Aug. 1, 2020

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2020

THE CALL TO GENEROSITY, “GIVE THEM SOME FOOD YOURSELVES”

Readings: 1st- Is. 55:1-3; 2nd- Rom. 8:35, 37-39; Matt. 14:13-21

We are going to pay attention to the tiny details in the event of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and feeding of over five thousand people in Matthew’s gospel. The incident presented here is happening at a very rough time in the life and ministry of Jesus. The evangelist highlights that John the Baptist had just been killed by Herod at his birthday party. Jesus hears about John’s death and withdraws into a deserted place, perhaps to mourn and pray for John the Baptist. The people spot him at the Sea of Galilee and follow him. They go to him to take care of their physical and spiritual needs irrespective of the fact that Jesus is grieving. Jesus’ attention shifts automatically to the people; his heart is moved with pity and he settles to cure them of their sicknesses. 

Interestingly, the reaction of the disciples of Jesus on seeing the people is different. They recognize that it’s evening and want to play by the rules. It is late and a deserted place. The disciples are probably tired and plead with their master to drive the people away. Since they have only five loaves and two fish, there is no need to keep the people longer. The reasonable action will be to send them away, dismiss them to go and find food for themselves. The disciples are limited in their perception and care. They see the glass as half-empty instead of half-full.

On the other hand, Jesus’ action flows from the depth of mercy. He says to the disciples, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But the disciples are incredulous in their response, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” That would never feed the crowd nor do they appeal to the Master to help. It sounds like a plausible reason. However, Jesus does not buy into their excuse. I’m wondering why the disciples don’t recognize that Jesus can make miracles – the disciples seem pessimistic, find a reason not to share. Jesus commands them to bring what they have and “ordered the crowds to sit down.” Jesus takes the loaves, says the blessing, and breaks the bread, thereby foreshadowing the Last Supper meal when he gives himself to humanity. Jesus teaches a great lesson here. When we look at limitations, we succumb to excuses and fail to share what we have with others. 

The feeding of the five thousand shows the generosity of God for his people. In this case, Jesus meets the people where they are and is empathic to their needs. He takes care of their hunger and instills hope. His multiplication of loaves demonstrates God’s abundance as shown in the scripture, “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen” (Hos. 1:7). 

The prophet Isaiah opens the eyes of his listeners to such generosity in the first reading which spells out God’s invitation, “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” God’s heart is always moved with pity for humanity. He identifies our needs. He steps in to take care of us. What is important in the story of the feeding of the five thousand is how Jesus’ action flows from his heart. Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity,” not just a dry gesture.

An outstanding example of generosity in our time remains the Saint of Calcutta, Mother Teresa. Her story challenges us because she was never wealthy. Even when she started her Missionaries of Charity order, Mother Teresa always used the money towards the poor and needy. She didn’t have much money herself, yet she used her little resources to help others. She used her knowledge to help people. She taught people in poor Indian villages to read. Mother Teresa heard those words strongly, “Give them something to eat,” hence, she took in the sick and dying, gave them comfort and care when hospitals turned them away. Mother Teresa was not a doctor, was not Florence Nightingale who specialized as a nurse, but she was able to help those people in her own way. Mother Teresa gave the world something to emulate in being generous. 

We are all poor and in need of God’s healing touch. Maybe we take a step back and consider how much grace we receive in this sacrament. The truth is that the love that we have for Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament will be in direct proportion to our desire to serve others. It’s impossible to be in love with the Eucharistic Jesus and not desire to love and help other people. The Eucharist, is by nature, missionary. We feed ourselves on the Bread of Life first, then go forth to proclaim the gospel with our lives. We can all say as Americans, “it’s not a good time father. I’m too busy. COVID is stressful. I have school or my kids. It’s not a good time.” But when is a good time to help the poor? When can we have enough? Can there ever be excess? Your five loaves and two fish are all Jesus wants, and He will provide the surplus. Have you ever taken a missionary trip or talked with someone who has? They all tell the same story no matter where they went. They return having found Christ in the poor. Whether they went to Jamaica or Haiti or South America or Africa or wherever, they all return with a better understanding of the impact of God in their lives. They return grateful for His grace and His gifts and usually can’t wait to return to the poor whom they consider friends. The Lord calls us to help the poor and to feed the hungry because we find Him there and in finding Him, we find ourselves. 

Recently, we did the fundraising for the Hungry in Africa due to the COVID lockdown. Back in Nigeria, we had a team of priests who helped to deliver the food donations and money to the beneficiaries. The priest team was led by Fr. Sylvanus who had lost his mom in January. Unfortunately, this young priest had been struggling with depression since the loss of his mother. But he was delighted to share the food and donations from the people in America to the needy in Nigeria. At the end of the project, Fr. Sylvanus was very grateful that he could be part of the Family Apostolate outreach to give to those in need. He said to me, “I’m so glad and feel privileged that I could be a part of this great charity. This mission did something great to me. It has brought me out of depression. Seeing the faces of those who received gifts smiling, singing, and dancing brought joy to me. It wiped away the tears of my mom’s death.” 

We are aware of the biblical statement, “There’s more joy in giving than in receiving.” That’s what Christ teaches us today. Through teaching the people, curing their sickness, and feeding them, Jesus converted Herod’s killing of John the Baptist into good. Jesus also challenged the apostles to give the people something to eat. A lot of times, God wants to use us to reach out to those in need. Of course, there’s always some hungry and needy persons in our midst. As Christ said to the disciples, God says to us, “Give them some food yourselves.” Such demand doesn’t proceed from convenience. As in the case of the disciples, we may not have a surplus, but we have enough. Like Mother Teresa, we may not have excess, but we have something to offer. 

Like Jesus taught his disciples, why not teach your children to be generous? Teach them to share what they have with others. Teach them to learn to have pity for those in need. Teach them to have hearts that feel the pains of the hungry. Teach them to know that God is always calling us not out of surplus or excess, but out of love and compassion. Teach them that generosity goes a long way to transform not just the receiver but the giver as well. Christ invites us today to give something to those in need. There can be no better time to be generous than during this COVID time when so many people are suffering and finding it difficult to feed.