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17th Sunday of Year B

POVERTY AND HUNGER IN THE MIDST OF WEALTH AND PROSPERITY

PLANET POOR VS. PLANET RICH (6:27)

In the Asian, African, and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called “absolute poverty.” Every year 15 million children die of hunger. The Indian subcontinent has nearly half the world’s hungry people. Africa and the rest of Asia together have approximately 40%, and the remaining hungry people are found in Latin America and other parts of the world. Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion – a majority of humanity – live on less than $1 per day while the world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people.

There are three reasons for this situation:

1) The unwillingness of the rich people and wealthy countries to share their blessings with poor and the needy.

2) The unjust distribution of wealth, enabling the rich to become richer and let the poor to get poorer.

3) The exorbitant military spending of rich and poor nations. Most countries spend more than half their national income for the military.

THANKS, DAD, FOR SHOWING ME HOW POOR WE ARE

One day, a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” “It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.

“Oh yeah,” said the son. “So, tell me, what you learned from the trip” asked the father.

The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”

LIFE MESSAGE FROM FR. TONY

YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT

The Gospel story teaches that Jesus meets the most basic human need, hunger, with generosity and compassion. Today’s readings also tell us that God really cares about His people and that there is enough and more than enough for everybody. Studies show that the world today produces enough food grains to provide every human being on the planet with 3,600 calories a day, not counting such foods as tuber crops, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, meats, and fish.  Over the past twenty-five years, food production has exceeded world population growth by about 16%. This means that there is no good reason for any human being in today’s world to go hungry. But even in a rich country like U.S.A., one child out of five grows up in poverty, three million people are homeless and 4000 unborn babies are aborted every day.

“The problem in feeding the world’s hungry population lies with our political lack of will, our economic system biased in favor of the affluent, our militarism, and our tendency to blame the victims of social tragedies such as famine.  We all share responsibility for the fact that populations are undernourished. Therefore, it is necessary to arouse a sense of responsibility in individuals, especially among those more blessed with this world’s goods.” (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961) 157-58).

Fr. Tony’s 8-minute Homily in 1 page

DOOLOUGH TRAGEDY (IRISH FAMINE VICTIM’S WALK OF DEATH)

With the failure of the potato crop in 1845, Ireland was sent into a downward spiral of starvation, poverty, disease, and death. Subsequent annual crop failures brought even more suffering. As the Great Hunger progressed, more and more Irish were made destitute and homeless, without any means of obtaining food. The truly sad truth about the Great Hunger is that the British continued to ship food from Ireland while millions of Irish starved.

n March of 1849, over six hundred starving people made their way into the town of Louisburgh in search of food through outdoor relief or a ticket that would admit them to the workhouse. They met with the Receiving Officer at the Louisburgh workhouse. He told them he had no authority to grant them food or a ticket, but they could appeal to two of the Board of Guardians, Colonel Hograve and Mr. Lecky, who were meeting the next day at Delphi Lodge, located twelve miles south of Louisburgh. The crowd spent the night in Louisburg. Weakened from their trip, many of the 600 men, women and children who slept in the streets that night died.

The next day, five hundred of those that remained trudged through the mud and rain along a goat track in the direction of Delphi Lodge, crossing the Glankeen River at flood stage and through the mountain pass. Still more died of exhaustion along the way. They arrived wet and cold at Delphi Lodge the next afternoon. The Board of Guardian members were at lunch when the people arrived and amazingly, they could not be disturbed. The starving crowd was told to wait. A few more died of exhaustion while waiting. When they had finished their meal the crowd was advised to return to Louisburgh. Disappointed, the group headed back to Louisburgh over the same bleak and dangerous path they had just taken. It is unknown how many of this group of starving people met their death in the waters of Doolough.

Some call them the dead victims of the Great Hunger; others refer to them as martyrs. Hunger and poverty are the consequences of the selfishness of people. So the solution to this devastating problems lies with man alone.

FREE-FOOD TREE

Appalled at the wastefulness of their students, two elementary school teachers in Santa Cruz, California, planted a young sapling on the school’s campus and named it the Free-Food Tree. Rather than discard their uneaten or unwanted sandwiches, the children were encouraged to place them under the tree so that students who had lost their lunch or could not afford one could help themselves. Some children began to bring an extra sandwich from home so that they’d have one to put under the Free-Food Tree. Eventually, the supply of donated food was sufficient to nourish all the school’s hungry youngsters with enough left over to offer to the homeless who lived in the city park near the school.

In addition to learning not to waste their share of this world’s goods, the students had their first encounter with hunger and began to understand what they could do to alleviate it, a valuable lesson indeed, considering the fact that every hour 1,500 of this world’s children die of hunger or hunger-related causes.

THAT’S A MIRACLE

That’s a miracle. Rembrandt could take a two-dollar canvas, paint a picture on it, and make it a priceless masterpiece. That is art. John D. Rockefeller could take a worthless check, sign his name to it, and make it worth a million dollars. That’s capital. A mechanic can take a piece of scrap metal and bend and shape it into a $500 automobile part.

That is skill. — Jesus Christ can take the commonest bread and dried fish, bless and multiply it, making a banquet for 5,000! That is a miracle.

LIFE MESSAGE FROM FR. TONY

WE NEED TO COMMIT OURSELVES TO SHARE WITH OTHERS, AND TO WORK WITH GOD IN COMMUNICATING HIS COMPASSION

It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame governments, for these problems. It is also too easy see these things as other people’s problems. They are our problems as well. That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today. In other words, as Christians we need to commit ourselves to share what we have with others, and to work with God in communicating His compassion to all. God is a caring Father, and He wants our co-operation with Him to be part of His caring for all of us, His children. That’s what the early Christians did, generously sharing what they had with the needy. They were convinced that everything they needed to experience a fulfilling life was already there, in the gifts and talents of the people around them. People of our time need to be encouraged to share, even when they think they have nothing to offer. Whatever we offer through Jesus will have a life-giving effect in those who receive it. We are shown two attitudes in the Gospel story: that of Philip and that of Andrew (Jn 6:7-9). Philip said, in effect:  “The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.”  But Andrew’s attitude was: “I’ll see what I can do; and I will trust Jesus to do the rest.”  Let us have Andrew’s attitude.

Fr. Tony’s 8-minute Homily in 1 page

View More Homily Starter Anecdotes compiled by Fr. Tony

17th Sunday of Year B

Jesus provides a meal for 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fishes. Matthew 14:13-21

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SHARING OUR BLESSINGS WITH THE NEEDY

Today’s readings invite us to become humble instruments in God’s hands by sharing our blessings with our needy brothers and sistersMiracles can happen through our hands when we collect and distribute to the needy the food destined for all by our generous God. Today’s readings also remind us that if we have been blessed with an abundance of earthly bread, or with the technical capabilities needed to produce such an abundance, then these gifts are for sharing with the hungry. When physical hungers are satisfied, then we are challenged to satisfy the deeper hungers — for love, mercy, forgiveness, companionship, peace, and fulfillment.

The first reading tells us how the prophet Elisha, by invoking God’s power, fed one hundred men with twenty barley loaves.  This miracle foreshadows the Gospel account of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the hungry crowd.

The Refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 145) has us sing: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; God answers all our needs. The middle verse selected for today affirms, “The eyes of all look hopefully to You, and You give them their food in due season; You open Your Hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing”

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that Jesus united the Jews and the Gentiles, bringing them together as Christians in “one faith, one baptismone God and Father of us all Who is above all and through all and in all.” Hence, he urges them to keep this unity intact as ”one body and one spirit” by living as true Christians, “bearing with one another through love,” in humility, gentleness, patience and peace. If we become such a community, nobody will go hungry, and God will meet the needs of people through the services provided by members of our community.

As described in today’s Gospel, the miraculous feeding of the five thousand people by Jesus, with five barley loaves and two fish is associated in Church tradition with the Holy Eucharist. John’s version of the miracle clearly heightens the Eucharistic allusions when we read it along with the miraculous feeding of 100 men by the prophet Elisha in today’s first reading. But unlike Elisha, Jesus Himself assumed the Divine role, feeding the people with eschatological plenty. The reaction of the people was immediate and unanimous; they interpreted the miracle as a messianic sign and gave Jesus two Messianic titles: “The prophet” and “the one who is to come.” This miracle teaches us that God works marvels through ordinary people. Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples distributed the bread, provided by God. Thus, God meets the needs of the people through the services provided by the members of His community.

FIRST READING

First Reading – 2 Kings 4:42-44

The first reading, taken from the Second Book of Kings, prepares us for today’s Gospel which describes the miraculous feeding of more than five thousand people by Jesus, using a boy’s gift of five barley loaves and two dried fish. Acting through the prophet Elisha, God fed about 100 people with 20 barley loaves. Both incidents tell us that God works marvels through ordinary people and meets the needs of people through the services provided by members of the community.  The Fathers of the Church recognized this miraculous feeding of Elisha as a type of, and prelude for, Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes in today’s Gospel, an event that itself foreshadows Jesus’ Self-Gift in the Eucharist which continues to nourish believers. The Elisha story looks back to Moses, the prophet who fed God’s people in the wilderness (see Exodus 16). Moses prophesied that God would send a prophet like him (see Deuteronomy18:15-19). The crowd in today’s Gospel, witnessing His miracle, identified Jesus as that prophet. (Scott Hann). The paired readings challenge the Church to continue Elisha’s and Jesus’ tradition by becoming, with His power, a provider and multiplier of bread for the poor.

SECOND READING

Second Reading – Ephesians 4:1-6

St. Paul, in prison, reminds the Ephesians that Jesus united the Jews and the Gentiles, bringing them together as Christians in one Faith and one Baptism. Hence, he advises them to keep this unity intact as one body and one spirit by living as true Christians “bearing with one another in love,” with humility, gentleness, patience and peace. At present, we are the community that Paul describes. We are the ones called to feed the hungry today. As members of the body of Christ, we need to remember that miracles can happen through our prayers, our donations, and our hands when we help Him to distribute to the hungry the food destined for all by our generous God. In this Eucharist, we are made one Body with the Lord, as we hear in today’s Epistle.

GOSPEL READING

Gospel Reading – John 6:1-15

The Context

Jesus’ withdrawals into the wilderness were probably intended to provide Jesus and the apostles with periods of rest, reflection, and extended private teaching. In addition, withdrawal might have allowed them to avoid danger from those hostile to Jesus, particularly after the execution of John the Baptist.  Today’s Gospel shows us one such incident. Here, we see Jesus trying, in vain, to withdraw with the apostles from the crowds at Capernaum by sailing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stepped ashore near a remote village called Bethsaida Julius, where the River Jordan flows into the north end of the Sea of Galilee but faced the large crowd which had pursued them around the Sea on foot. Jesus’ immediate reaction was one of deep compassion. Near the place where they had landed, there was a small grassy plain, and there the Master began to heal the sick among them and to teach them at length.  This was the scene of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand as described in today’s Gospel.


A great miracle before a multitude

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is found in all four Gospels, although the context and emphasis vary.  This is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, that is told in all the Gospels, a fact that speaks of its importance to the early Church. Compare Mk 6:35-44 with Mt 14:13-21, Lk 9:12-17, and Jn 6:1-14. Matthew says that there were about 5,000 men, not including women and children. This miraculous feeding in the deserted place had precedents: Moses, Elijah, and Elisha had each fed people without resources.  The present miracle resembles particularly the one performed by Elisha (2 Kgs 4:42-44).  In both cases, unlike the manna in the desert, there were leftovers, for everyone there ate, and had enough and more than enough to be filled.  This miracle, then, is greater than the manna of the Exodus.  The Gospel story should be treated as a witness to the power of God and an implicit declaration of Jesus’ Divinity. The miracle also shows how, to this day, Jesus empowers believers to continue Jesus’ works of compassion. We may regard the incident both as a miracle of Divine providence and also as a Messianic sign in which Jesus multiplied loaves and fish in order to feed the hungry listeners. The lesson for every Christian is that no matter how impossible his or her assignments may seem, with Divine help they can be done because, “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). St. Augustine reflects on this miracle that is meant to lead the human mind through visible things to the perception of the Divine: “Christ did what God does. Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplies the five loaves in His hands – for there is power in the hands of Christ. Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth but because they were multiplied by the One Who made the earth. This miracle was presented to our senses to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of His works which we do see.”


A Messianic sign or a miracle of generous sharing?

The traditional teaching of the Church is that Jesus literally multiplied the bread and fish to feed his hungry listeners. At the beginning of this century in his classic book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer suggested that what we have here is a “sacrament” rather than a full meal. All the people received was the merest crumb of food, and yet, somehow, with Jesus present among them, it was enough. That, however, does not explain the baskets full of leftovers from the five loaves and two fish. A few Bible scholars even suggest that the “miracle” may be interpreted also as Jesus’ success in getting a group of selfish people to share their personal provisions with others. According to this interpretation, it appears strange and unnatural that the crowd had made this nine-mile-long expedition to such a desolate village without taking anything to eat. When people set out on a journey, they usually took their food with them in a small basket called a kophinah or in a bigger wicker basket.  But if they had done so in this case, each one might have been unwilling to share what he had brought with others.  If such were the case, Jesus might have deliberately accepted the five loaves and fish from the little boy in order to set a good example for the crowd.  Moved by this example of generosity, the crowd might have done the same: thus, there could have been enough for all.  This view was propounded by the famous preacher-novelist Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe. This rather fanciful explanation may still be considered a “miracle”: it might show that how the example of the boy responding to Jesus “miraculously” turned a crowd of selfish men and women into a fellowship of generous sharers.

It does, however, militate against the Divinity of Jesus, True God and True Man. For it is the literal interpretation of the miracle which makes the miracle a messianic sign with Eucharistic reference, points to the Divinity of Christ and offers an example of God’s love for us, expressed in superabundant generosity.

A symbol of the Eucharist

No Bible scholar doubts that all six bread miracles in the Gospels are about the Eucharist. The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle from Jesus’ public ministry narrated in all four Gospels with Eucharistic overtones. The early Christian community saw this event as anticipating the Eucharist. John uses this story in his Gospel to introduce Jesus’ profound and extended reflection on the Eucharist and the Bread of Life. The Cycle B lectionary has selected portions from John chapter 6 for five Sundays to remind us of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. The Eucharistic coloring of the multiplication of bread is clear in Jesus’ blessing, breaking, and giving the loaves. Thus, the miracle itself becomes a symbol of the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity. The sharing of the broken bread is a sign of a community that is expected to share and provide in abundance for the needs of its members. Our word Eucharist is taken from the Greek language and describes an action: “to give thanks.” In the Eucharist we are fed by Jesus Himself, and we are sent to serve others. Matthew invites us to see this miracle as a type or symbol explaining the Sacrament’s meaning. The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus multiplies a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. In the Offertory at Mass, we present the fruits of our labors, represented by bread and wine. These gifts, given to us first by God as grain and fruit, are returned to God in our offering of thanksgiving. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine the very Body and Blood of Jesus. We also offer ourselves in this exchange, and we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist. This daily breaking of the bread also has eschatological associations: it is an anticipation of the Messianic Wedding Banquet. John’s description of this event anticipates the Messianic Wedding Banquet of Heaven, as the crowd sits down in rows to enjoy a great free meal. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are anticipating this same Eternal Wedding Banquet of Heaven. The Church’s Eucharist today combines both the sacrificial and the eschatological associations. In the recent past, emphasis has been placed more on the sacrificial than on the eschatological aspect, but the imbalance is now being redressed.

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