01 Aug Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Shawn Hughes
July 29, 2018
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
For the last two Sundays we have heard about the disciples being sent out to share in Jesus’ Mission. This sending out of the disciples on mission is followed by today’s gospel’s sign of Jesus’ authority and divinity in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes which is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Over the next few Sundays, as we meditate on all of Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, known as the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus interprets the meaning and significance of this miracle as a sharing of his Body and Blood.
In many important ways, John’s Gospel uses this miracle to teach about and prepare the disciples for the even greater miracle of the Eucharist. Like the Last Supper, this miracle occurs near the time of the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus’ language is similar to the language he will use at the Last Supper. He took the five loaves and two fish, gave thanks and distributed them. John’s description of this event also anticipates the Messianic banquet of heaven, as the crowd reclines and all hungers are satisfied with abundance. This connection is further amplified by the response of the crowd; they want to make Jesus a king. John is teaching us that each time we celebrate the Eucharist; we are anticipating the eternal banquet of heaven.
Moses, the greatest and humblest of God’s Servants, (Numbers 12:3) promised that someday God would send another leader to the people of Israel, someone as great as himself. Through the centuries the Jewish people had come to identify this “prophet” with the promised Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ, who would liberate their nation from oppression and usher in a new golden age, similar to the one they had enjoyed under King David.
The magnitude of the miracle Jesus performs by multiplying the five loaves and two fish, added to the many other miracles that he had already done, so impresses the crowd, they are convinced that he is indeed the promised Saviour, the Messiah, the one whom God had sent into the world to finish the job of salvation that had begun with Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. Thus they intend to make him king. (6:15).
They recognized who he was…But they did not listen to him. They got it wrong. By his miracles he showed that he was God’s chosen one, but with his words he spoke of a new kind of kingdom, an everlasting Kingdom that was within men’s hearts, not in power or authority or political platforms as they had expected.
The crowd’s reaction shows how difficult it is to receive Jesus’ gifts on his terms without translating them immediately into our own categories. Jesus’ gifts of food, the offer of his grace, provided the crowd with a glimpse of his identity, but they immediately tried to twist that identity to serve their own purposes: to make Jesus king so to take his grace and twist it to conform it to their notions of power and authority. To make Jesus King is to judge him according to human glory (5:44) rather than to see in him God’s glory. When Jesus withdrew from the crowd (6:15), he showed that he would offer his gift of grace without claiming worldly power. In that moment his glory was revealed …True glory has nothing to do with worldly power. True glory is self-sacrificial love. At the time of this gospel Jesus is trying to get away with the disciples for some down time. And yet, he sees they need him. He looks on them with compassion.
Five loaves and two fish cannot feed a crowd of five thousand men plus at least as many women and children. And yet, when the Apostles hand over all they have, five loaves and two fish, to the Lord, they become more than enough to do the job…12 baskets full left over…There is a powerful spiritual lesson for us here. The same is true for every single Christian. On our own natural talents and wisdom we cannot defeat the forces of evil in the world. On our own strength we cannot put an end to the selfishness, ambition, lust, and greed that rage within the human heart. On my own I can’t, nor can our parish, nor even the archdiocese do battle with the culture of death. We only have five loaves and two fish. On our own we can do nothing. It is only if we surrender all we have, our hearts, into Christ’s hands, trusting in him and not ourselves, following his teachings and not our own passions and interests, can we hope to make any real difference for the good of the Kingdom. When our hearts are transformed by that level of trust…only then can we slowly transform our world around us. Each small act of self-sacrificial love toward another builds up the Kingdom. What we could never achieve on our own, we can immeasurably surpass with God. One of my favourite pieces of Scripture is in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: 4:13 “I can do all things in God who gives me strength.” All things.
Sufficient strength, sufficient grace to follow his teaching is given here in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Confession and all our sacraments.
We often stumble, get caught up, confused, entangled by our faults, our failings, our fears…we think…I am not worthy, I couldn’t possibly be a missionary disciple of Christ to my family, to the people with whom I live, with those with whom I work, to the world around me…I’m not good enough…I wouldn’t know what to say…what will they think of me? Recently I was asking someone what they thought God the Father saw when he looked at them… the person was at a loss and really couldn’t come up with anything…When St. Ignatius of Loyola started his prayer he would consider for the span of what it would take to pray one Our Father, how God regarded him…it is a good practice for each of us…God is love…he can’t help but regard us out of that love…He created us…We are his… If we could just walk in our everyday lives in the confidence that the knowledge of that love gives us…then no matter how little we have would be filled with the Lord’s power.
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus transforms a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. In the offertory at Mass, we present the fruits of our labors, we present our very selves, represented by bread and wine. These gifts, given to us by God, are returned to God in our offering of thanksgiving. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine the very Body and Blood of Jesus. When we offer our lives in this exchange, we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist.
What we celebrate and offer to the Father at every Mass is Jesus’ ultimate act of surrender in trust and obedience to the Father. What we receive back is the ability, the grace, to make the same act of surrender in trust and obedience. With the little we offer, God gives us his very self in exchange.
If we let him. If we get out of the way: He opens His hand to feed us. He answers all our needs.