August 5, 2014

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


Note from Fr.Butler: As you may have noticed, the homily I sent to Big C Catholics for this past weekend was the wrong one (from last year, actually). With due apologies, I now submit the homily I in fact preached on August 3.

(Click here for today’s readings)

Isaiah was surely an honest prophet, but he doesn’t seem to have grasped the economic principle of an honest profit. “You who have no money,” he says, “come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”

Imagine if you owned a restaurant in town, and someone set up a local charity serving the same menu, or maybe even better, and offering it free of charge to one and all. At the very least, you would object that the charity was making a mess of the local economy.

Jesus wasn’t helping the local economy either. Surely local farmers and vendors were counting on a banner day when they saw the huge crowds gathered in the area. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel there is an account of Jesus’ casting out demons from two possessed persons into a large herd of swine. The entire herd ran down into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. When the locals arrived on the scene, they begged him to leave the area. He was not an asset to the local economy.

Pope Francis is immensely popular, but not all economists agree with his description of modern economy as “an economy of exclusion” and “idolatry of money” which lead to inequality and violence. Some months ago, when I walked into our church, I found Pope Francis’s picture covered over with a bulletin. I have no idea who did this, or why; but I speculate that it had something to do with the Pope’s persistent advocacy on behalf of the poor, which may have irritated someone who perhaps equates the poor with people living off entitlement programs. Be that as it may, Church teaching in such matters is rarely greeted with enthusiasm.

Now St. Paul tells us that not even famine can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But this doesn’t mean we can live on love. It’s true that we don’t live on bread alone, but we don’t live on love alone either.

It’s interesting that when the disciples suggested to Jesus to send the crowds away to get something to eat, he didn’t say, “Not to worry. I’ll take care of it.” Quite to the contrary. He said, “Give them some food yourselves.” In other words, You do it! It was only after they acknowledged their inability to do so with just five loaves and two fish that he said, “Bring them here to me.” After he blessed the food, then the disciples were in a position, after all, to feed the multitude.

Jesus didn’t have to do this. The crowds, at least in this account, are not fainting away and would presumably have been able to find food as the disciples suggested. Like so many of Jesus’ miracles, this was a sign.

To understand the sign, we need to return to the beginning of this scene in today’s Gospel. Jesus wanted to get away by boat to “a desert place,” but the crowd got there first, and when he saw them, “his heart was moved with pity for them.”

He then healed their sick. This is what his heart prompted him to do. And when evening came he fed them all. This was a symbol, a sign of the mission of the Messiah. In a very real way he was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, a prophecy which was also symbolic, as we can see from the words, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”

When we look at the world around us, there is so much suffering. We ask Jesus to do something about it. He responds, “Why don’t you take care of it?”

We respond in turn, “We don’t have nearly enough.” He says, “Bring me what you have,” and then he blesses it.

What happens next is up to us. A few of us may actually be able to do something in the “big picture,” on the “world stage.” Most of us will only be able to work behind the scenes.

What will ultimately matter is that, like Jesus, we allow our heart to be moved with pity—Pope Francis notes how difficult that can be—and then allow that heart to guide us.

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