Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Good is So Little for So Many? - Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

For the next five weeks, we will be reading through the Sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel. It is here that we will encounter Jesus’ clearest teaching on the Eucharist. And, just as He always does, He will back up His teaching with a miracle. In fact, He is going to back this up with two miracles (and two of His most iconic miracles at that!): His walking on water and feeding the five-thousand. That's how important His teaching on the Eucharist will be.
Jesus’ feeding of the five-thousand begins when He sees a large crowd following Him like sheep without a shepherd. He has pity on them, gathers them to Himself, and instructs them to recline on the green grass there in the fields. It is Psalm 23 all over again:

            In verdant pastures He gives me repose…
            You spread a banquet before me
            in the sight of my foes….

The banquet, at least for today, will be the supernatural and miraculous multiplying of the loaves and fishes.

But there’s a problem: where is Jesus and the Apostles going to get enough to feed such an overwhelming crowd? We know the answer—we know that Jesus is going to miraculously feed them.

But the apostles do not know that. Here is where we begin.

*          *          *

The apostles do not realize that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. They do not yet realize the totality of His power. So, when the apostles are faced with a huge crowd to feed, and the impossibility of that mission, they are immediately overwhelmed.

Lord, they say,

Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.

We’re poor after all, Jesus. We’ve given everything away to follow you. We can’t put a dent in this. So they give in to doubt, despair, almost a kind of anger. Hear Andrew, the first-called. He points out that

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…
            But what good are these for so many?

Do you hear the hopelessness, the scorn? Everything needs to be done, but it seems nothing can be done—or, at least, nothing that would matter.

*          *          *

We’re tempted to the same when we survey our world. The Supreme Court decision on marriage from a couple weeks ago, the news this past week that the Little Sisters of the Poor are once again being pressured by the President’s administration…. This past week, you probably heard the news of Planned Parenthood selling baby parts to the highest bidder. And, when we think that the DOJ is going to investigate Planned Parenthood, the DOJ instead turns and announces it is going to investigate the organization that broke the story. We’re not surprised, of course, given the Administrations’ obsession with abortion even at the expense of quality health care for the poor. (see * below).

This is to say nothing about our day-to-day living and our quest for growth in the spiritual life. “I need to do pray for this long and I need to do this devotion. And I need to be a great saint, so I need to do not simply x, y, and z, but I need to do all the things.” Yes, ALL THE THINGS!

Oh, we want to do everything and we feel as though we should do everything, but more often than not we become overwhelmed and hopeless and we end up doing nothing. Filled with scorn.

*          *          *

But, my little flock, your "little" is important! Do you see the young boy holding up to the Lord the basket with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? This sacrificial offering-- the Lord can do something with that! Remember what Jesus did with the water at the wedding feast of Cana! He turned it into the choicest of wines! Yes, He can take your little and make it superabundant!

If only we would give just a little. He's not asking you to do everything. Just the little.

I mean, can you imagine what just a little bit of patience would do for you and your relationships—your marriage?

Or just a little bit of prayer? A little visit to our Lord?

Of course, we are tempted to say, “But that won’t make a difference! It won’t matter—I mean, look at how huge the problems of the world are! And have you seen my pile of laundry? My to-do list?”

Hmm. Don't you see that's the same melancholy as the apostles?

Stop that. You are thinking not as God thinks. Remember what He said about faith.

            If you had faith the size….

Of a mountain? Of some huge, vast, imposing force? What—how big does your faith have to be?

            If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.

Little. Just a small faith. Just a little bit. And you could move mountains.

And not because you are doing it—but because God is super-powerful and the Almighty and He can multiply. You have faith that when you give, gifts will be given-- just as Jesus promised-- and not just a little bit, but

a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing

You see, you might not think your “little bit” matters. But it matters to God.

So, what it all boils down to is this: Will you not abandon yourself to God’s superabundance, to His supernatural grace, His Divine Providence?

*          *          *

Consider how Jesus feeds the five-thousand. He doesn’t simply give them enough. When was “just enough” good enough for God? God doesn’t work that way. He’s always about superabundance. Superabundance of manna in the desert. A superabundance of the Holy Spirit upon the prophets. A superabundance here in the five-thousand.

I mean, for heaven’s sakes: there are left-overs! Have you ever thought why?

I mean, He could have sized up everyone on that hill there and said, “Yep, you need this and you need that, … and that'll be enough.” And there would be no left-overs. But there are. why?

Because Love is not content with the “just enough.” Go back to Psalm 23. At the banquet of the Lord, what does it say about the cup? It says,

            My cup overflows.

That’s superabundance. A superabundance which is seen most clearly in that the Father gives us His Only Son. The Father didn’t want to just give us “enough” to get us into heaven. In His superabundant love for us, He gave us superabundantly, not even holding back His Son.

And we can’t do a little?

You see, this gets at the heart of “the little.” When we are invited to do the little, we are faced with two realities:
1)      That I am not God and that it is His powerful grace that is the source of all transformation; and
2)      In the humility of that “littleness” is the real struggle for love.

To do the little things with great love—that is where we show our true love for God. You who are married know this: you can show each other love by grandiose plans executed to perfection—and that’s great—but, when it all comes down to the day-to-day struggle of love, your simple look of affection, your little smile, your little kindness… this "little" is more precious than gold. And there is a struggle there. To trust the power of this little. To trust the power of God in that. But we must trust this, else we will simply make grandiose plans never finished, overwhelmed at how much we need to love and don't. Wanting to do ALL THE THINGS, but doing none.

*          *          *

So consider the Eucharist. Every day, Jesus is little, giving Himself… day after day after day. And something like 60% of Catholics doesn’t think this matters. Not only do the surveys show this, but just the way we receive. They come on the BIG DAYS, but where are they on the little? For us too, do we really believe—really believe—that this little host and this little sip from the chalice will really, really make a big difference?

It’s the little boy offering His little bit—and would you scorn it like the apostles once did?

Consider what we say in the Our Father. We say

            Give us this day our daily bread.

Those are Jesus’ words. And that word “daily” is deeper than meaning simply “every day.” In the Greek it is ἐπιούσιον (ep-ee-oos-ee-on), which is not only translated into the Latin as cotidianum (daily), but also as supersubstantialem—super-substantial. (This is the only time in Scripture that this word is used).

Let me translate. It is as though the bread cannot contain what is within it, as though something is brimming over from it, an exploding cornucopia of some Thing burgeoning forth, as though the substance of bread cannot itself hold what it is to hold. A substance above and beyond what we know substance to be. Such that the substance of the bread is changed into the super-substance of something-- some One-- even greater.

In this little host and in this little chalice is the Very One who is Superabundance, Jesus Christ.

The gospel, therefore, of the miracle of the super-substantial multiplication of the bread and fish is to point us to the reality of the super-substantial daily bread which we call the Eucharist. Both of which He "took... gave thanks... blessed... and gave them to His disciples."

And that might not mean much, but for the crowds that day it meant everything.

The crowds—representing The World and its longing for fulfillment and Truth—after they have been filled, begin to worship this Jesus.

they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king.

Their hearts were on fire. They believed. Or at least, to some degree.

They thought that this Jesus was the Messiah who was going to bring them material wealth and comfort here on earth. But this is not why He has come; this is not the essence of His Kingship. This will only be seen later when, after He gives us His Body and Blood at the Last Supper, He then gives what little He has left, giving on the Cross His last. Words are inscribed above His head

            Behold, the King of the Jews.

That you who are little might see how much He loves you and how much your little means to Him!

Let us give to Him our little now. Abandon ourselves into His loving care. Come, and receive His Body and Blood, the banquet of our King, this superabundant Bread of Life!

* In 2011, Indiana attempted to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. Other states quickly followed suit but the Obama administration made clear that those states would simply not receive federal funding for Medicaid. Think about that for a second. The Obama administration would sooner refuse funding for poor people's healthcare than not give money to Planned Parenthood. From here. 

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