17th Sunday (B)

The multiplication of the loaves and feeding five thousand is a familiar miracle story to all of us. The Gospel speaks about how Jesus responds to the human needs of the people, who were listening to him. A deeper look into the miracle story gives us very powerful insights. Once physical hungers are satisfied, then we are challenged to satisfy the deeper hungers, for love, mercy, forgiveness, companionship, peace and fulfillment. First of all it is Jesus, who takes the initiative and asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” The spontaneous reactions of the disciples are quite natural as they see it is impossible, because of the scarcity of food in the area and the finance involved in procuring it.

We have to take into account the roles of different people in this miracle.  We see Andrew the brother of Peter takes a more proactive step. He says to Jesus: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” It could also be in tune with the miracle of changing the water into wine witnessed by the disciples. The generosity of the boy is to be admired, because this young lad was willing to share the food he carried for himself. On the part of Christ, there are four steps: acceptance, blessing, breaking and distribution. Our generosity in giving selflessly is always been blessed, multiplied and fructified. The more we give the more we will receive. Luke’s Gospel 6,38 says: Give to others and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into our lap. That is the generosity of God.

St. Augustine reflects on this miracle that is meant to lead the human mind through visible things to the perception of the divine: “Christ did what God does. Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplies the five loaves in his hands – for there is power in the hands of Christ. Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth, but because they were multiplied, by the one who made the earth. This miracle was presented to our senses to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of his works which we do see.”

“You give them something to eat.” The Gospel story teaches that Jesus meets the most basic human need of hunger, with generosity and compassion.  Today’s readings also tell us that God really cares about His people and that there is enough and more than enough for everybody.  Studies show that the world today produces enough food grains to provide every human being on the planet with 3,600 calories a day, not counting such foods as tuber crops, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, meats, and fish.  Over the past twenty-five years, food production has exceeded world population growth by about 16%. This means that there is no good reason for any human being in today’s world to go hungry.  But even in a rich country like U.S.A., one child out of five grows up in poverty, three million people are homeless and 4000 unborn babies are aborted every day.  “The problem in feeding the world’s hungry population, lies with our political lack of will, our economic system biased in favor of the affluent, our militarism, and our tendency to blame the victims of social tragedies such as famine.  We all share responsibility for the fact that populations are undernourished.  Therefore, it is necessary to arouse a sense of responsibility in individuals, especially among those more blessed with this world’s goods.” (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961) 157-58).

We need to commit ourselves to share with others, and to work with God in communicating His compassion.  It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame governments, too easy see these things as other people’s problems.  They are also our problems.  That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today.  In other words, as Christians we need to commit ourselves to share what we have with others, and to work with God in communicating his compassion to all.   God is a caring Father and He wants our co-operation to be part of His caring for all of us, His children.  That’s what the early Christians did, generously sharing what they had with the needy.  They were convinced that everything they needed to experience a fulfilling life was already there, in the gifts and talents of the people around them.  People of our time need to be encouraged to share, even when they think they have nothing to offer.  Whatever we offer through Jesus will have a life-giving effect in those who receive it.  We are shown two attitudes in the Gospel story: that of Philip and that of Andrew (John 6:7-9). Philip said, in effect:  “The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.”  But Andrew’s attitude was: “I’ll see what I can do; and I will trust Jesus to do the rest.”  Let us have Andrew’s attitude.

God blesses those who share their talents, with loving commitment.  This is illustrated by St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), who went to serve the slum dwellers of Calcutta with just twenty cents in her pocket.  When she died forty-nine years later, God had turned those original twenty cents into eighty schools, three hundred mobile dispensaries, seventy leprosy clinics, thirty homes for the dying, thirty homes for abandoned children and forty thousand volunteers from all over the world to help her.  Let us offer ourselves and whatever we have to God saying, “Here is what I am and what I have Lord; use me; use it.”  And He will bless us and bless our offering, amplifying it beyond our expectations.  When we give what we have to God, and we ask Him to bless it, it is then the miracle happens.  We, too, can perform wonders in our own time and place, by practicing the four “Eucharistic verbs” of Jesus:  Take humbly and generously what God gives us, bless it by offering it to others in God’s love, break it off from our own needs and interests for the sake of others, give it away with joy-filled gratitude to God who has blessed us with so much. We are called by Christ to become the Eucharist we receive at this altar: giving thanks for what we have received by sharing those gifts — our talents, our riches, ourselves – to work our own miracles of creating communities of joyful faith