Homily for the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year A

posted 3 Aug 2020, 13:05 by Parish Priest
The Feeding of the Five Thousand – there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. When you were at primary school, you might have been taught that Jesus worked a miracle, and multiplied the five loaves and two fish in order to feed the multitude. The miracle showed God’s love, concern, providence and generosity. But then when you reached secondary school, you might then have been told that the Feeding of the Five Thousand links with the Eucharist. If you look closely, you will see that the Gospel uses Eucharistic language: “he took the five loaves … said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds”. “Took”, “blessed”, “broke” and “gave” are words we hear each time at Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer. Jesus fed the five thousand plus, and now He feeds many more with His Body and Blood at Mass.

But there’s even more. The Feeding of the Five Thousand shows us Christ’s concern for those in need, and the Eucharist commits us too to those in need. If we recognise Christ in the Eucharist, we also then have to recognise Him in the poor. St John Chrysostom had some rather fiery words for those that don’t. This is what he said:

“You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother … You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal … God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.” (Hom. In 1 Cor. 27, 5:PG 61, 230-231; quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 1397).

We can look back over two thousand years of Church history and see that care for the poor has always been part of what the Church is all about. There is, of course, the saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life”. Help for the poor has to be both sorting out the immediate problems now and also building something sustainable for the future. Giving in charity does not mean that we believe that everyone should live off benefits and never do a day’s work. St Paul, too, had some rather strong words to say about this in 2 Thessalonians (3:10b – 12):

“We gave you a rule when we were with you: not to let anyone have any food if he refused to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.”

There are people for whom work is difficult, and allowances to have to be made, but worklessness is not a virtue. One Christian response to this is the L’Arche Community. People with learning disabilities live in family groups with other more able-bodied people, and they are supervised in doing some sort of meaningful work during the week, whether it’s making candles, or growing plants and vegetables to be sold at the L’Arche shop. Then, just like anyone else, they are paid for their work and so they have a sense of achievement, rather than being treated as different and isolated from everyone else.

Lastly, if the Eucharist commits us to the poor, we also need to remember that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3, quoted by Christ in Matt 4:4). If the Eucharist commits us to relieve people’s material poverty, it also commits us to relieve their spiritual poverty. We are not just flesh and blood – we also have a soul. So many problems exist today because of a neglect of the spiritual and because people only have a very superficial and distorted understanding of the Gospel, so they refuse to follow it. Sometimes we need to be a bit more outspoken about our faith, or even the fact that we are actually Catholics, and that our faith is the reason why we are the way we are – we are not just naturally good and kinder than some of the other people you meet. God has given us a plan to follow and changes our hearts through the sacraments. Just as Windows downloads updates every so often, the sacraments give us “updates” from God to help us live in a changing world. Some people are trying to run their lives using Windows 3.1, or even DOS – their sacramental life hasn’t been upgraded for years, and their floppy drives are beginning to go kaput. We need to offer our help to these people in a tactful way, whether they are lapsed Catholics or non-Catholics. St John Paul II said that we propose our faith, rather than impose it. As I said, tactfulness is what we need, and we don’t always get it right, but it’s good that we at least try, somehow.

So to wrap up, the Eucharist commits us to be concerned for others, both in their material, and in their spiritual, poverty. As Christ said to the disciples: “give them something to eat yourselves” (Matt 14:16).