July 31st July 2011 18th Sunday Ordinary Time Mass and Reflections, Loaves and Fishes

Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are to be found here along with a variety of commentaries and reflections.

This Sunday's Second Reading is a beauty.

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? 

Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us. 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor principalities,

nor present things, nor future things,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor any other creature will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is hard to talk about the parable on feeding five thousand as a devastating famine grips the Horn of Africa involving many millions.

Today, Jesus asks us to use our hands to address issues of hunger and malnutrition in our world.  If each of us could do our small part by sharing our resources with people in need, then we might just be able to be part of a miracle. 

Today's gospel tells us that when we give ourselves , Jesus can take our individual offerings, no matter how small and gather them to transform them into something much bigger than the individual parts.

That is the momentous shift we need to embrace in our thinking and our actions .

According to the UN, "it costs an average US$0.50 to feed one person in the Horn of Africa for one day."  

So, for the cost of a Big Mac, $3.80 + tax, each of us could feed 8 people for one day in Africa.  

If each person in an average parish donated the cost of one Big Mac, it could feed 64,800 people. 

If you decide to donate funds for famine relief in the Horn of Africa, 
CAFOD or any other charity you know that is working on hunger issues in the world. 

The organisations given here never direct money through governments and can guarantee that none of your money will be channelled through the government of Somalia. 

The following are extracts I have edited,  taken from two articles by Brueggemann , both from Religion online from here .

"Jesus is moved with compassion. The disciples respond in grudging doubt. But it happens! And what happens is not simply better distribution that can be explained on rational or clever grounds. 
There is a strange happening of production. Clearly the story means to say that where Jesus is visible, where there is embrace of the new kingdom, the hunger issues are faced differently and there is bread.

Jesus is the perfect teacher who never misses a teachable moment. So he offers a little catechetical session. It begins in irony; the disciples forget the bread. 
Jesus responds with a warning: beware of eating the bread of Herod and the Pharisees. If you eat establishment bread long enough, you will be taken in.
It matters what the church eats and who gets to feed it. It matters who defines reality and sets priorities and authorizes perceptions.

And then having announced the principle, Jesus asks hard questions of his learners: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” There is no answer. They not only don’t know the answer -- they don’t understand the question.

So like a good teacher, Jesus adjusts the lesson plan, because he is dealing with obviously concrete-operational types: “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” Answer: 12. “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” Answer: seven.

They do very well on such concreteness. And then he ends the session abruptly: “Do you not yet understand?” 
And there he leaves his church, wondering what it means to have a source of bread among us which is a threat to all other suppliers of bread and which will not be explained on our conventional terms."

"The great question now facing the church is whether our faith allows us to live in a new way. If we choose the story of death, we will lose the land -- to excessive chemical fertilizer, or by pumping out the water table for irrigation, perhaps. Or maybe we'll only lose it at night, as going out after dark becomes more and more dangerous. 

Joshua 24 puts the choice before us. Joshua begins by reciting the story of God's generosity, and he concludes by saying, "I don't know about you, but I and my house will choose the Lord." This is not a church-growth text. Joshua warns the people that this choice will bring them a bunch of trouble.

If they want to be in on the story of abundance, they must put away their foreign gods -- I would identify them as the gods of scarcity.

Jesus said it more succinctly. You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot serve God and do what you please with your money or your sex or your land. And then he says, "Don't be anxious, because everything you need will be given to you." But you must decide. 

Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little Savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God -- and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness. 

As a little child Jesus must often have heard his mother, Mary, singing. And as we know, she sang a revolutionary song, the Magnificat--the anthem of Luke's Gospel. 

She sang about neighborliness:

about how God brings down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; 

about how God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.

Mary did not make up this dangerous song. She took it from another mother, Hannah, who sang it much earlier to little Samuel, who became one of ancient Israel's greatest revolutionaries. Hannah, Mary, and their little boys imagined a great social transformation. Jesus enacted his mother's song well. 

Food crisis in the Horn of AfricaImage by IFRC via Flickr

Everywhere he went he broke the vicious cycles of poverty, bondage, fear and death; he healed, transformed, empowered and brought new life. 

Jesus' example gives us the mandate to transform our public life. 

Telling parables was one of Jesus' revolutionary activities, for parables are subversive re-imagining of reality. The ideology devoted to encouraging consumption wants to shrivel our imaginations so that we cannot conceive of living in any way that would be less profitable for the dominant corporate structures.

                                                                 James Tissot. Image source

But Jesus tells us that we can change the world. The Christian community performs
a vital service by keeping the parables alive. These stories haunt us and push us in directions we never thought we would go. 

Performing what the Bible calls "wonders and signs" was another way in which
Jesus enacted his mother's song. These signs--or miracles--may seem odd to us,
but in fact they are the typical gifts we receive when the world gets organized and placed under the sovereignty of God.

Everywhere Jesus goes the world is rearranged: the blind receive their sight, the 
lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the 
poor are freed from sin. 
The forgiveness of sin is the hardest thing to do--harder even than raising
the dead to life. 

Jesus left ordinary people dazzled, amazed, and grateful; he left powerful people angry and upset, because very time he performed a wonder, they lost a little of their clout. 

The wonders of the new age of the coming of God's kingdom may scandalize and upset us. They dazzle us, but they also make us nervous. The people of God 
need pastoral help in processing this ambivalent sense of both deeply yearning
for God's new creation and deeply fearing it.

The feeding of the multitudes, recorded in Mark's Gospel, is an example of the new world coming into being through God. When the disciples, charged with feeding the hungry crowd, found a child with five loaves and two fishes, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread. 

These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence. Jesus conducted a Eucharist, a gratitude. He demonstrated that the world
is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity.
If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all. 
Jesus is engaged in the sacramental, subversive re-ordering of public reality.

Image source

The profane is the opposite of the sacramental. "Profane" means flat, empty, one-dimensional, exhausted. The market ideology wants us to believe that 

the world is profane -- life consists of buying and selling, weighing, measuring and trading, and then finally sinking down into death and nothingness. 

But Jesus presents and entirely different kind of economy, one infused with
the mystery of abundance and a cruciform kind of generosity. 

Five thousand are fed ;
12 baskets of food are left over--one for every tribe of Israel. 

 Image source

Jesus transforms the economy by blessing and breaking it beyond self-interest.

From "broken Friday bread" comes Sunday abundance. 

In this and in the following account of a miraculous feeding in Mark, 
people do not grasp, hoard, resent, or act selfishly; they watch
as the juices of heaven multiply the bread of earth. 
Jesus reaffirms Genesis 1.
When people forget that Jesus is the bread of the world, they start

eating junk food--the food of the Pharisees and of Herod, the bread 
of moralism, legalism and of power.

Too often the church forgets the true bread and is tempted by junk food.
Our faith is not just about spiritual matters; it is about the transformation
of the world. 

The closer we stay to Jesus, the more we will bring a new economy of 
abundance to the world. The disciples often don't get what Jesus is about 
because they keep trying to fit him into old patterns--and to do so is to make
him innocuous, irrelevant and boring. But Paul gets it.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul directs a stewardship campaign for the early church

and presents Jesus as the new economist. 

Though Jesus was rich, Paul says, "yet for your sakes he became poor, that 
by his poverty you might become rich." We say it takes money to make money. 

Paul says it takes poverty to produce abundance. Jesus gave himself to
enrich others, and we should do the same. 

Our abundance and the poverty of others need to be brought into a new balance.
Paul ends his stewardship letter by quoting Exodus 16: "And the one who had 
much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little." 
The citation is from the story of the manna that transformed the wilderness 
into abundancy. 
It is, of course, easier to talk about these things than to live them. Many people 

both inside and outside of the church haven't a clue that Jesus is talking about 
the economy. We haven't taught them that he is. But we must begin to do so 
now, no matter how economically compromised we may feel.

Our world absolutely requires this news. It has nothing to do with being 

Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, socialists or capitalists. 

It is much more elemental: the creation is infused with the Creator's generosity,
and we can find practices, procedures and institutions that allow that generosity
to work. Like the rich young man, we all have many possessions.

Sharing our abundance may, as Jesus says, be impossible for mortals, but

nothing is impossible for God. None of us knows what risks God's spirit may
empower us to take.

Our faith, ministry and hope are that the Creator will empower us to trust his generosity, so that bread may abound."

                                            Nasa Satellite photo of Horn of Africa


Phil Ewing said...

Thanks James. You are most welcome- great to have your comments.
Brueggemann puts it well doesn't he ? :-))

Desertjames said...

This is so poignant, beautiful and powerful. I am grateful.