We have in today’s gospel the very familiar miracle of the loaves and the fishes. One is tempted to say, “Oh, that one …” and then tune out. But the gospel today contains a personal appeal from the Lord’s lips to your (my) ears: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
Immediately, objections begin to pop up in our minds. But let’s be still and allow the Lord to instruct us by applying this Gospel in three stages.
I would like to apply this gospel in such a way as to illustrate our need to evangelize the culture in which we currently live. It is an immense task, one that can overwhelm us, and yet the Lord still bids us to get busy and join him in feeding the multitudes.
I. THE IMAGE THAT IS EXTOLLED – The text says, Jesus went up on the mountain and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him.
The text says that Jesus saw a large crowd. I wonder if we do? Generally today when we think of the Church, we think of declining numbers. This is because we tend to think in terms of the number of members. In contrast, Jesus thinks in terms of those who need to be reached. And, as we know well, the number of those who need to be reached IS large! So while it seems clear to us that the gospel is currently “out of season,” we must never forget that everyone is precious to the Lord; He wants to reach all and feed them with His grace, mercy, truth, and love.
So, the image that is extolled is that of need, not of believers and non-believers. Is this how you and I see the world? Jesus sees all the world as a vineyard, as a mission field. He sees all as hungry, no matter how obstinate they are. It is a sad fact that many reject the food we in the Church offer; many even deny that they are hungry. But they are hungry and Jesus is about to ask our help in feeding them. Thus, while we may see opponents to the faith, this text lifts up an image that is rooted in the universal human problem of hunger, physical and spiritual.
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY THAT IS EXPRESSED – The text says, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus said this to test Philip, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what good are these for so many?”
There is a human tendency to feel overwhelmed. This is understandable since the task of evangelizing and feeding the world is daunting to say the least.
Yet note that they are NOT without any resources. It may seem insufficient, but it is not nothing.
And so it is for us who may feel overwhelmed by the cultural meltdown taking place before our very eyes. It seems that every number we want to go down is going up, and every number we want to go up is going down. The cultural war seems to be occurring on multiple fronts: family, marriage, sexuality, life issues, religious freedom, schools, church attendance, the rise of secularism and atheism, and the lack of personal responsibility and self-control.
The list could go on and on. It is not difficult to demonstrate that the disrepair in our culture is enormous. The task of evangelizing our culture may seem far more difficult than coming up with two hundred days’ wages.
But note that Jesus says, “Where can WE” get enough to solve the problem. For it is not only up to us, mere mortals, to resolve the grave issues of our day. The Lord asks us to work with Him. Now, it would seem, we have a fighting chance!
III. THE IMMENSITY THAT IS EXPERIENCED – Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,” Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves.
By now this story is so familiar that we are not shocked by the outcome. But no matter how many times we hear it, we still do not really accept its astonishing truth.
- I can do all things in God who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).
- All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23).
- For man it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27).
- Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness (2 Cor 9:10).
We all know that this world is in an increasingly bad state. The problems seem overwhelming and our resources seem so limited to turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?
Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”
A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. The conversion of the whole world begins with me. As I look the huge problems before me, I (this means you) assess my loaves and fishes:
- I work on my own conversion. A holier world has to start with me. If I get holier, the world gets holier.
- I look to the poor I can serve, maybe with money, maybe by using my talents to tutor or counsel, maybe just by giving of my time to listen.
- I pick up the phone and call a family member who I know is hurting.
- I love my spouse and my children.
- I spend time raising my children to know the Lord and to seek His kingdom.
- I exhort the weak in my own family. With love, I rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
- If I am a priest or religious, I faithfully live my vocation and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
- If I am young, I seek to prepare myself devoutly for a vocation to marriage, the priesthood, or religious life.
- If I am older, I seek to manifest wisdom and to provide a good example to the young.
- If I am elderly, I seek to prepare myself for death devoutly and to display the desire for Heaven.
- I pray for this world and attend Mass faithfully, begging God’s mercy on this sin-soaked world.
It is too easy to lament the condition of the world and, like the Apostles, to feel overwhelmed. Jesus says, “Just bring me what you have and let’s get started.” The conversion of the whole world will begin with me, with my meager loaves and fishes.
Jesus will surely multiply them; He will not fail. Already there is renewal evident in the Church, through a faithful remnant willing to bring their loaves and fishes (some of the things mentioned above and more besides). They are bringing them to Jesus and He is multiplying them. Renewal is happening; signs of spring are evident in the Church.
There is an old saying that it is easier to wear slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. Indeed it is. If it is a converted world that you want, start with yourself. Bring your loaves and fishes to Jesus; bring your slippers and let’s get started. It begins with me.
This song says,
If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.
If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.
5 Replies to “What Are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Homily for the 17th Sunday of the Year”
As our vigil homily had it, we need a proper appreciation of our role in relation to Our Lord to not lose heart – our pride tells us it is all up to us.
I wanted to thank you for sharing each day on this blog. I am not Catholic, nor am I from your geographical area, but I’ve started reading your blog daily since accidentally stumbling upon it during an Internet search on kerygma. Your writing is engaging and thoughtful. I’ve gained something from each day’s reading. Thank you for the time you devote to this.
Kimberly, like you, I stumbled on to this blog and am a regular reader. I agree; Msgr’s insights are so rich and apply to all, regardless of faith tradition. I don’t know how he does all that he does, but I’m so glad he does it! I hope you know you are always welcome in the Catholic Church, should you desire to learn more.
The multiple of Souls, what a refreshing idea, the salvation of
souls, the highest goal, Yes! Msgr. Pope! And you don’t neglect the
works of mercy, God is good.
I do feel overwhelmed at times thinking I must do more. I must be a better person. Your reflection though puts it in perspective. Thank you so much.
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