The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs
The spiritual considerations that we make today, guided by the readings of the liturgy this seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, seem to take after that which we have made the week before. Then, we had reflected on the love which the Good Shepherd lavishes on his sheep; here, we see the continued providence of the Lord in favor of his people, one that springs from his total self-giving, from his generosity.
The readings allow us to contemplate a God whose generosity abounds and overflows. In the First Reading we hear about Elisha, prophet of God, who was moved by circumstance to feed the people whom he was with, with nothing more than the twenty barley loaves made from the fresh fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. The audacity of feeding a hundred people with no more than these supplies, which were seemingly insufficient. In the face of this, the servant expresses the seeming impossibility to accomplish the task: “How can I set this before a hundred people?”. To this the prophet replies, citing the words of Scripture: For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over’, words which effectively expressed what did take place. Everybody was able to eat, and there was such an abundance of food derived from the original offering that there were some left overs.
This scene is replicated in the Gospel today. The Lord puts his disciples to the task of feeding a great number, more numerous than in the case of Elisha. With the help of the offering of a young boy, they were told to feed the large crowd with five barley loaves and two fish, something even more meager than the twenty loaves in the time of Elisha. Yet the Lord Jesus bids them to feed the thousands who have followed him, five thousand in all. After having blessed the loaves, the Lord has them distributed to the crowd, and the amazement of everybody is patent, when they slowly discover that there was enough bread and fish to go around in order to feed the multitude, and there was such an abundance that they were even able to fill twelve wicker baskets with leftovers.
The miracle of the feeding happens, not with the initiative of man, but through the will and desire of God. God is to be the first model of generosity that we have before us: his divine life is one big generous act. The Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—is a communion of persons wherein one simply is for the other. Outside of that divine life, creation is sustained by the generous providence of God. In our own personal lives, we could consider the words of the apostle, what do we have that we have not recieved?(1 Cor 4:7).
However, the greatest manifestation of God’s generosity finds its face in that of Jesus Christ, who gave us his life on the cross in order to show us what charity—the greatest of all Christian virtues—means. This charity is the prime reason of generosity. In the gift of himself to the Father and for fallen man, he has shown us the deepest meaning of generosity as the gift of self, generosity whose ultimate hallmark is love. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we find the fullest expression of the Lord’s generosity: God giving himself totally to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, in order that we may be filled with his very own divine life. No wonder this mystery we call the Eucharist, because the response to such a self-giving is none other than thanksgiving, eucharistia in Greek. The episode of the multiplication of the loaves in a way is a figure that foreshadows the mystery of the Eucharist, in which Christ’s own body, broken and shared, and his blood, shed for us us, becomes the food that feeds the multitude and gives it life.
Christ’s self-giving, and our contemplation of the Gospel moves us to make a further consideration: God’s generosity having been lavished upon us, we ourselves are moved to be generous with what we have. Generosity doesn’t say much about what we have, but more about the disposition that we have to share with others, a disposition that is founded on Christian charity. You don’t need to be rich in order to be generous; Christ valued the offering of the poor widow than the donations of the filthy rich in the temple (cfr. Mk 12: 41-44; Lk 21: 1-4). Generosity is a disposition to share—not only what you have, but even your own self. It is not based on what you have in your hands or in your wallet, but rather first and foremost that which is in your heart. People with no great love will find it very hard to share; persons who have hearts of gold because they do care readily share the little that they have.
This great capacity of self-giving is a fruit of an authentic Eucharistic spirituality. The Eucharist, which is the sacrament of God’s self-giving, begets the same miracle in our lives: it enables us to be givers, not merely receivers, and not merely of things that are external to us (material possessions, time, attention), but even of our own selves, to God first and foremost, and to those nearest to us as well.
On the other hand, negativity and pessimism, a lack of trust in God’s providence and generosity in our lives is the enemy of generosity. “What good are these for so many?” asked the disciples to Jesus, speaking of the meager offering of the boy in the Gospel. It was a valid question that could be made, but one that belies the lack of trust that lay in the hearts of those who followed the Lord. Generosity, like love, though prudent, does not calculate. The one who generously gives submits himself totally to the providence and generosity of God.
Nowadays there is so much need of renewing this generosity in our hearts. Basically, among other things, at the heart of the issue of contraception that is espoused in the Responsible Parenthood bill now about to be debated in our legislature is this lack of generosity and trust in the generosity of God. A new life being brought into the world could give rise to new concerns that need to be addressed, that is true; but these concerns—for a heart that is generous, loving and trusting in God’s generosity, are never reasons to be closed to life. There are many solutions to the issue; why choose one that is contrary to what is true and good?
To end, the Word of Life given to us this Sunday invites us to reflect in our lives this same generosity that is manifest in the life of God; it is only when we are open and trust more in what God can do through and in us (and less in what we can do on our own), that we would begin to see miracles, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those nearest to us. AMEN.