Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Even a cursory look at the three readings today, including the response after the first reading, the entrance and communion antiphons, would show that all speak about divine caring and solicitude. The liturgy opens with an earthly plea: God, come to my help. Lord, quickly give me assistance. You are the one who helps me and sets me free; Lord, do not be long in coming. The collect (opening prayer) addresses God as “Father of everlasting goodness.” The alternative opening prayer acknowledges that “gifts without measure flow from [His] goodness.” The two communion antiphons speak about “bread from heaven… a sweet tasting bread that was very good to eat,” and about Jesus’ claim: “I am the bread of life.” The prayer after communion sums it all up and thanks God for the biggest gift of all: the Eucharist.

This is one of those Sundays (in my 25 years as a priest) that every reading and every line seems to fit in one common mould.

Food, glorious food! This is today’s liturgy's common mould. Food is what we ask God for – or more properly, food security. Food is what God offers, and more … Gratuitously so ... It is so precious, so important to sustain our earthly human life, so valued and so much appreciated by all. In times of plenty, it is considered so valuable that the automatic response of man is to celebrate by putting up a lavish feast. It is almost held sacred that in the Mosaic Law, first fruits had to be offered to the Lord and a feast day set aside for the first harvests.

Food figures very prominently in man’s conscious and unconscious thoughts, held so dearly by humans that even the Bible uses the image of a banquet with good food as the representation of God’s gift of wisdom, as in today’s first reading. “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! All you who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”

What the first reading from Isaiah portrays, which really speaks symbolically about the Messianic banquet (the fullness of salvation in God through Christ), happens concretely in the Gospel passage of today. The responsorial psalm declares in earthly terms this incontrovertible truth about God: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”

There is no mistaking what this is all about. It is all about God’s solicitude and care for us, His people. God provides. And from His gifts, there is enough for all.

Or is there? Let us sidetrack for a while and take stock of what is also true here and now…How about the fact that there is so much food all over the world, but so little for those who really need it? If you go by the endless shelves and piles of food seen in our mushrooming malls and sprouting supermarkets all over the country (more so in the first world), there seems to be no reason to worry. There is a lot of food to go around. So much stuff to choose from, so many varieties, all vying for the consumer’s attention! Sometimes it seems the real problem is not so much the lack of food, as the increasing difficulty shoppers have in making definitive choices.

But we all know this is just one side of the picture. Given the fact that in the Philippines, only 5 % belong to the so-called A & B crowds, the richest segment of Philippine society, and the remaining 95 % distributed in the C,D, & E brackets (with the overwhelming majority in the two lowest classes), the artificial picture of plenty immediately collapses. Let us look at some hard data culled from international sources:

• 1 out of 5 goes to bed hungry every night
• Christopher News Notes says 841 million people are chronically undernourished
• 1.2 billion do not have access to safe drinking water
• 12 million people die each year from diarrhea, malnutrition and other related causes

Do these hard data negate in any way what the liturgy today proclaims so confidently? Are we then to think that what we heard in today’s readings are all forms of wishful thinking? Does the hand of the Lord, indeed, feed us and answer all our needs?

Today, I would like to ask you: hold on to the good news! No, the above data do not negate this good news in any way. And yes, the Lord continues to be the provident God that Scriptures consistently talk about. For the Good News does not end only with Christ seeing to it that the hungry multitude gets enough to eat. The Gospel passage of today does not picture Christ saying to the disciples and crowds alike: “Leave it to me! I’ll take care of everything.” He did not say, “I’ll feed them myself.” That would be the height of misguided paternalism. And yet, true to his nature as a loving and caring God, Jesus balks at the slightest suggestion from the disciples to send the crowds home hungry. “No, there is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” GIVE THEM SOME FOOD YOURSELVES! This is the good news that we must take to heart today. God, being God has the power to do what He wills. But He expects us to pitch in our share. He expects our cooperation. The good that is within His power to do anytime, He decided to do through human cooperation, through the instrumentality of creatures – other human beings who are now expected to incarnate or make real in their persons what God is like. Yes, God remains – and will always be loving and caring God. As God, He cannot not be such. But in His wisdom, He decreed that we all should mediate this same solicitude and caring by means of the earthly finite powers of our personhood.

Jesus told his disciples, “Give them some food yourselves.” In effect, Jesus was asking his disciples to be concrete signs and bearers of God’s love and solicitude for the crowds. He was asking them to be his extension, his lunga manus, and he expected their wholehearted cooperation. And cooperate, they did! The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves took place, precisely on account of this free human cooperation. It does not matter anymore how much one has got, how much worth is what he can offer in material terms. “Five loaves and two fish are all we’ve got here.” Not much, assuredly, but enough to make a miracle with. What was needed was generosity. What the Lord was looking for was someone who would be willing to offer what little he has got for the sake of the kingdom. All he needed to do a miracle was the total cooperation of whoever it was who offered those measly five loaves and two fish, plus a lot of enthusiastic obedience and loving cooperation from the disciples who, from then on, learned what it meant to “wait on tables” and “serve” others, offering their strength and capabilities to do an on-the-spot catering with the Master, minus the expectation of any form of material ROI (return of investment).

Give them some food yourselves… Surely, there is something we all can do to help alleviate hunger and suffering in the world. At the very least, we who may have more should not go on with our wasteful ways. Surely, all of us can offer at least our time, our talent, if not our treasure in proactive activities that foster social justice and equitable distribution of wealth in the world. Nobody is so poor as not to have anything to offer to the Lord. And nobody is so rich as not to be needy of anything at all. We all could use a little more love and caring for each other. We all could strive a little more to become what we expect God to be for us, each in his own unique way. If all of us just did our little part, what a different world this would be! A beautiful – if, a little abstruse sounding poem of Hopkins comes to mind at this juncture:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring: like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying What I do is me, for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ acts in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Among other things, this poem reminds us to become what God expects us to be; what Christ wants us to be; what every baptized Christian is called to be. We are called to cooperate with God in his work of salvation. We are called to act according to our nature as willed by God. “The just man justices…” the just and upright man, does deeds of justice. Handsome is, as handsome does. The holy, just man always does gracious deeds. “He keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces.” All he does is work of grace. He becomes a channel of God’s grace for others. We are called to act in God’s eye what in God’s eye we really are – alter Christus – another Christ. If we all do our part, then literally Christ acts “in ten thousand places.” He acts; he saves; he feeds the poor and hungry multitude through the arms and limbs of people like us. “lovely in eyes and limbs not his,” (Christ’s) but lovely to the Father nonetheless, for “through the features of men’s faces,” God sees his own Son, Jesus Christ.

Today, let us not feel sad because there are so many hungry and poor people in the world, especially in the Philippines. Let us feel sad if no one among us, including – and, especially – us, would be willing to “give them food ourselves,” and to “act, like Christ, in ten thousand places.”