July 25, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2015, Year B

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

 Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and
distributed them... John 6:11
(Click here for today’s readings)

How much food can you buy for $11,600.00? Maybe 1,365 small pepperoni pizzas. Not enough. Or about 2,900 hamburgers. Not enough. Or about 1,900 rotisserie chickens. Still not enough.

Not enough, according to the Apostle Philip, to feed the large crowd that was following Jesus. "Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little," he says. Assuming today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, times 8 hours a day, times 5 days a week, times 40 weeks, you get $11,600.00.  Not enough to feed this crowd.

This feeding of the multitude is one of the few events that is recorded in all four Gospels. In each case the text specifies five thousand men, and Matthew even notes that this number does not include women and children. The point in each Gospel is that what is on hand, the "supply" in economic terms, can’t possibly meet the need, or the "demand."

It’s no secret that we can easily feel this way in the face of the great tragedies that so often dominate the news, caused by the violence of nature or of persons. "What can I do?" we ask, powerlessly.

Is it enough to say, "Leave it all in the Lord’s hands"? Well, yes and no. Yes, "in the Lord’s hands" is the right place to leave all that troubles us. But no, that is not all we place in the Lord’s hands. What do I have that I can place in his hands, that he can then "multiply"? After all, Jesus started with the bread that was brought to him.

In some cases that means actually giving ourselves. In the late 1750’s a priest named Charles de l’Epée, on his way to visit a parishioner, said hello to two little girls. They did not respond. At first he thought they were being rude, but then discovered that they were deaf. In that moment, he knew he had to do something for them. He began to develop ways of teaching them and in 1760 he founded a free school for deaf children, whether poor or rich, and worked out a more sophisticated system of sign language than was already in use. He had two goals, equally important: first to teach them to communicate, by signs and later through writing; and second, to teach them about God and Jesus and their Catholic faith.

He had already put his entire life in God’s hands as a priest, but a chance encounter prompted him to respond in a specific way to a specific need and so allow the Lord to "feed" a new "multitude."

In other cases, perhaps most, what we place in God’s hands is not and cannot be so all-encompassing. Many people of faith volunteer time and talents and treasure, in what is usually called "stewardship," according to their freedom, ability and means.

What underlies all this is ultimately one thing. St. Paul spells it out: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

"Now wait just a minute!" you exclaim. "That’s not one thing. That’s seven things." Well, as I said above, yes and no. Yes, if you count them as distinct items on a list, they are seven. But no, if you focus on the unity of the Church that they describe.

I have found this "list" referred to as the "seven unities." A little like the Trinity, where God is one and God is three, so the many dimensions of our Christian life are fundamentally one reality.

It is this relationship with the one body-Spirit-hope-Lord-faith-baptism-God and Father that moves us to desire to respond to others’ needs. How we put that in the Lord’s hands will vary immensely, and so will the wonders, the "signs," as John calls them, that the Lord will accomplish with what we give him to work with. Most often we will never know how or what, but we may have absolute confidence that nothing placed in his hands is ever wasted.

Sometimes, all we can offer is prayer. It is good then to remember the words of the great poet Tennyson: "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."

Do what we can, small or great. Give what we can, little or much. Leave the rest in the Lord’s hands.

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