We have two homilies by Father Hanly for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. We have a recording and transcript for each homily.
More than Loaves and Fishes
Father Hanly’s homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, is on the Loaves and the Fishes. It is beautiful and it builds to a wonderful conclusion.
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
The sound quality is very bad for the first minute, but then it improves greatly, so persevere!
(The beginning of this homily is missing, but Father had just been to the United States to celebrate his 50th Anniversary of Ordination and, while in the United States, he’d visited his younger sister, Ann, so we think he started the homily by saying that when he stayed with Ann, he walked into his room and found on his bed licorice of all different flavours.)
Do you know what licorice is? It’s candy. And it’s got those kind of curls and it comes in two colours: in red and in black. And I and she, when we were young, were crazy about licorice. I mean it was (inaudible). And so we kind of formed a bond over the licorice. So all I had to do was walk in, I looked at the bed and I said, “She loves me!” And recalled all the wonderful things of childhood and everything in it we had. I’d sit there and I’d say yes I remember (inaudible). And it all comes back, you see.
Why? Because the licorice isn’t just candy. The licorice is a door to a whole world of experience that me and she could share together. And it was our secret, you see. She knew all she had to do was put the licorice down and I would and she would be, all the years that had gone by, we would be just like little children once again at home.
This is a sacramental way of looking at things, because, since God creates all things, all things are sacred. And when you look at something, just an egg or a piece of furniture, it has ways of reaching further and further. It is this and more, This and more. Not just a packet of liquorice, it’s a packet of liquorice and my sister and time together and all of these things. Now you got that, yeah?
That’s the way you have to read the gospel. It is this and more. And I’ll give you an example. John is full of liquorice.
OK, the gospel:
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Signs, you see. The signs were healing signs. And when the people saw him healing in so many different ways — the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard the gospel preached to them — they began to understand that the things that he was doing, the healing he was doing, was the healing of God himself. And that God was somehow touching him to make them understand that God was present.
The Jewish feast of the Passover, the Passover is the Last Supper, the Last Supper, the last time Jesus gathers his people around him, the ones who love him, and he takes the bread and breaks it and says, “Become one. You and I are one. This is me.” And it’s his last supper and that is going to be the sign and the symbol of all the richness that each person brings with faith to Jesus.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
The first thought of Jesus is to take care of the people that are coming to him. They might be strangers. You don’t know what they are like. You don’t know how they are going to even treat you. They might reject you. But your heart goes out in compassion, because these are not a group or a community of people. These are people from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common, a hunger in the heart. Not just looking for a meal, but a hunger in the heart.
And he said this to Philip, “Where can we buy enough to feed them?” And then Philip answered. He said,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”
What he is saying to Jesus is, “When this large crowd of hungry people come to you, send them away. There’s nothing we can do.” He’s cynical about it. Oscar Wilde says, “A cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That’s a good thing to bear in mind, because we all tend to be a little cynical and know the price of everything but the true value (inaudible) the crowd.
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
he is a little sceptical, he says,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
There is another way of approaching the hungry crowd is “Oh yeah, well, I wish I could help, but we have such a…I don’t have enough for myself, just a little bit, and I need it, and have to hold on to it.” That kind of “I can’t really solve this problem, so I won’t even begin trying.”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Have them sit down.
Now, this is a big crowd of people, they’re just pushing and shoving and trying to get near enough to hear what he has to say. And now Jesus says to them, “Have them all sit down.” And Mark, lovely Mark, adds
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So it was nice and comfortable. So now you have them not only coming, but they’re sitting down. And they have to, kind of … You know, when you’re walking you don’t have to talk to anybody who is around you, but when you’re sitting down, that means you have to start talking to people, and you see each other. He sits them down in little groups.
So the men reclined
The women and children did, too. But there were
five thousand in number
That means five thousand men, so you can multiply that by women and children.
And now what is he going to do? He has compassion on them. He loves them. He has them sitting down, looking at him. And now what he does is, he takes the bread of the little boy, and the fish, and he blesses them, he gives thanks and
distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
This is really the part…I am looking at you now. You came in as a kind of a lot of individuals coming in to here and kind of mulling about and not talking to each other. And now you’re all sitting down, you see. And now the words that are used by Mark are the words that we use at communion. The priest took the bread into his hands, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples and people later on said, “This is my body.”
And so what Mark is telling us when he wrote about this great event he was thinking of the Last Supper. And because he knew of the Last Supper, as well as this kind of thing that took place, he felt that there was some oneness in the people coming to Jesus. He sits them down. He makes it possible for them to become one. And the way he does it is they share the bread.
Now, they share the bread to eat, but we, and Mark reminds us, we share the bread of life. And the bread we eat and the bread of life is the same except at Mass the bread that we share, it is the bread of life, for the bread is Jesus made present among us.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
Twelve is a famous number. Twelve apostles. Twelve tribes of Israel. It means to Mark, to the disciples, that what Jesus is doing, he is saying, “You are the new people of God. You have come to hear, you have come to become one with the Messiah, the one who feeds you, and you are a new people, and you are, like the Twelve Tribes of Israel, one people of God.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Why? Because they all remembered the story of the forty years in the desert. Every day who fed them? The manna came from heaven and God was feeding his people. And they looked at Jesus and they remembered this and they said, “This indeed is the Messiah, the one that God is sending. And he has come to heal us and to save us.”
And what do they think? They think, “We shall make him a king.”
And Jesus knows this. And he runs away and hides. Because they missed the point. They missed the whole point. They said, “Wow, if he is Jesus, we will always be full of food and wonderful things.” And they missed the point.
And what was the point? The point was when the hungry come to you, Peter, and when the hungry come to you, Andrew, you sit them down, and make them feel at home, and you share with them what you have. And, in the sharing, then you will know that the banquet isn’t to feed people’s bodies, it is to show that the world is full of love, and it’s all around you.
And you keep missing the point. But, when you find the point, then your whole life changes. But they would have to walk a long way before they understood that the real point of the miracle at the mountain was not how did he do it, but what he had accomplished was to make all these strangers, unknown to each other, share in a banquet of love.
And that’s what he expects us to do every Sunday. The point is we renew our love for each other, and renew our faith in Jesus who is with us, and it is he who allows us to share in his love, and it is he who we worship, but, most of all, it is he who feeds us, every day, with his own spirit and his own body.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
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.
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 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 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.
Why? 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 rag tag 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 heal 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’ve 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. 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 are 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 with him, she went to Mass and, 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. When he wanted to tease her, he’d wink 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 have 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.
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Father Hanly's sermon for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "More than Loaves and Fishes" was delivered on 26th July 2009. Father Hanly's sermon for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "Be Generous Hearted" was delivered on 29th July 2012. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.