Homily From the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Today’s Gospel is about the multiplication of the loaves.

Now, I guarantee you that about 56% of people just went into screensaver mode if they weren’t in it already.  I mean, we hear this story a lot!  Actually, it’s the only miracle story aside from the Resurrection account that appears in all four Gospels.  This means two things: first, it means that from a scientific standpoint, the Gospels are actually as authentic as the Church has been saying they are for about 2000 years.  But secondly, and maybe consequentially, we hear it a lot.  And so we sort of go on autopilot.  We’ve heard all this, we know what happens, and so we just assume we know what we’re going to get out of it, if anything at all.  But God doesn’t want us to see this as just a normal thing.  He doesn’t want you to go into screensaver mode every time we read something familiar.  Rather, everytime we listen to these stories, we get something different out of it.  God wants above all to exceed our expectations.

So, into the Gospel.  We hear that these people have gathered around Jesus and the disciples and so Jesus asks the question, “What are we going to do with all these people?  How are we going to sustain them?”  Now, as we heard in the Gospel, he’s a sneaky guy, so he already knows what he’s going to do.  Tricky Jesus, it’s just a test.  He wants to see what the response is, and what he gets is an earthly solution to an earthly problem.  He gets, “We don’t have enough money!  Two-hundred days wages isn’t enough to feed even a few of them.  We have a few loaves and fish, but what good is that going to do?”  Again, these are simple earthly solutions to an earthly problem.  They forget who they’re dealing with here.  And so Jesus invites them to seek first above everything else a heavenly solution.

Then we hear this little formula as Jesus prepares the meal.  He takes the food, gives thanks, blesses it, breaks it, and shares it.  Does that sound familiar at all?  Well it should, because we’re about to do it here at the altar!  In fact, those same words are spoken every single hour of every single day at the celebrations of the Eucharist going on throughout the world.  So this is clearly a connection to the Eucharist.  But it’s also in a sense an approach to our own problems as well.

Like the disciples, we have problems with something.  And like the disciples, we can tend to seek purely earthly solutions to these earthly problems.  Now, I’m not saying that you have to take time to pray over a broken drainage pipe in your kitchen while it’s flooding your house.  But we’ve probably all heard that phrase “Offer it up,” and I wonder if we really know what that means.  Let’s look at it following Jesus’ method.

First we take the problems in our lives.  We admit that we have them, and that we can’t possibly solve them entirely on our own.  Next, we give thanks.  I’m not saying that we have to think of our problems, especially the severe ones like illnesses, as gifts or anything.  But we thank God for the many things that we’ve been given.  Sometimes we focus more on what we don’t have or on what we lack than on what we actually have!  Then we bless them.  What I mean by this is that we force ourselves to see through our respective issues to what God is asking of us.  What is God’s will in this situation?  What is the teaching of the Church?  And most importantly, How can I become a holier person through this?  Then we break.  Breaking things takes sacrifice, because we know that they won’t really be the same again.  So what we’re actually breaking when we “offer it up” is ourselves.  We acknowledge the sacrifice that God is calling us to in that moment, and how we are called to break ourselves.  Lastly, and most importantly, we then share.  We take our issues and our problems, and having prayed about God’s will for them, we offer them back to him, entrusting our wills into his hands.  When we do this last step, what we’re seeking out is a heavenly solution, God’s solution, to our problems.

One of my friends has what he calls “Chinese pants.”  These are the kinds of pants that he wears to a Chinese buffet restaurant, because of the elastic stretchy waist.  He knows that whatever he ends up getting at the buffet, it’s going to be in abundance.  And I bet the people in the Gospel needed some Chinese pants!  There was such a great abundance of food left over, even after people had stuffed themselves, that it was clear the miracle that Jesus had done.  I think what God invites us to today is to share in the abundance that he gives us as well.  When we truly offer our sins, temptations, struggles, and problems to him, he returns to us with great abundance, even beyond our purely human expectations.

As we prepare to celebrate these mysteries today, we are invited to place our intentions and our struggles on the altar to be taken, blessed, broken, and shared with our loving God.  May we have the courage and the humility to do so, and then to receive with great thanks the abundant gifts which the Lord wishes to share with us.