Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

July 26, 2015
Reading 1: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Reading 2: Eph 4:1-6; Gospel: Jn 6:1-15

« We make a living by what we earn, but we make a life by what we give. »

There are three kinds of givers — the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more pressure you use, the more water you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of giver are you?

The following story is told by Ilene Wright about how a pastor’s act of kindness saved a family: Years ago, Ilene’s preacher noticed that a family standing in front of him at a New Orleans convenience store did not have enough money to pay for their few items. He tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “You don’t need to turn around, but please accept this money.” The man accepted the money without even seeing the preacher.

Nine years later, the pastor was invited to speak at a church in New Orleans. After the service, a man walked up to the preacher and shared this story about how he had come to faith in Christ: “Several years ago, my wife and our child were destitute. We had lost everything, had no jobs, no money and were living in our car. We also lost all hope, and agreed to a suicide pact which included our child. However, we decided to first give our son some food, so we drove to a convenience store to buy him some food and milk.”

“While we were standing in line at the store, we realized that we did not have enough money to pay for these items, but a man behind us asked us to please take the money from his hand and not look at him. This man told us ‘Jesus loves you.’”

“We left the store, drove to our designated suicide site, and wept for hours. We couldn’t go through with it, so we drove away. As we drove, we noticed a church with a sign in the front which said, ‘Jesus love you.’ We went to that church the very next Sunday, and both my wife and I were saved that day.”

He then told the pastor, “When you began speaking this morning, I knew immediately that you were the man who gave us that money.” How did he know? The pastor was from South Africa and had a very distinct accent. He continued, “Your act of kindness was much more than a simple good deed. Three people are alive today because of it.”

A gentle challenge: Maintain your spiritual antennae, remembering that God can multiply the smallest gift many times over.

R. G. LeTourneau (1888 – 1969) was a Christian industrialist who dedicated his life to being a businessman for God. He was hugely successful, designing and developing his own line of earth-moving equipment. LeTourneau was the maker of nearly 300 inventions, and had hundreds of patents in his lifetime. As he succeeded financially, he increased his giving to the point where he was giving 90% of his income to the Lord’s work. He would say, “I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back—but God has a bigger shovel.”

You might be thinking: I could give 90%, too, if I was a millionaire. Maybe so, but LeTourneau didn’t start out wealthy.

A gentle challenge: Whatever percentage of your income you are currently donating, make a lifelong plan to boost that amount at every opportunity.

How much is enough? And how little will go far? These practical matters are sometimes questions of faith and the answer to these questions is provided in the first reading. Israel, the northern kingdom, was ruled by a series of money hungry, idolatrous depots (Judea was the southern kingdom). God raised up prophets, first Elijah, then Elisha, to challenge the rulers and guide the people. A man brought Elisha a prophet’s tithe, but Elisha decided to share it with the poor. When the man objected, Elisha assured the man: “There will be some left over.”

In our culture of material excess, how many times have we run out of time or money or energy? Would not it be amazing to experience an abundance from our meager efforts? Is this not what God promises us?

The second reading reminds us of our call to live in unity with others by a life of loving, caring and sharing. This unity is a reflection of our unity with the Trinitarian God. That is the bar that measures an effective Christian life.

Reflect on your efforts to build up others. How effective have you been? In turn, how have your efforts built up your spiritual life?

Sometimes we confuse God’s blessings with faith: we assume abundance is the sign of God’s favor. This sets up a vicious cycle of greed. The little we have is not enough; we want more. And we rationalize this greed in the name of God.

Coming to today’s gospel reading, the signs, the time, and the place seemed perfect for a miracle. The signs were Jesus’ cures. The time was spring, close to Passover, the feast of liberation from slavery. The place was a mountain in the desert; on such a mountain, God gave the Law to Moses and revealed his power.

Expecting an experience like their ancestors of the Exodus, the people followed Jesus. And Jesus did not disappoint them.

Jesus’ disciples focused on the problem rather than on God. When we are confronted with a situation with no solution in sight, we need to remember “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

In the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, Jesus surpassed the two great prophets of Galilee, Elijah and Elisha. From a single basket of food, there were 12 baskets left over, a number that meant fulfillment. The 12 baskets of leftovers may symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel. They also tell us that God is not only a generous provider, but that he has unlimited resources. The time and the place were just right; the sign was from God. And, Jesus revealed himself as the Great Prophet.

This miracle also associates Jesus with the Bread of Life, which is how Jesus later describes himself. From one body, God fed many, and abundance remained. One small piece of bread was broken and the result was eternal life. From the flesh of one man, the world was fed.

How can we apply today’s message to our lives?

  • We are called to share what God has provided for us in order to see the miracle of multiplication and abundance in our lives.
  • We are limited in our capacities but our God is not limited. Because of his endless bounty, we have faith and trust in his powerful providence.
  • Miracles happen daily during the Eucharistic Sacrifice; only Jesus can change our lives and make us capable of reaching out to our less fortunate brothers and sisters who have less or nothing and remind them that our God is rich and provides in plenty.
  • God is always at work for our good. “In prosperity, he tries out our gratitude; in mediocrity, our contentment; in misfortune, our submission; in darkness, our faith; under temptation, our steadfastness, and at all times, our obedience and trust in him.”

What I spent, is gone; what I kept, I lost;
but what I gave away, will be mine forever.

Let us be a blessing to others by sharing our blessings with them!

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

 

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