Jul. 30, 2018

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, 2018

NOTHING OFFERED FOR THE COMMUNITY IS TOO SMALL

Readings: 1st- 2Kgs. 4:42-44; 2nd- Eph. 4:1-6; Gospel- Jn. 6:1-15

The readings of this weekend present us with the theme of unity among the community. This theme is obvious in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the second reading. Paul urges everyone to live their lives in a manner that is worthy of their baptismal calling. He invites them to imbibe the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, and particularly to bear with one another in love. This will enhance the unity of the spirit which in itself is the bond of peace. Unity arises from the shared experience of the one Spirit. The foundation of Christian unity is God who has called us into his service through baptism. In the words of Saint Paul, we are “one body and one Spirit.” We are called to “the one hope; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). Our unity arises from this shared experience of the triune God. We receive the invitation at baptism. We begin our journey into the one faith, one Lord, one Spirit, one God who is the Father and Creator of all things. 

In order to understand Paul’s preaching about unity better, we might need to refer to his letter to the Corinthians. Here, Paul explains the variety of gifts for the unity of the community. Saint Paul states, “There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good” (1Cor. 12:3-7). In the community, our various gifts are brought together to function for the good of the members. By that, we enhance the unity of the community in which we belong. The fact is that all gifts are given by the same Spirit. Secondly, it is always the same Lord who is at work in every member of the community. 

For example, as a priest, I contribute to the Christ the King Church community through the work that I do. The priests here, Fr. Lou, Fr. Carlos, and Fr. Rafferty, all do the same. We promote good liturgy. We prepare and try to deliver good homilies. We prepare couples for marriage and support them at tough moments. We officiate at weddings. We visit and anoint the sick. We celebrate funeral masses for dead parishioners. We bring our gifts to serve the unity of the parish community. Similarly, we have different ministries in the parish. For example, the ladies of sodality gather to pray the rosary, inspire one another and reach out to others through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The members of the Bereavement Ministry offer support to bereaved families in their moments of loss and grief. The members of Saint Vincent de Paul reach out to families in need, provide physical presence and material help through their ministry. The Listening Hearts get together and provide empathy through sharing of personal stories and books. The Family Apostolate ministers to families and couples in diverse spiritual ways. The liturgical ministers either read as lectors at Mass, welcome people as ushers, help out in the liturgy as sacristans, serve on the altar as altar servers, or distribute Holy Communion as Eucharistic ministers. And so on. What is everyone doing in these different services? We are promoting unity in the community. Why is that important? Because we are united by the one Lord through our baptism. We are being disciples in different ways. Each of our gifts is very important for the effective functioning of the community.

There are two great instances of how to promote unity in the readings of today. One is seen in the Old Testament. Prophet Elisha uses twenty barley loaves and fresh grain to feed hundred people. They eat and are satisfied. Such story demonstrates the strength of faith in the community but mostly encourages solidarity among God’s people. God shows his care through feeding his people even in the seeming lack of plenty. Food and fellowship is a great way to promote unity. In the gospel, Jesus feeds the five thousand with the five loaves and two fish. This is popularly known as the multiplication of loaves. It symbolizes the Eucharistic meal which Jesus invites his faithful to participate in. He feeds us in both body and spirit. 

However, we need to pay attention to the contribution of different individuals which builds up to the feeding performed by Jesus. Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip responds by saying, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” It is at this point that Andrew, the brother of Peter says to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?” Then Jesus takes the loaves and gives thanks, then feeds the people.

Philip and Andrew automatically complement each other in this story. Philip exposes the hopeless situation. Andrew puts his hands to the task, suggests a solution even though not sufficient by human calculations. Andrew introduces the little boy with the loaves to Jesus, just as he introduced Simon Peter to Jesus (Jn. 1:41). Through their action, Jesus finds the materials for the sign he performed. Think also of the boy with the loaves here. He is only a poor boy selling his food, apparently insignificant to the great multitude that gathered to listen to Jesus. But referring to his contribution, he becomes a reference point to the feeding of five thousand persons, a great story in the Bible.

We must understand that Jesus will always use our gifts no matter how little we think they are. What we have to offer may not be much, but God values it. You wouldn’t know what God would do with your gift for the good of this parish community. We may be shy that we do not have more, but that cannot make us not to offer it. Your services and those of the priest may not be the same, yet God uses yours. What matters is that we build the community -our community. What matters is that we contribute to the unity of the mystical body of Christ that is the Church. My dear friends, in the liturgy we unite to address our belonging to the body of Christ. When we recognize the gifts of others, when we welcome strangers, when we accommodate the disenfranchised, when we feed the hungry, we are doing mission. We unite to grow together in love and service. We unite to appreciate God’s love for one another through offering just the little we have for the sake of the gospel. Nothing offered for the community is too small.