Homily 19th Sunday A 2014
A teenage boy had just got his driver’s license and inquired of his father as to when they could discuss his use of the car. His father said he’d make a deal with his son: ‘You bring your grades up, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we’ll talk about the car.‘
The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.
After about six weeks his father said, ‘Son, you’ve brought your grades up and I’ve observed that you have been studying your Bible, but I’m disappointed you haven’t gotten your hair cut.‘
The boy said, ‘You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair…and there’s even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair.’
To this his father replied, ‘Did you also notice they all walked everywhere they went?’
Well, Jesus even walked on the water in today’s gospel.
Experience teaches us that if we want to get something we need to do something about it. If we want a thing to happen, we need to make it happen.
This is applicable to our salvation too. But this does not mean that we can do something to earn our salvation. The gift of salvation is a free, undeserved gift from God for us. It is by the grace of God. What we need to do however, is to respond to this offer of salvation in faith, and to bear fruits – the fruits of salvation. The good news for us is that God offers us opportunities to realize this.
We therefore, need to meet God halfway in this, just as praying everyday to win the lottery doesn’t help much if we don’t go and buy the ticket. As St Augustine would say: “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” (Cf St. Augustine, Sermo 169,11,13:PL 38,923; and Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1847).
How to meet God halfway?
Our readings today offer us ways to realize this.
In the first reading, like the prophet Elijah, we need to stand up as a witness to the true God despite opposition, persecution or even imminent death. Elijah in the reading was running for his life because of his vocal opposition to the pagan god Baal and the prophets of Baal. We can learn then from the courage of Elijah. But we need not look only at a distant past here nor we are to look only at a distant figure. As of date, there have been many Christians who were martyred in the faith because they, like Elijah stood up for their Christian belief even in the face of death. I’m thinking of the many Christians in many parts of the world right here and now, in our day and age, persecuted and martyred for the faith they professed. So we are here today celebrating this faith in relative peace and quiet, while at this moment too there are Christians in the world celebrating their faith in hiding, anxiously, because they just don’t want or they can’t afford their faith to die in their homeland. (See: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/number-of-christian-martyrs-increased-sharply-in-2013)
The example of Elijah also teaches us to sort out our lives and examine ourselves to eradicate the other gods we may have put up alongside the true God.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in the Philippines, could help us in our reflection on this. This is part of the talk he gave during the 49th Eucharistic Congress in Canada in 2008.
The Cardinal said:
How many factory workers are being denied right wages for the god called ‘PROFIT?’
How many women are being sacrificed to the god called ‘DOMINATION?’
How many children are being sacrificed to the god called ‘LUST?
How many trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god called ‘PROGRESS?’
How many poor people are being sacrificed to the god called ‘GREED?’
And defenseless people sacrificed to the god of ‘NATIONAL SECURITY?’
In the Second Reading, like Paul, we need to keep up with our faith and never despair despite the ups and downs in our lives, despite the challenges in faith we are to face. At the same time, we are to do our best to help others realize and recognize the love of God for us and for God’s plan of salvation for us. This is a call to witness, to spread the gospel. Yes, spreading the gospel is a tough call because it requires commitment and dedication. Furthermore, in answering this call to evangelization does not guarantee us of immediate fruits of our labour. Yet, we need to realize in there that we can only sow the seeds of faith. God is the one who can make it grow. And He doesn’t work in time. He works in eternity, and according to Mr Bean, ‘It’s a heck of a long time.’
In the gospel today, Peter exemplifies for us a way to meet God halfway. He calls on to the Lord, “Lord, save me” then he stretches out his hand to hang on to Jesus. This is a call to trust in God not only when we are in difficult situation but at all times. This is a call to have God our priority. It is very important because God is not only the source of life, he is life himself. Apart from him, Jesus said in the gospel of St John, we ‘can do nothing.’ (Jn 15:5).
C.S. Lewis makes a beautiful analogy to show how important God is for us.
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
So for us to be assured of eternal happiness, we need to do something. Like that teenage boy in the story above, we need to do our part, and listen to what Christ tells us to do, so that we will get what really is reserved for us for all eternity.
Let us hang on to our faith and in God. The beauty of keeping up the faith and recognizing the presence and the works of God in our experiences is that we find more meaning in our lives and in what we do. This is so true and I’d like to share with you what I found posted on my Facebook wall the other day. It’s a clever way of putting it but it speaks truly of how turn things around. It says: Only God can turn a Mess into a message, Test into a testimony, Trials into triumph and Victim into Victory.
Questions to reflect on today:
Is God still the one behind the wheel in our car of life?
Or are we like those people who don’t even stop to give God a ride?
Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014
A preacher went into the pulpit one Sunday morning wearing a pair of new glasses.
The reading portion of the glasses improved his vision considerably, but the top portion of the glasses didn’t work so well. In fact he was experiencing dizziness every time he looked through them.
He explained to the congregation that the new glasses were causing problems.
“I hope you will excuse my continually removing my glasses,” he said.
“You see when I look down I can see fine, but when I look at you, it makes me sick.”
Of course the preacher didn’t mean the congregation making him sick but the new glasses. I hope the parishioners came back to the same Church the following Sunday.
However, it is so true that there are indeed times, situations and even people we may have encountered that made us ‘feel sick’. I don’t know how you call it but I call this experience ‘a sickening experience.’ When I experience like this, my inclination would be to get out of it as fast as I can or get it over with at once, or get away from it immediately.
In a manner of saying, Jesus in the gospel could have been ‘feeling sick’ of the crowd of people gathering around him, wanting to touch him, to have a glimpse of him, to get a bit of him, or expecting him to do something for them, like healing from their illness, etc. Furthermore, Jesus had just learned of the sickening news of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist by Herod. So we heard Jesus proposing to his disciples that they ‘withdrew to a lonely place’, for a sort of a ‘recollection’. He might have wanted to discuss with his disciples the repercussions of following him in a more personal and real way and the consequence of standing up for the truth. In a way, Jesus needs to have a rest too.
But as the gospel tells us today, the people followed them. In fact, they arrived ahead of Jesus and his disciples to the venue of their recollection. If I were Jesus, I would have told these people off: ‘Come on, give me a break! It’s my day off.’
But no, he couldn’t do that to the people. Rather he entertained them, he taught them, and healed their sick. In other words, he faced the ‘sickening’ situation by using his powers and capabilities to transform it into a life-giving experience and a soul-enriching moment.
But healing wasn’t the only miracle that Jesus did in this particular gospel narrative. He also miraculously broke the five loaves and two fish and fed them to thousands of people, leaving even a dozen baskets of leftover. He did the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Matthew is not the only one who recorded this miracle of Jesus. Mark, Luke and John also recorded this. By doing this, Jesus is showing to the people that ‘the hand of the Lord’ indeed, ‘feeds us [and] he answers all our needs’ (cf Ps 144: 8-9; 15-18) as we have declared with the psalmist today.
Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves because he took pity on the people. Yet, the miracle occurred not only because Jesus wanted to feed the hungry crowd but because of three important things that happened.
First, Jesus cares for us so much that He put OUR needs first before HIS own. He needs some quiet times and rest, and perhaps he would just want to grieve over the death of his cousin John the Baptist. He could have all the reasons not to be bothered by the crowd. But, no He looked at them not as people making him sick but people who are in great need of God, who are in great need of healing, and who are in great need of care and nourishment. Such is his way of caring for us. Such is Christ’s way of loving us- the kind of love that St Paul tells us in our Second Reading today, that breaks any barrier, topples and overcomes anything that ‘comes between us and the love of Christ.’ (Cf Rom 8:35,37-39)
If such is the way God loves us then we ought to be as loving as he is. We can learn from Jesus’ compassionate attitude and genuine concern for the people around him. If we do this, there would be no place for being critical and cynical towards other people, there would be no place for gossiping, there would be no place for looking down at anybody. We can only look down at anybody if we are helping that person get up. As Jesus exemplified to us, we need to look at everyone as someone who is worth-saving and even worth dying for.
Second, His disciples listened to him and obeyed his words.
The disciples listened to Jesus’ command to ‘give [the people] something to eat [them]selves’ and they acted on it. They have utilized the little they could offer and gave it to Jesus. This is a reminder for us too- that in Christian discipleship, we can’t just leave it all to Jesus to do whatever needs to be done. We also need to do something. In asking his disciples to give something to the people, Jesus has awakened in them the fact that each one of us really has something to offer no matter how small, no matter how insignificant.
What can we offer then?
We can give and share our time, our talent, and our treasure. Some of us might say, ‘I don’t know what to do, I am old, living alone, could hardly move about. I’m just sitting all day, I can’t do so much.’ Well, you can. Spend your time praying for the world, praying for the people you care for, praying for the people who suffer, and offer some sort of sacrifices. Like St Therese of the Child Jesus, the contemplative nun who spent her life inside a cloistered Carmelite Monastery until she died at the age of 24, you can be a great missionary- a missionary of prayers. God knows we can only do so much. But it’s not an excuse for us not to do anything. Living our lives with little we have is better still than not living at all. Witnessing for Christ despite oppositions, hardships, and seemingly fruitless endeavour is much better than not witnessing at all.
Third, because of the little boy who gave up his few loaves and fish by giving it to Jesus and by sharing it to others.
I could only imagine him peeping through crowd as they gathered around Jesus, then one of the disciples came to him and said: ‘The master needs your lunch mate’. He could have protested or he could have said: ‘Okey, but it would be $10 dollars each.’ He could have made an easy money out of that. But we didn’t hear a thing of that sort. In fact, the unnamed boy gave it all to Jesus.
And this is one reason why I loved this gospel.
This shows us that no matter how small we are, how insignificant we think we might be, we can do something great or be a witness to a wonderful thing- if we give even just the little that we have to Jesus- to our God.
Another thing about this gospel is that, in God, we don’t have to be someone popular, someone rich, someone who is on top of the social ladder. God can do something in and through us regardless of who we are, where we are, and how little we have to offer. God can multiply the little that we have to benefit for the many, if we selflessly, lovingly and generously share it to others rather than keeping it for our own. We may complain that we have given so much already. Well, God expects us to do more and to give more, otherwise, he would have stopped giving us so much too.
So on this 18th Sunday in Ordinary time, let us remind ourselves: We might be feeling sick towards other people or situations around us, God in Christ offered us a better way to look at it and to approach it. Like him, we need to look at one another through the eyes of faith and with the eyes of love. Like the disciples we need to listen to Jesus and do ‘whatever he tells us to do’. And like the little boy unnamed boy (we can call him ‘fishy lad’ here), we need to be generous in giving to Jesus and to others, despite the little that we have. And I can assure you, if we do this we would be amazed of the return, the leftover, the miracle that would happen right before our eyes.