What Are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Homily for the 17th Sunday of the Year

We have in this Sunday’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 it contains a personal appeal directly from the Lord’s lips to our 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 it in such a way as to illustrate our need to evangelize the culture in which we live. It is an immense task, one that can easily overwhelm us, but 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. Do we? Often when we think of the Church, declining numbers come to mind. This is because we tend to think in terms of the number of members. Jesus, however, thinks in terms of those who need to be reached. As we know that is a staggering number today. While it seems clear 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 we see the world? Jesus sees it as a vineyard, a mission field. He sees all as hungry, even if they insist they are not. Unfortunately, many reject the food that we in the Church offer. Many deny that they are hungry, but they are hungry, and Jesus is about to ask our help in feeding them. While we may see such people as opponents to the faith, this text presents 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?”

It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed. This is understandable, as the task of evangelizing and feeding the world is a daunting one to say the least.

Note that in this gospel, the apostles are not without any resources at all with which to feed the crowd. What they have may seem insufficient, but it is not nothing.

Similarly, we today 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 is 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 see the disrepair in our culture. The task of evangelizing our culture may seem far more difficult than coming up with two hundred days’ wages.

Notice that Jesus says, “Where can we” get enough (food in this case) to solve the problem. It is not only up to us mere mortals to resolve the grave issues of the day. The Lord asks us to work with Him. With Him we have a fighting chance!

III. THE IMMENSITY THAT IS EXPERIENCED – The text says, 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, it’s still hard to accept its astonishing truth. These Scripture passages also speak to that 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 and the problems feel overwhelming. In addition, the resources we have seem so limited to be able turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?

Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”

Remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The conversion of the whole world begins with each one of us. As we look at the huge problems before us, each of us must assess our “loaves and fishes”:

  • I can work on my own conversion. A holier world must start with me. If I get holier, the world gets holier.
  • I can serve the poor, perhaps with money, maybe by using my talents to instruct or counsel, perhaps just by giving of my time to listen.
  • I can pick up the phone and call a family member who I know is hurting.
  • I can love my spouse and my children.
  • I can spend time raising my children to know the Lord and to seek His kingdom.
  • I can exhort the weak in my own family. With love, I can rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
  • If I am a priest or religious, I can faithfully live my vocation and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
  • If I am young, I can prepare myself devoutly for a vocation to marriage, the priesthood, or religious life.
  • If I am older, I can seek to manifest wisdom and to provide a good example to the young.
  • If I am elderly, I can prepare myself for death devoutly and display the desire for Heaven.
  • I can 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, feel overwhelmed. Jesus says tells us that we should just bring Him what we have so that we can get started together. The conversion of the whole world will begin with each of us, with our own 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 who are willing to bring their “loaves and fishes.” They are bringing them to Jesus and He is multiplying them. Renewal is happening; signs of spring are evident in the Church.

It’s been said that it’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world. Indeed it is! If it’s 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 each one of us.

2 Replies to “What Are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Homily for the 17th Sunday of the Year”

  1. “Let none hear you idly saying, ‘There is nothing I can do’ ”
    While the souls of men are dying and the Master calls for you.
    Take the task he gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be.
    Answer quickly when he calleth, “Here am I, send me, send me!”

    (from TLH 496, “Hark the Voice of Jesus Crying”)

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