Feeding the Hungry: Two Homilies for July 26,2015, 17th Sunday in OT

As I am not preaching today it is my delight to offer two insightful homilies for the day by other priests.  One is by a Roman Catholic woman priest, Dr. Roberta Meehan,RCWP and the other by Gerald Darring who writes on the perspective of justice for St. Louis University Spiritual Readings. (liturgy.slu.edu). While Jesus gave himself away and lived and taught a radical way of love and compassion and inclusion he was acutely attuned to the needs of the whole person-basic physical needs were  important to him. Jesus clearly took care to meet the physical needs of people no matter who they were. As noted here there is a wealth of Gospel events describing Jesus feeding great numbers of people.  Some describe his great compassion for their hunger-even worries that they would collapse if they did not eat.  Clearly it remains the charge of his disciples throughout the world to feed the hungry.

Our Good Shepherd Ministry is a feeding ministry as we always offer a hot meal after our Mass or Prayer services with our varied members, including the homeless and poor,young and old of Fort Myers.  This meal is for the whole community. Our volunteers since 2007 have been wonderful and many are still with us. Yet, the wider issues of poverty and hunger in the USA and world-wide need our attention and response.

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Rev. Roberta Meehan’s Homily

Homily for the 17th Sunday – Cycle B – 26 July 2015

2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm 145

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 6:1-15

I am entranced by today’s readings!  Truly entranced.  In the first reading from 2 Kings we hear that Elisha is about to distribute what seems to be a paltry amount of food to a rather large crowd.  He tells his servant that the people shall eat and some will be left over.  In the Psalm we learn that the hand of the Lord feeds us and he answers all our needs.  In the second reading we hear that we are all one and that we are to bear with one another in love (a tough one, without any doubt).  And then we have that gospel reading – the one that was foreshadowed in 2 Kings.  Indeed!  THAT gospel reading!  We are called to WHAT????

It is the story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes.  Sometimes this reading is referred to by a variety of other names – such as the feeding of the multitudes.  But, we all know this plot and we all know what happens.  Or do we?  Have you ever stopped to think about this story?  We actually have several versions of this incident in the gospels.  All four gospels include the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Two of the gospels (Mark and Matthew) have two versions of the same miracle.  Are all of these simply variations on the same story?  Or did the story take place more than once? DOES IT MATTER???  Or, is it, perhaps, that the message of the loaves and the fishes is so important that it needs to be repeated over and over?

Let us look at the essence of this parable.  Parable???  You mean it is not a true story?  I do not know about the exactitude of the historical or geographical facts as written in John, though I do know that John’s version is not historically or geographically identical to the other versions.  Each version has historical and geographical variations – slight differences between the way the facts are presented in each of the versions.  Regardless of superficial discrepancies, I do know that the message – regardless of the version – is absolutely true.  (I will let the nitpickers argue about the innuendoes and the numbers of people present, the desert of the synoptics versus the grassy field of John, the number of people with food and the number of fishes and loaves present.  Etc.  It is all irrelevant.)

I will also let the nitpickers argue about what the outward facts of the multiplication of loaves and fishes is really all about.  For me, I need to delve more deeply into the meaning than simply looking at the superficial facts.  If I look only at the superficial, I see magic rather than miracle.  I see someone removing one fish from a basket and another fish magically appearing.  Same with the loaves.  Remove one and another one appears.  Did the loaves and fishes actually increase in number in some sort of magical way or did something else even more miraculous occur?  And this, I think, is where the essence of this gospel passage lies.  What really happened?  And, what is the application of this in our daily lives?  We can hardly look at a story that appears six times in the four gospels and think it is only a nice miracle story to which we are passive observers.  No way!  We are not passive observers.

I often wonder about the OTHER interpretation of this gospel.  What if the reason the loaves and fishes multiplied was because when the young boy pulled out his lunch, he offered to share it?  I seriously doubt the disciples strong-armed him into sharing his lunch – though they may certainly have asked around to see if anyone had any food.  After all, they had a potential crowd control problem on their hands!  And what if other people, at the urging of the disciples, also started pulling out their lunches and started sharing them?  And when the lunch was finished, abundance was everywhere because everyone had forgotten to hang on to his or her own lunch.  Everyone shared freely.  And everyone had enough.

I know.  Many theologians and Scripture scholars have discounted that interpretation stating that that would deny the miracle.  I seriously do not see it that way!  The miracle of sharing and giving is the real miracle everywhere – the miracle that transcends time and space.  It seems to me that that if we follow that particular interpretation of the gospel, we will truly be able to be a part of the continuous multiplication of loaves and fishes.  Remember that we are not passive observers of the gospel!  We are active participants in the gospel message.  Can we reach in our pockets and share our lunches?

Let us take this one step further.  What if the loaves and fishes – our loaves and fishes – are not necessarily physical food?  Oh, they might be, but then again, the loaves and fishes might represent our time and talents too.

What if we all freely give of our time and talents?  What if we all freely share our figurative loaves and fishes?  Will we not see a multiplication of good in the world?  We know we will!  We have seen it before.  The scripture message here is almost an ancient version of paying it forward.  We know it works! And not just from the movies.  But we hang on to our lunches, our paltry McFish sandwiches, forgetting that by sharing with love, we are indeed living the gospel.

Elisha was told that the people would eat and there would be leftovers.  Indeed!  When we give of ourselves, there are always leftovers!  We wonder where it all came from.  We are told to bear with one another in love.  Maybe I do not want to share my McFish.  But, if I love you, I will do just that.  And every time I share, the love is multiplied to abundance!

I remember a number of years ago when I was in the process of moving, the sweat was rolling down my face and I kept thinking that in a few more hours I would be finished and could be on the road.  But, I didn’t know if I would make it.  There was so much to do.  Suddenly several people shared their loaves and fishes.  No, not real McFishes.  But, loaves and fishes of love and caring.  Their generosity was totally contagious.  My tennis partner gave up something she had really wanted to do just to help me.  Several people appeared out of nowhere.  The temperature topped 100 degrees and everyone kept helping me load the U-Haul.  I kept thinking of this gospel – the multiplication of love.

The readings blend together.  From the Psalm the Lord feeds us.  From 2 Kings and John we have an abundance of what we need.  And from Ephesians we reach out to one another.

My prayer with this homily is that we all practice the multiplication of loaves and fishes as we reach out to one another in love and in a selfless understanding of the message of Jesus Christ because we really are all one!

— Roberta M. Meehan, D. Min.

Feeding The Hungry           Gerald Darring     (Also in his book To Love and Serve-Lectionary…) 

The prophet Elisha fed a hundred people with twenty barley loaves, and there were leftovers. Jesus fed about five thousand with five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, and there were leftovers. That is God’s desire for us: everyone should find food in abundance.

Today’s reality is different. Every three days more people die from malnutrition and disease than from the bombing of Hiroshima, and every year more people die from preventable hunger than died in the Holocaust, even though we grow enough grain in the world to provide every man, woman, and child with a satisfactory diet of 3000 calories.

The Second Reading from Ephesians tells us to “make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.” The problem with the world is its fragmentation; it lacks unity and peace.

The problem is not with God’s providence, for God has provided us with plenty enough food for everyone, and then some.

The problem is the divisions in the world that prevent food from getting to people or keep people away from the food.

God has given blessings to the world: if only we could learn to use those blessings for the benefit of all.

Since there are so many people in this world afflicted with hunger, this sacred Council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the saying of the Fathers: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him.”

Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
(1965) 69

Gerald Darring (liturgy.slu.edu)

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