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.