Be Generous Hearted
In this beautiful homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly looks at the generosity in today`s Gospel — the generosity of Jesus and the generosity of the little boy with the loaves and fishes — and he asks us to follow their lead and be generous hearted.
Readings for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Second Kings 4:42-44
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
- Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
- Gospel: John 6:1-15
You probably noticed a great shift in the Gospel reading today, because we’ve been following Mark, the Gospel of Mark, all the way up for the last few months, and suddenly we have a new voice. And, of course, this voice is John the Evangelist.
And Mark is a no-nonsense kind of writer, down to earth and very strong. You take it or leave it, just the way Mark wants you to take it or leave it, or you can go home and read a comic book or something.
But John is a poet and John soars all over the sky. And sometimes he’s on five levels, and sometimes he’s on two levels, and sometimes he’s straight as an arrow. And you’re never quite sure what he wants from us, except we know that he wants one thing and I’ll give you that right now.
He wants you to know that Jesus Christ is in your heart, and if he’s not there, he’s no place.
He’s not writing this Gospel to give you information about the period or the time. He’s not writing this Gospel to make you happy and feel good. He’s not writing this Gospel to give you insights into how to behave yourself.
He’s writing this Gospel for just one reason: he’s telling you the story and the story is the Jesus story.
By the time he’s finished with his story, his story is your story.
And that’s what he wants you to know: that Jesus is speaking to us, here and now, through the stories that John himself had weaved for us many centuries ago.
“I am the Bread of Life.” What an extraordinary beginning: “I am the Bread of Life.” He goes, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness.” “I am the Bread of Life. He who eats me will never hunger.”
No explanation, he’s just speaking to you from his heart into your heart.
An Irish priest referred to today’s Gospel as the miracle of the loaves and fishes. A miracle is a word that John particularly likes.
When we think of a miracle, we think of some kind of a magic sort of thing. But a miracle is when something happens and you are touched at the bottom of your heart and you can’t express it in any way, you would say, “Miracula!” And that’s what a miracle is.
It is an expression of suddenly I realise that I am more than I am, and I’m in the presence of something that is greater than I, and my heart is full of fear and trembling and also love. And then you say, “Miracula!” It’s not supposed to be some arcane little way of getting your intention.
What is miracula?
Miracula is Jesus. I just gave you words that you’ve probably forgotten already. “I am the Bread of Life. He who eats me will never die.” And then our response, if we believe it, we say, “Wonderful! Miracula!”
And that’s what he has to tell us.
Today, though, I mention the Irish priest because he focuses on today’s miracle, miracula, the revelation of Jesus, the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, as a miracle of generosity.
Think of that now. That’s what he wants. He wants to emphasise generosity.
It is not done so that you might become more clever. It is not done because you might follow him. It is not done as an explanation.
It is out of the generosity and love in his heart that Jesus tells us all these wonderful things in the Gospel according to John.
And things happen to generous people. It’s very important to remember that. We are to be generous Christians.
What is a generous Christian?
Well, the first person we think of, of course is the little boy, isn’t it? The little boy who brought his lunch to this big party, you see.
As you know from last week, these people had followed Jesus all around the whole of the Sea of Galilee and they had come upon him as he was getting out of the boat as he was going to give his disciples a chance in this quiet, almost desert place, nothing around for miles, and they could sit and rest, and he’d teach them, etc, etc.
But there were hundreds and thousands of people crowding into this little place.
And the first thing that Jesus thinks about is…
We would think about how do I get out of here, or how can I put them off, or maybe next week, or take them one at a time.
And he looks upon them and he feels sad.
Because he loves them. Because Jesus has a generous heart and generous hearts do not walk away from things and people who are in need.
And so he reaches out to them.
And, of course, his disciples are ordinary people like us and they say, “What are we going to feed them? We don’t have anything here. There’s no restaurants. There’s nothing to buy. Nothing. We’re in the middle of a desert area.”
And Andrew comes up and he says, “Well, we found a little boy and he’s got five loaves and two fishes.”
What he has is barley loaves. Barley loaves are not beautiful, wonderful loaves made from wheat flour and can be extended a little further. Barley loaves are for the poor. They’re like little rolls and they’re heavy, but they’re tasty and, even today, a lot of people like eating barley loaves.
Five barley loaves and two fish. What is this among so many? That’s what we always say. What is this among so many?
I really can’t get into this, because it’s too much. I mean, it’s beyond me. I mean, this is crazy. (Inaudible), you know, step by step, and idea by idea. I’d never throw myself into five barley loaves and two fishes as perhaps feeding five thousand people.
Anyhow, Jesus says this, he says, “Sit them down.” Sit them down.
Now they sit down in groups.
Now what happens?
Well, we’ve had the generosity of the little boy and the generosity of Jesus who doesn’t run away with his disciples and come back another day when he can feed all this huge crowd.
What happens, of course, which is the next thing that happens, is that…
You’ve experienced this yourself.
Last night, I went to a lovely going out party. I don’t know exactly what you call it, but as you know when a mother has a child, a little girl, they wait sixty days and then celebrate the coming out of the little girl and the mother together. This is an old kind of Chinese custom, but it was a kind of coming out party that they were holding.
And I was there because, working at Wah Fu Chuen, this grandma was one of the first people that I ever met in Wah Fu Chuen and so we had ties. And she’d been through a lot. Her husband died of cancer and it was a long lingering kind of cancer. They were, most of all, ordinary Wah Fu Chuen people, and I got on well with them and that.
Anyhow, they invited me to come to the coming out party. And I went to the party. And, of course, there were lots of people that I knew, but most people were strangers to each other.
You know when somebody invites you to a party and you don’t know what to say or where you’re going to sit. And there were seats for a hundred people at these tables. Now when I went in there, I went in very early and I’m wondering who am I going to be sitting with, because sometimes they put you at a special table because you’re a special person.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, I think everybody in the party, they knew somebody, they didn’t know everybody. And, of course, people were sitting twelve at a table, now, twelve at a table, in the old traditional round table.
Why am I going on like this?
Because, from the moment I sat down to the moment I got up two hours later, something happened.
Do you know what happened?
When you put people in line, and you’re seated one by one, with the same one person looking at you all the time, and they’re all looking at the one who’s giving the talk, (inaudible).
But if you put them at a round table, you sit down — as Jesus sits them down on the grass in groups — what’s going to happen?
People start talking, like it or not. And, all of a sudden, if you sit there long enough, you’re going to find out that you become something different. You let down your guard and you talk about things. And, all of a sudden, this kind of impersonal event now is really very happy.
Because they got to know each other, some good food to eat, everything is fine.
I’m making a big thing out of this, because of two reasons.
One reason is that why does John make a big deal about sitting in different places? Let them all sit down on the nice green grass and become humans.
And I think the reason is this: that he knows that the future Church is going to be full of of different kinds of people. There are going to be rich and poor, they are going to be a bit of every culture, whatever it is.
What is that going to need?
That’s going to need us to find a place to sit down and not only get to know each other but to love each other.
And the only way you can learn to love another human being is sit down with a stranger and talk to them and be with them.
So one of the things that we have learned, you see, because this miracle, this miracle of the loaves and fishes, has as its object uniting us all in one family, from all different kinds of places into one loving family.
And who unites us?
And what does he do?
He takes the bread in front of all these people…
The little boy comes up with his little offering. That’s the first thing. The little boy comes up with his little five loaves and the fish, and he offers it to Jesus, who holds it up to all the people and offers it to God.
He offers it to God.
Because this is what the Jewish people do. You offer the things that you are about to eat, you offer it to God. And God (inaudible) and then you come down and you share it with each other.
Now I’m going to get a little radical — just to make it easy for you. And I’m not preaching any heresy, I promise you that.
What would happen if all these people, on a hot afternoon, decided to spend the whole day with Jesus?
Think of that. What would happen?
Well, the first thing you’d do is you’d bring food, because if you’re going to go walking all the way out into this wilderness, you’re going to need some food to carry with you.
So I’m sure, I’m sure as (inaudible), that they didn’t come without food.
The problem was nobody was sharing it. You know how you keep your own food.
But if you sit them down in groups of four or six, maybe they will begin to understand and begin to share what they brought with each other.
What does that?
A miracle does that. We can do that — you can have a plan and all that — but it would never work. But a miracle does it. And that’s the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is not how did he do it but why did he do it.
And why he did it was to make this ragtag bunch of people, who were looking to be healed and looking for this and looking for that, to sit down, share a meal and know that it is love that is the object of Jesus.
He is here that we might learn how to care, to love, to be with each other, to let go of all our funny fantasies, all our uptight kind of problems.
We are to sit together. And that’s why we are sitting here.
We are one. We are one not because we want to be one. We are one because Jesus wants you to become one. He wants you to know each other. He wants you to know what he is.
He has not come to make life easy for you. He has not come to solve all your problems.
He has only come for one thing, and it’s to let you know that God is here and God will always be with you and He will make of you a people and that people will never die.
And that is why it’s so important.
And how does it begin?
With a simple little boy, with a great and generous heart, giving everything he had to feed the people who came.
And somehow or other, in some mysterious way, Jesus made it possible and they all got fed.
It’s a lovely story, is it not?
I see some puzzled looks.
This is the way God is. He is not interested in making sure that none of us commit sins or that we have to be this, that and the other.
All we have to do is put ourselves into His hands and become one with each other. That’s why Jesus says…
They say, “Do you follow the Ten Commandments?” Yes? Everybody know the Ten Commandments?
“Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not… ” all the way down. Very important. They recognise the community and they do, and the Jewish people got it from the (inaudible). But everybody keeps the Ten Commandments, unless they’re in jail. It’s so serious, you know.
But when Jesus is asked what is the most important of all the Commandments, what does he say?
“Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt…”?
The only thing he says is, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Not as other people love each other or however they do it. Love one another as I have loved you.
“How do I love you?
“I have come to be with you. Later on you will see that I will lay my life down for you. I have to come to let you know how important you are and how lovely you are and how wonderful you are.
“Don’t give me your money. I’m not looking for high grades. I’m not looking for a hero.
“I’m there just to be with you and to know that God has opened His heart to you that you may learn to open your hearts to each other.”
Generosity doesn’t mean giving a lot of money at Christmas or helping the poor at Easter.
It includes that, but what generosity means is we have to learn how to give ourselves to each other without fear, without trepidation, without feeling sorry, without looking for things.
We have to learn how to live and love together. And that is why he came.
And so this is the opening words of John’s message.
There’ll be five more weeks when we continue what happens to Jesus. How does he react to this? And then we’ll take them one by one.
After we finish those five chapters in St John, then you will begin to really understand why you’re all sitting here, and why, despite all things, that you come and look upon yourselves and each other and then you come up and you take the Bread — not the five barley loaves and two fish, but the Bread of Life.
And now I’m going to tell you my mother’s story, one last time, because I love this story.
My mother, as you know, didn’t get along too well with the pastor of our parish, because they had a very wide discrepancy about what they kind of felt they should (inaudible).
Anyhow, she had trouble with him. And she had such trouble, whenever she went to Mass, when we would go home in the car (she would drive the car), she would kind of complain about him: Father this, Father that.
And, finally, one day, my father kind of winked at me, because he wanted to tease her. He winked at me and he said, “Denis, don’t you think that Father is a good preacher?”
And I said, “Oh, yeah, he’s the best preacher we’ve ever had.” Building him up.
Then she really got angry at us and she said, “It’s not true.”
And, finally, my father said –- he didn’t mean it, but he said –- “Sarah Jane,” (when he called her Sarah Jane it was very important, otherwise it was Sadie), “Sarah Jane, would you like to tell me why you bother going to church at all?”
And she looks at him, straight as an arrow, and she says, “I go for the Bread.”
Great answer. I go for the Bread, the body and blood of Jesus.
So divinity comes to us in this way that we might understand that we are all children of the Bread of God.
And with that, I’ve run out of time. Now, I don’t know how to get out of this. I think the best way to get out of this right now is to say it’s all been said. I don’t know what else to say.
But the one thing you must remember is we are called to be generous hearted. We are not called to be successful. We are called to be generous hearted and reaching out to those who most need it, but also reaching out to ordinary folks in our lives.
And if we are generous hearted, we will touch God.
And if we touch God, what else is there?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.