"Give Them Some Food Yourselves"
Sunday Homily for August 3, 2008
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (18A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
In just a few days, school starts. We think back over summer vacation. Summer, a time for picnics at the park. Grilled hamburgers or barbeque chicken. Potato chips or potato salad, baked beans, deviled eggs, and lots of sodas. A day of fun, with food aplenty. The ice chest still packed with food to carry home.
If we have an abundance to eat, a family we read about at Christmas barely had enough to eat. Bob Cratchit and his family, in The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.1 Their Christmas dinner, a small goose, the cheap meat eaten by the poor. Mashed potatoes and gravy, with some applesauce, made up their meal. A pudding, ablaze with burning brandy, for dessert. ". . . nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family."
The Bob Cratchit family called their Christmas dinner a feast, we’d call it a scrimpy meal.
A Sense of Scarcity
It’s a matter of perspective. Do we have enough, or do we barely get by? Do we operate out of a sense of scarcity or a sense of abundance?
In our Gospel, the disciples talk of scarcity, of not having enough food. The disciples had done the math. Five thousand in the crowd, plus women, plus children. And, no grocery store, no fast food restaurant in sight. Not even someone selling hot dogs. No one peddling cokes. Altogether the disciples have five loaves of bread and two fish. And, that’s it. A sense of scarcity. They tell Jesus, "Dismiss the crowds." Send them away, tell the people to "go to the villages and buy food for themselves."
When we operate out of a sense of scarcity, we never have enough. Imelda Marcos, the wife of the former President of the Philippines, had 1500 pairs of shoes. She had a special "shoe room" to keep her shoes. And, she kept buying shoes. With a sense of scarcity, Mrs. Marcos always needed another pair of shoes.
Kind of reminds us of King Midas. Hardly a poor man, the king wanted to be the richest man in the world. One day the god Dionysus promised to grant King Midas one wish. For his wish, the king asked that everything he touched turn to gold. And, it happened. The King snapped a branch from a tree and immediately the branch turns to gold. He broke off a piece of bread, and the bread turns to gold dust. His riches never enough, King Midas operated out of a sense of scarcity. Until, all he touched turned to gold, even his food.
More to our experience, we operate out of a sense of scarcity with our cell phones. Anywhere we are, at any time, we want to be connected. A scarcity of not being connected as much as we want. The plane lands, and the passengers crowd into the aisle. Standing, waiting to disembark, the cell phone comes out, an urgent call to make. After all, have not been connected by the phone for the whole flight. Or, suppose we call an office and are told the person is "out." Our automatic response, "Connect me to his cell phone." A sense of scarcity. We feel deprived when our cell phone display tells us, "No Service."
Its’ all a matter of perspective. When we shift from a shoe rack to having a shoe room, we’ll never have enough shoes. Midas would never be rich enough. Now with cell phones, we must be able to call from anywhere at anytime. With a sense of scarcity, no matter what we have, it will never be enough.
A Feast From God's Bounty
Christ has a different thought. Jesus knew, God the Father showers us with abundance. He took the loaves and fish, bless them, and everyone ate their fill. And, no light snack. A full, satisfying meal. With twelve baskets of food left over. Christ operates with a sense of abundance.
God takes care of us. Especially, when it comes to something to eat. Time and again the Bible tells us about God providing food for his chosen people. Bounty flows to God’s people.
Remember when Moses led the people out of Egypt. The Israelites got stuck in the desert. No food. Then God saves the day. Manna, bread from heaven, wafers with the taste of honey, all over the desert floor (Exodus 16:16,31). The starving travelers have a feast. Just like God promised.
The 23rd Psalm (23:1,5) reads: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He spreads a table before me." God promises a banquet. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells the people of Judah: "Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare." "Drink wine and milk." A plentiful meal from God. Proverbs (9:1-5) tells us that Lady Wisdom has prepared the dinner table. She invites us to eat the bread and drink the wine God sits before us (Proverbs 9:1-5).
God even told those who keep his commandments not to store up food. Yahweh spoke to Moses (Leviticus 26:10), told the Hebrew people to eat their fill of last year’s harvest, because there would still be so much left they would have to throw out the old to make room for the new.
Abundance comes from God. The Father in Heaven showers us with more than plenty. God’s a good provider. So says the Bible.
YOU Give Them Something To Eat
But, there's a catch. Jesus says to the disciples: "Give them something to eat yourselves." Key words our Lord speaks. You, you give these people food to eat. Christ is telling us we have to do our part. To spread his bounty, God wants our help. God gives us an abundance, we are to distribute these gifts to the people of God.
Let's talk about how we here at St. Francis of Assisi give people food to eat. We can start with our Youth Group, serving a meal to the senior citizens of our parish. Our junior and senior high school students cooked a meal in our parish center, then delivered it to the individual homes. Another time, the Youth Group invited the seniors of our parish to lunch after Mass on Sunday. Our young people set up the tables, prepared salads, cooked the lasagna. All served with a smile, with ice cream for dessert. The younger giving food to the more elderly of our parish.
Another example. After September 11, rescue workers enjoyed free gourmet meals. Doing a grueling task, with exhausting twelve hour shifts, under nightmarish conditions, the rescue workers sat down to the best food in fancy, upscale restaurants. The restaurants in and around New York’s financial district provided these gourmet meals. A way of saying "thanks," a sharing of the bounty provided by God.
Shifting our focus to another activity of our parish, our St. Vincent de Paul Society feeds as many as one hundred eighty families some weeks. The food comes from your gifts. A can of this, a box of that. Each week, you donate a couple of grocery carts of food. That, plus the donations you give as St. Vincent de Paul volunteers stand outside church asking for money. The coins and dollar bills you put into their big cereal boxes buys each week nearly a ton of food from Second Harvest. Our parish sharing God's gifts, heart to heart.
We have so many stories of faith-filled people helping God spread his bounty. Our Lord says: You, you give them something to eat. Christ is telling us to bring his love to others. We here at St. Francis of Assisi Church do as Christ tells us.
Jesus blesses the loaves and fish to feed the crowd. When everyone had eaten "they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full." God is generous, God gives a superabundance. "Infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).
As God gives to us, we are to give to others. As we are fed, so we are to feed. Let us never be stingy.