A Reflection for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Give them something to eat yourselves (Mt 14:16). Running through today’s readings is the theme of divine providence for the needy through the instrumentality of His people. In the 1st reading, when the prophet Elisha received an offering of foodstuffs in accordance with the Law, he ordered his servant to give the offering to the local people of God to eat. He prophesied that, after feeding the crowd even with that tiny amount of food, there would be leftovers… and indeed there were, which was miraculous. In the Gospel, Jesus effected the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 with a little boy’s offering of five loaves and two bits of fish.
One message we can take from these miraculous feedings is the importance of making offerings, especially to those who are hungry. There are several senses in which we experience hunger, aren’t there? The Lord asks us to give ourselves and our resources generously to Him, and to place ourselves and our material possessions (all of which are gifts from Him to us in the first place) at His disposal. When we offer ourselves and our time and our stuff to the Lord for His use, we open ourselves up to being used effectively by Him to accomplish His work of bringing about healing and wholeness (Eph 1:10).
The word of God today reminds us that, in more than one sense, we must become involved in a collaborative ministry to feed the hungry. St John makes clear Jesus’s intention to make provision for the physically and spiritually hungry people present. The test question He puts to Philip How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat? (v.5) carries the meaning at face value of ‘bread’. When St John adds that He Himself knew what he would do (v.6), we see that that He really means ‘Bread’ – the Eucharistic offering of Himself as food. Jesus showed us that we are together with Him in the mission of feeding the hungry of the world in terms of both physical and spiritual nourishment. It is only the provision of and by Jesus that satisfies people’s hunger.
There is enough to go around. When we don’t trust in God’s grace to shower us with unmerited gifts out His love for us (Eph 2:8), we become selfish and self-centred. The inclination to selfishness is in us all. The more we have, the more we want. There is more than enough food in the world to meet everyone’s needs, but never enough to cater for people’s greed. God’s word calls us to demonstrate the same generosity of spirit as the man who made offerings of first-fruits to Elisha, and the boy who offered up his packed lunch.
Sometimes, like Elisha’s servant and Philip, we are concerned about the adequacy of resources. Will there be enough to meet demand? No matter what the circumstances, we have to have confidence that God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19), and so move on to look beyond ourselves and be considerate of other people’s needs. As St. Paul put it, in the 2nd reading, Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience (v.2).
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat (Mt 25:35). The physically hungry multitude is still with us, crying out for the basic necessities of life. The sheer size of the problem may make us wonder what on earth we as individuals can offer to make a difference. Like the apostle Andrew, we comment what is that among so many? (v.9). Well, we can draw inspiration from the generosity of the boy who was ready to give what little he had. We can draw inspiration from the man from Baal-shalishah who made a formal food offering to Elisha. We can draw inspiration from Elisha whose focus was on distributing that food to the hungry. Like the disciples, we can look to Jesus for guidance on how to make arrangements to feed the hungry around us.
God takes and uses our personal offerings to work His miracles, and He requires us to make offerings to feed the hungry. Our “barley loaves and pieces of fish” (the food of the poor) comprise the small amount we as the Christian family offer during Lent and throughout the year for the hungry around us, both in our own country and in the Third World. We may well consider our personal contributions as minuscule, negligible in the context of the problem; but when they are accompanied by similar offerings from our brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide, they effect a miracle where it is so desperately needed. There is love in giving, and it is our Christian vocation to love (Jn 15:12f). The same is true when we offer the truths of the Faith to others, because there are people starving to spiritual death out there.
Finally, may I urge you to grasp every opportunity to follow Jesus’ example, both in giving bread to the hungry and in giving thanks to God for the blessings we receive from Him. The word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving’, and the Holy Eucharist – the holiest possible offering – is itself ‘an act of thanksgiving to God’ (CCC 1329). Both the Feeding of the 5000 and the Holy Eucharist point to the Lord Jesus as the True Bread. Give thanks to God today for His blessings upon you, and take care to make offerings to the hungry, so that they in turn will give thanks to God for what they receive through you. Amen. God bless you.