, can’t we! A little story. A few weeks ago, we hosted a dinner for newcomers to the parish.  Among our newcomer guests were two young kids, a boy and a girl, who came with their mom and dad. The boy had just had his sixth birthday and he came with one of his birthday gifts in hand – a brand new Lego set which he gave to me and asked that I give it to a kid who didn’t have one. I was blown away. That young boy has yet to read the gospels but, thanks to a wonderful mom and dad, he knows the gospel. He ‘gets’ the gospel.  And he certainly taught me a gospel lesson that evening!

     In a homily he gave back in the 4th century, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, bishop of Constantinople, spoke some words that my young friend understood without ever hearing them. “Give something, however small, to the one in need,” he said.  “For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, as long as we have given what we could.”

     That’s the perfect commentary on the boy with the Legos and the boy in today’s gospel.  Something fairly small, shared with a generous spirit, ends up being anything but small.

     This is a theme that Pope Francis takes up time and time again in his off-the-cuff weekday homilies.  “Giving freely,” he said not long ago, “leads to freedom – freedom from the obsession of owning, freedom from the fear of losing what we have, freedom from the sadness of not being able to share our wealth with others.”

     My friends in Christ, Pope Francis has it exactly right.  It’s not only about giving and sharing, it’s also about freedom. If we think only about getting more and more, we are not free; if we hoard what we have, we are not free; if we are obsessed with losing what we have, we are not free. We are free only if – and when – we let go and take delight in sharing what we have with others.

     And God, who is never outdone in generosity, will turn whatever it is we share into a marvelous, even miraculous, abundance! It all starts here at the table of the Eucharist!

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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