Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Just down the road from our parish is some land which the Marianists call Mount Saint John. The other night, as I was there praying I came across a statue of Jesus for the first time. Jesus’ heart is exposed and his open hands are lifted next to his heart. He struck me as strong and vulnerable, ready to receive whoever comes and eager to give them whatever he can. It is an image which I think can help us unpack today’s readings. Let us consider the heart of Jesus, the hands of Jesus, and Eucharistic life.
a) Heart of Jesus. Though the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not mentioned explicitly in today’s readings, if we lean in, listen and look closely, we can catch a glimpse of it. It’s a marvelous sight. “Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him.” Then He asked Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Upon seeing a large crowd approach, Jesus sees the needs of others and his first move is to reach out to them. What kind of heart is this? Towards whom is it turned? The compassionate, open heart of Jesus is turned outwards, towards his heavenly Father and his Father’s children, especially those in need. This openness is a possibility for the human heart, yet we remain free to choose other options. Once, a flight attendant was assisting a passenger who was suffering a heart attack in flight. Another passenger, fully aware of the emergency and its gravity, angrily tapped the flight attendant on the shoulder and said, “My coffee is cold!” This example shows the depths to which our hearts can descend when they are turned inwards, frozen shut in sinful self-absorption as if nobody else mattered. The tender heart of Jesus is the warm, radiant antithesis of such selfishness. Most of our hearts fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, like Philip and Andrew in today’s Gospel. They wanted to help, but thought it was impossible or at least impractical. “Where can we buy enough food? What good are these for so many?” Their good hearts trembled a bit. Hindered by fear and doubt, they hesitated. What do we do when we see “a large crowd” or anyone in need approaching our border, our neighborhood, our parish, our office, our home? How do we respond? The answers to those questions reveal to us something about our heart’s orientation. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to have hearts like His: open to the crowd and eager to feed.
b) Hands of Jesus. Let us take a look now at Jesus’ hands. How does He use them and for whom? It has been said that all of Sacred Scripture speaks of Christ, so we can read today’s psalm in light of the Gospel. The psalmist proclaims, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” and in his Gospel, John writes, “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.” What does Jesus do with His hands? He receives a humble offering, thanks His Father and feeds the crowd. Or, paraphrasing another line from the Psalm, Jesus opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. Notice the word desire. Jesus meets the needs of the crowd, but He does more than that. He has the people recline. People do not recline for fast-food. This is the posture taken for a banquet, a time of leisure, joy, celebration and abundance. Philip and Andrew, like the servant in the first reading, were concerned about the scarcity of supplies. They feared that there wouldn’t be enough. Such a fear can give rise to a stinginess that asserts, “Me and my group first. There isn’t enough for all of us.” Yet the crowd had their fill! Twelve wicker baskets of bread remained. The seemingly meagre supplies somehow, with Christ, became more than the crowd could eat.
The hands of Jesus give generously, in abundance. These same hands were later pierced, nailed to a Cross to bring about our redemption. It was there that Jesus met our deepest need and desire for love without condition, for healing and salvation. There too, Jesus gave in abundance, offering to the Beloved Disciple not only Himself and his blood, but giving even more when He said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” Jesus offers us His Mother to be our Mother and helper on the path of discipleship. Mary’s presence in our lives, like the twelve wicker baskets of leftovers is a sign of God’s overflowing love for us. The hands of Jesus reach out to give us more than enough.
c) Eucharistic Life. In John’s Gospel, miracles are referred to as signs, which point to another reality. After Jesus’ first sign at the Wedding of Cana, his disciples began to believe in him. After the sign in today’s Gospel, the people say, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” They recognized in this sign something greater, Someone greater. We Catholics can see a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. Jesus is not only the giver, he himself is the gift. Jesus does not only multiply bread and feed, but He becomes bread and food for us daily. The original fragments from the twelve wicker baskets that are dust, long gone. Yet today, here within these walls, in a matter of moments, we will receive not the bread that Jesus once multiplied, but the Great Multiplier Himself. In the person of the priest Jesus, with open heart and outstretched arms, will say once again to us, “Take this, all of you and eat of it.” He who fed the five thousand will enter and become part of us. Take a moment to sit with and absorb that reality…. In your heart, what do you want to say to God in response?
Perhaps you too said, “Thank you.” One way to respond to God’s great love in Jesus Christ is thanksgiving, which is what the word “Eucharist” means. We can be like the little boy in today’s Gospel. He didn’t work a miracle and didn’t have to. He didn’t have much and he didn’t need to. But he stayed close to Jesus and generously gave what he had without fanfare. Only one filled with gratitude can hold things with such a light grasp and give them away so freely. The Servant of God Dorothy Day once wrote, “What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest.” Where is your heart turned? How will you feed someone this week? What will be your response to receiving the Lord in the Eucharist today? Like the little boy, let us thank God and go forth to live Eucharistic lives marked by the openness and generosity we’ve glimpsed in the heart of Jesus and by the impulse to reach out our hands to feed others in whatever way we can.
Bro. Brandon paluch, SM