July 29, 2012 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we reflect on today’s Gospel, we are undoubtedly awed. Jesus fed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, and there were 12 baskets of leftovers. It is, indeed an awe-inspiring miracle that ought to get our minds whirling with amazement.
Yet, it is not merely at this specific miracle that we should marvel, as we reflect on today’s readings. It is what this miracle, as well as the one in today’s first reading — in which Elisha prefigured Jesus, feeding 100 people with 20 barley loaves — convey about God’s love and unconditional generosity toward each and every one of us, as well as the part that we can play in God’s miraculous plans.
Let’s take a look at how the Gospel begins. Jesus and the apostles had been traveling from town to town ministering to people. They were exhausted, and crossed the sea in order to get some rest. However, thousands of people followed and stood eagerly waiting for them to continue their ministry. They were hungry for the Gospel — and, no doubt, hungry for food. Jesus and His disciples were surely overwhelmed. But, just as in last week’s Gospel, Jesus sees the need and He cares for it. He knew they needed Him, and He was there.
The apostles, for their part, assisted the Lord in His work — just as they were called to do.
In an effort to meet these needs, Jesus looks for food. He wants to feed the people, both physically and spiritually.
This is the next element of the gospel that I think deserves a bit of purposeful reflection.
Looking for food, Andrew finds a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Barley is the food of the poor, so this was probably all the boy had. And when the Lord asked for it, the boy gave it all.
With that selfless gift, Christ was able to care for 5,000 people’s needs, and have a lot left over. Indeed, His generosity surpasses our need, and is overflowing. Yet, like the man with the loaves and the fishes, Christ calls on each one of us to participate in His caring for others.
He wants us to assist Him in His mission and ministry. As His disciples, we are called to love and serve others like Christ does, to proclaim the Gospel with power, as Christ does, and living our lives for Him to change the world. This may seem like an impossible task — and in fact, it is. But think for a moment of the boy with five barley loaves.
On his own, the man could have fed maybe 10 people, and even that would have taken an act of supreme generosity on his part, given his probable pauper status. But when he surrenders all he has to the Lord, when he gives himself completely, holding nothing back, the Lord is able to feed 5,000-plus.
Likewise, it may seem like what we can do on a day-to-day basis in our own homes, or our small towns, or even in our individual parishes is insignificant. Who am I to really truly impact the world, or even, for that matter, to change the heart of one person?
Indeed, we are insignificant, and our actions are quite small compared to the big miracles we see Jesus perform and the impact He has on people throughout the gospels. But when we give ourselves to the Lord, He can do great things through us, and He WILL do great things through us.
He is generous beyond measure. He has given each one of us so much. All that we have and all that we are come by way of gifts from the Lord. We simply need to respond to that generosity, and to give ourselves back to Him in thanksgiving for all He has done. And surely, He will then work through us, bringing us closer to Himself and closer to one another as we are one in body and one in spirit because of the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all, in all, and through all” (Second Reading).