Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018 at Parish of Baulkham Hills
29 July 2018
We live in a world where there is a growing sense of fear that there is not enough to go around, not enough food, resources, jobs, space et cetera. This fear, coupled with the suspicion of those who are considered outsiders creates antagonism and polarisation in our society. We do not have to look far and wide for evidence of this.
In fact, with the crucial by-elections this weekend, the narrative of scarcity and insecurity filled the airwaves and media outlets. History seems to repeat itself again when certain groups of new comers are singled out as being a threat to our social cohesion. Thus, the anxiety of not having enough inevitably leads to inhospitality and exclusion.
The Bible is not unfamiliar with the narrative of scarcity and insecurity as powerful ingredients against God’s vision of shared humanity. Right from the first chapters of Genesis, God is presented as one who sets in motion a world of abundance and sustains it through his generosity and fidelity. Throughout the course of human history, God calls us away from self-centred and survival-oriented behaviour into a communion of love that mirrors his very divine nature. The journey of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s land of scarcity into God’s land of abundance is symbolic of every believer’s journey. It is a journey that requires us to move away from fear and self-centredness, and instead to act with the generosity and fidelity of God.
The Biblical lesson today is situated in this context. In the first reading, we hear a short but wonderful story of sharing and generosity. Elisha was at the drought-stricken land when he was given twenty barley loaves by an unknown farmer. The prophet in turn decided to grow this act of generosity. He did not keep the loaves to himself. Instead, he commanded his servant to give them to the men who had had little to eat because of the drought. Seeing that there might not be enough to go around, the servant was not too enthusiastic. “How can I serve this (much) to a hundred men?” He was governed by fear and perhaps also by self-centeredness. But Elisha showed the alternative pathway which was based on trust in God’s abundance. Just like the story of the widow giving her all to the prophet Elijah, we see a common thread which is the sharing of God’s gift of abundance.
The point of the story is not about the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Rather it is about the courage to act out of generosity instead of self-survival and self-interest. Indeed, we show the best of our nature by sharing God’s gift of abundance.
The Gospel tells us a similar story. Jesus and his disciples are met with a predicament: a large hungry crowd and very little food. The disciples react with a sense of fear and fatalistic resignation. One says, “Two hundred days wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit”. He must be an accountant. He assesses everything in dollar terms. Another says, “There are only five barley loaves and two fish. What good are these for so many?” He might have worried that someone would get injured if a fight for food broke out. He must be an insurance broker who always gives you the worst scenario.
But Jesus refused to do nothing. He asked his disciples to confront the need, to act with courage and to do all they could in their power to help others. He told them to start doing the possible rather than fearing the impossible. It was by concrete practical actions of solidarity and sharing that they would be able to change a harsh reality into a celebration of hope. It is instructive that Jesus transforms the five loaves and two fish belonging to a little boy. This is consistent with the way the grace of God is often manifested: not through the privileged, affluent and secure but through the insignificant and vulnerable, like the poor widow in Elijah’s story or the unknown farmer in Elisha’s. They are the ones who are often more open to the operations of grace.
Brothers and sisters,
It is no accident that Jesus used the Eucharistic formula in transforming the scarcity of the loaves and fishes into God’s meal of abundance for all. As the crowd sat down, he took the loaves, said the blessing and gave them to the people. It is also no accident that this took place shortly before the Jewish Feast of Passover. This meal was to prefigure the ultimate act of God’s self-giving on the cross. It was to foreshadow the divine hospitality and abundance of the Kingdom. Those who partake of God’s meal cannot remain indifferent to any mismatch between divine abundance and human need. They must feed the hungry people with God’s gift of abundance. Their loaves and fishes of scarcity when shared with trust and generosity will be transformed.
Let us pray as we share in this Sunday Eucharist that we may live out the divine hospitality and abundance of the Kingdom. Paul reminds us of our being immersed into God’s limitless love through baptism and of our duty to witness to that love. May we be faithful to that duty and live this trying time in silent hope, in vulnerable trust and in humble self-emptying. May we show the alternative pathway of hope through shared humanity against fear and self-centredness.