St. Mary of the Angels: Sun 17 OT B 7/29/12
Book of Kings II: 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
My Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s gospel begins and ends at one of Jesus’ favorite places: on a mountain. For Jesus, the mountain is a special place for teaching and a special place for praying. On the Mount of Beatitudes and here on the mountain at the beginning of today’s story, Jesus teaches
his disciples. On the Mountain of the Transfiguration and on the mountain at
the end of today’s story, Jesus prays. Unlike at the Transfiguration, this
time, Jesus prays alone. I suggest that the event of the feeding of the five
thousand, which takes place between these two mountains of teaching and praying, looks back to the teaching and looks ahead
to the praying. Was Jesus teaching his disciples about compassion, because this
same story as told by the synoptic writers, stresses over and over that Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw that crowd?
And was his prayer about going to the source of all compassion, namely his Father? How
else could He or we be compassionate unless we go to the source in prayer?
A few weeks ago, we heard St. Paul say in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (5.7), “We walk
by faith, not by sight.” Paul was making a distinction between two kinds
of “seeing”: sight is one kind of “seeing” and faith
is another kind of “seeing.”
“Sight” means looking at reality with our ordinary eyes. We see the external reality before
us and respond to it with our available natural resources.
“Faith” means looking at the same reality more with the eyes of God -- at least glimpsing
something different below the surface, namely, the grace of compassion.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is a good example.
The disciples see with ordinary eyes a huge crowd of five thousand people, on one side, and mere youth with five barley
loaves and two fish, on the other. For them, the arithmatic is simple: 5 plus
2 make 7, and that 7 must be divided by 5,000. The result? Each person gets .0014 of a piece, -- literally, a crumb! Andrew
is right: “what good are these [the 5 loaves and 2 fish] for so many?” This
is “seeing” or “walking by “sight.” This kind of
“seeing” sees scarcity. We just don’t have enough!
Jesus looks at the same reality and He also does his own arithmatic, only for Jesus, it is multiplication,
not division. The result? Each loaf
or fish becomes at least 714 pieces! And who knows how many more pieces were
gathered up in the twelve baskets? Jesus was looking with the eyes of faith. This kind of “seeing” sees, not scarcity but abundance. Don’t worry. There will be enough and more than enough.
Fine, we say! But Jesus is God. Of course, multiplication is easy. Of course, there will be an abundance!
What about us ordinary people?
A few years ago, a woman told me about a moment in her life when she was in her early twenties. She had no family, had lost her job and was about to lose her apartment. She was alone and lonely. She was pretty depressed as she
saw her resources coming to an end. One day, exhausted and discouraged from walking
the streets to look for work, she sat down at a bus stop to rest. A homeless
man, unkempt and smelling of alcohol, sat down beside her. He looked at her for
a awhile and then commented on how sad she looked. She told him some of her story. After some silence, reaching into his bag,
he pulled out a rather dirty can of mixed fruit. He gave it to her, saying, “You
need this more than I do.” And, then, he left her. What was a dirty can of fruit in the midst of so much loss? But,
in a mysterious way, it was enough, and more than enough, to move her from despair to hope.
She somehow recognized God’s compassion in this homeless man and the gift he gave her. She did lose her apartment,
but she also gathered renewed strength to keep searching for work. Eventually,
she did get work, gradually her life blossomed, and today, she is a religious sister serving the homeless.
Natural eyes would have seen just a homeless alcoholic with a dirty can of fruit. With the eyes of faith, she saw God’s care and compassion.
That made all the difference! A multiplication of hope followed –
Have we not all faced a similar kind of crisis: a diagnosis of cancer or some other serious sickness,
the death of a loved one, the loss of work or home, a great disappointment? Have
we not looked to our own resources, inner and outer, and found them quite inadequate and wondered how we could cope? But, then in the midst of our scarcity, have we not discovered helping hands appearing
“out of the woodwork” and reaching out to us from all directions in compassion and concern? Have we not seen, with our eyes of faith, the Spirit working in us and in so many around us? And then, what seemed impossible and anxiety-ridden became a place of strength and a fuller life emerged.
The Gospel story, the woman’s story, your story, my story point to that hidden presence of God’s
grace, which is always there, but so often not noticed because we are walking by “sight” and not by “faith.” We can live our too anxious and worrisome life on the surface of reality and miss
the deep well of God’s providence and compassion waiting for us below.
And that is why I think that Jesus ended up on the mountain again alone in prayer with his Father. He needed to go to the source of all compassion.
It was from his intimacy with his Father that He could multiply and feed. He
encourages us to go to that same source in order to see as He and his Father see, to walk our journey much more by faith than
by sight, and to be one of those people who manifest the compassion of God.
Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J.
Brighton, Mass. 7/29/12