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.