Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2015)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
“Let’s make sure there is enough to go around.” Those words were the usual warnings from my mother on a Sunday afternoon just about when neighbors were about to show up for dinner. We may not have been a wealthy rural family but at the same time we never left the table hungry. To take a moderate serving the first time around was simply a mark of courtesy to our guests. Nonetheless, we youngsters were always warned head of time. My mother was always a good meal planner, perhaps because there were often already eight at the table even without guests. So, the traditional rule always was “there will always be enough if you make the food go around.” That tradition never failed as far back as I could remember.
That is a practice we might well learn again in this age when, at least in First World countries, where there should be enough to go around. Sadly enough, however, statistics taken by social scientists tell us that many, many people go hungry each day. The problem is not a matter of production but rather a matter of distribution, distributive justice, of making sure that the hungriest always have the opportunity to find food each day.
The great anomaly in the world today is that our God never fails to provide the power of growth to the planet. The human family, however, has not yet learned that the products of the earth belong to everyone without exception. The old assumption of “everyone for himself” does not work, never has. There are always those who find themselves picking up the crumbs from under the table or becoming “dumpster-divers” if they wish to live.
A casual stroll through a modern Sam’s Club will astonish a person who has recently come to America from a Third World country. The abundance of almost anything you can name will be found on either side of those wide aisles.
I would be the first to admit, of course, that world economics is no simple matter; indeed, it is a tremendously complicated issue when one reflects on how people are scattered across the planet where even the most dedicated governments are not able to make human necessities go around
Now, as we turn to the scriptures for this Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we may be led to imagine that the issue of human sharing is a rather simple matter. The story from the Book of Kings tells us about the prophet Elisha who assured the messenger bringing twenty barley loaves that they would feed a hundred hungry people if they were simply distributed.
The story is repeated in John’s gospel where a large number of people were gathered to see Jesus in a rural area, a considerable distance from their homes. Fearing that many would collapse from hunger on their way home, Jesus asked his disciples if there was any food available. A youngster showed up with five barley loaves and a few fish (perhaps the lunch he brought with him.) Once again, the words of Elisha are repeated: “Distribute whatever you have; make it go around. It did go around; indeed twelve baskets of crusts were collected afterward. No one went home hungry that day.
It is often seem a temptation in critical situations to call up a miracle like Elisha and Jesus did. Given the billions of people on the planet today, the inefficiency of world governments and the varied atmospheric conditions that exist in the world, miracles are too easy an answer to the problem world poverty. Not even the United Nations with all its food programs has been anywhere near successful in this great human cause.
Yet, as Christians, we are obligated at least to follow the example of the Jewish lad out in the country with six barley loaves and a few fish. He willingly gave up what he had without asking questions about distribution. He probably said something like this: “Hey, Jesus, I’ve got six loaves of barley bread right here and a few fish that I caught just this morning. Will these do? Of course, we all know what happened next.
The lesson that seems to arise here is that we need not wait for the United Nations, or a World Bank program to kick in. That may be too complicated and end up still feeding only a relative few on the planet. Perhaps, instead, the example of the boy out there in the crowd on the grassy meadow carrying his lunch basket is a more realistic solution. He shared what little he had and it went around. Most of us do not have millions but we have something. If we share it, God will make it go around, bet on it. Hey, that’s what my mother said, isn’t it?
The scriptures: 2 Kings 4: 42-44 • Ephesians 4: 106 • John 6: 1-5
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time