2KINGS 4:42-44; PSALM 145; EPHESIANS 4:1-6; JOHN 6:1-15
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Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)
THE BIBLICAL APPROACH TO ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM OF HUNGER IN THE WORLD
Dear friends, today we are reflecting on the theme, “The Biblical Approach to Addressing the Problem of Hunger in the World.” Hunger and poverty have continued to be the single biggest catalyst to instability and lack of peace in many regions of the world. Poverty indeed dehumanizes and makes life hardly worth living and therefore easily dispensable at any given instigation. Therefore, our chances of advancing peace and stability in the world are largely dependent on our success in diminishing the problem of hunger and poverty.
Today, the readings of the liturgy offer us a model for confronting this ever ancient and ever contemporary problem. In the 1st Reading (2 Kings 4:42-44), we read of Elisha’s feeding of a hundred disciples of the prophets with just twenty loaves of barley bread and some fresh grain brought to him as bread of the first harvest, in accordance with the practice of bringing the first fruit to men of God (priests or prophets; cf. Lev 23:9-21).
In the preceding passage, we are told that it was a time of famine and Elisha had earlier fed them with a stew made from wild gourds. While eating, the disciples of the prophets had stomach upsets and cried out: “O man of God, there is death in the pot”, hence they couldn’t continue to eat it (4:38-40). Elisha resolved this problem by asking his servant who had prepared the meal to fetch some flour and put in the pot, an intervention that made the stew eventually edible.
Apparently, they weren’t satisfied, hence, when this man from a town identified as Baal-shalishah brought the gift, the prophet asked that it be given to the needy disciples. But the servant tried to offer the traditional excuse that the food was too little for hundred men. He said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” (v. 43a). But the prophet insisted, “Give it to the people and let them eat”, supporting his order with a scriptural quotation: “For thus said the Lord: ‘They shall eat and have some left over’” (v.43b). And indeed, when they had eaten, they had some left over in accordance with the word of the Lord (v.44).
Clearly, this calls us to make ours the responsibility of making the first little but necessary step, instead of doing absolutely nothing, confident that the grace of God works over the imperfect nature of the effort we begin and raises it up to the point of satisfaction and perfection beyond our imagination. When we take the first steps in caring for our hungry, poorer and more socio-economically disadvantaged brothers and sisters, we are not only doing an act of charity towards them but also towards ourselves, since, our destinies are inextricably interconnected.
In fact, in the 2nd Reading (Eph 4:1-6) which is the beginning of the exhortative aspect of this letter on unity and reconciliation, the author underscores the fact that we share one and the same destiny: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (vv.4-6). Thus, the author pleads with believers to humbly, gently and patiently bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace (vv.1-3).
The Gospel Reading comes from the first part of John 6 (6:1-15) which is the longest chapter of the Gospel of John, read uninterruptedly from the 17th up to the 21st Sunday of this liturgical year circle. Today’s passage tells us about Jesus’ feeding of a multitude which constitutes his fourth sign or deed of power in the Gospel of John, after turning water to wine at the wedding Feast at Cana (2:1-12), healing the son of a royal official living in Capernaum (4:46-54) and the lame man at the pool of the Sheep Gate (Beth-zatha) in Jerusalem on the Sabbath day (5:1-9).
The story has a lot of similarities with the story of Elisha’s feeding of a multitude (a hundred men) in 2 Kings 4 which we have as today’s 1st Reading. There are two levels of disciples in both cases: the ones immediately working with the master (inner-circle disciples), and those who are more general followers. The inner-circle disciple of Elisha is described as his servant (4:38) or attendant (4:43) and is charged with the responsibility of preparing a stew of wild gourds for the hungry followers described as “disciples of the prophets” (4:38). It is this inner circle disciple who is slow to give food to the hungry followers on the excuse that it would be too little (4:43).
Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus has his inner circle disciples and a large hungry followership and asks one of his inner-circle disciples, Philip to figure out how to get food for the hungry crowd of followers. Philip, like Elisha’s servant, expresses the idea of not having enough to feed the crowd: “Two hundred denarii [an equivalence of six months’ wages] would not buy bread enough for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6:7). Another disciple, Andrew said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (6:9).
Jesus would take these five barley loaves and fish, say a thanksgiving prayer and distribute them to the seated crowd. Like in the Elisha scenario, they all ate to satisfaction and there was left over amounting to about twelve baskets (6:10-13).
Clearly, this story is told with the Elisha story at the background, as if to show that Jesus was a prophet like Elisha. The episode in fact concludes on this note: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come in the world” (6:14). However, Jesus is not just like Elijah but even greater, since Elijah fed only a hundred men with a combination of the stew of gourds, twenty loaves of bread and some fresh grain, while Jesus feeds an unquantified number described simply as a large crowd, with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
In both cases, nonetheless, we are dealing with overcoming the tendency to think that we can share what we have only when we have enough, a logic displayed by Elisha’s servant and the two disciples of Jesus. However, both Elisha in the 1st Reading and Jesus in the Gospel dismiss this logic. Their insistence that the disciples give the multitudes from the little they had, makes the point that not having enough must not be a pretext not to help those who are weaker, poorer and hungry. In the final analysis, generosity, sensitivity, compassion, charity and solidarity which inspire us to share, are qualities of the heart, not of the pocket.
The readings today, therefore, strongly invite us to imbibe a spirituality that sees human effort, imperfect as it may be, as something God does not despise or dismiss but rather, as a collaboration God encourages, welcomes, takes up, transforms and perfects. The God of the Bible comes through most often as one who makes little things great than as one who makes things out of nothing.
FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI
FEEDING TEN THOUSAND PERSONS AND MORE
The first reading and the gospel reading today present us with a similar miracle. The miracle of feeding a large crowd with a few bread and fish. In the first reading, Elisha fed a hundred men with twenty barley loaves, they ate to satisfaction and had some to spare (2Kings 4:42-44). Similarly, in the Gospel, John 6 –the theology of the Eucharist; Jesus fed five thousand men with five barley loaves and two small fish. They ate to satisfaction and had twelve basketsful of broken pieces leftover. Beloved, this is the miracle of sharing. If we renounce selfishness and bring forth the little we have all will eat to satisfaction and we shall have reserve. Today, if we must feed five thousand men, ten thousand women and twenty thousand children we must take note of thing following themes.
We must not despise little things: For Jesus, little things can make a significant impact on the big picture. Your riches, prosperity and wealth may hinge on that little gift you are currently underestimating. Andrew underestimated the items; he says “…What are they among so many?” Many business tycoons started so small, many big malls started small, many industries started as shops; many writers struggled to write ABCD, many mathematicians had untold battles with many formulas in mathematics. The secret to stardom is a positive mind set, you may call it determination. If you are negative about all you got you will never have a positive end. No gift is too small or insignificant for divine recognition. The little boy’s lunch in John 6:9 fed five thousands with left over. You can’t fast-predict the extent your little gift can go.
We must bring forth our gifts: What we have inside of us is always more than enough. Man’s problem is greed. We don’t want to bring forth what we have. Oftentimes we think it will not be recognized or others have more than we do. Beloved, God has a purpose for your gifts; in the first reading a man from Baal-shalishah, brought bread from his first-fruits – “twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear.” With these food stuffs Elisha fed a hundred men and had left over. Similarly, the little boy in the gospel brought forth what he had and it was multiplied that they had left over. Beloved, if you don’t bring it forth you will not go forth. If you don’t express what you are capable of doing because you think it will not be appreciated you will end up in regrets. Bring forth your skill and Jesus will spring it forth!
Have you not read that the small coin in the mouth of a fish was used to pay tax in Matthew 17:27? If you can sing, open your mouth. Beloved, open your mouth you may be the next AY the world is waiting for, open your mouth you may be the best MC in your generation. If you don’t open your mouth the world shall not hear you. Hey, bring forth what you have and save us all. The resources of this nation is more than enough but it is in the hands of few who are hoarding it for generations yet unborn. Many communities have no light yet individuals in such communities have vehicles whose monetary equivalents can power such communities for years. Many have no good roads; yet the vehicles used on these bad roads can construct many of such roads. Beloved, we have more than enough but our problem is that we don’t want to service common good. Bring forth your gifts and satisfy many. Paul reminds us in the second reading that we are one, let us help ourselves. Christ uses people to meet the needs of people. When Christ uses you to meet the needs of others, He always provides a basketful of leftovers for your needs. All human beings by nature are social and interdependent. Therefore, we have an obligation to help each other out. What any one of us has belongs to all of us.
We must be generous: The response to the psalm of today says “You open wide your hand, O Lord, and grant our desires.” God is generous to all of us. God is a great provider; He provides for our needs and has blessed us in many ways. Today’s Psalm continues saying “The eyes of all creatures look to you and you give them their food in due time. You open wide your hand, grant the desires of all who live.” We on to God and He feeds us. Beloved, God has granted our desires but we suffer because we fail to grant desires for ourselves – we fail to help each other. If God has blessed you, help a brother or a sister. If we must feed five thousand and more we must be generous. Oftentimes we are greedy and selfish and so we don’t see the development we tend to portray.
We must express gratitude: John 6:11 says “… then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks.” Again, the psalm of today is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the God-given ecology, which gives us physical life and sustenance. We are called to give thanks. Oftentimes we don’t give thanks to God for what we have and enjoy. We are not even conscious of God’s working grace in our lives. We are mostly carried away with our needs and yearnings. Beloved, we must learn to give thanks always. How many of us still give thanks before and after meals? The Mass is a celebration of gratitude – the priest at the offertory gives thanks to the Creator for the bread and wine, fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. Gratitude does the miraculous even today! If you yearn for increase give thanks. If you want your tank to be full be thankful. Anthony Robbins says “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” –
We must learn to manage our recourses: One of the crises in our nation today is that we waste a lot. We must learn to manage what we have and to learn better ways of preservation. When they had eaten enough Jesus said to the disciples, “Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.”(John 6:12). In the Spiritual parlance the Church continues to preserve whatever is left over from her Eucharistic celebration in the tabernacle. Jesus teaches this spiritual and material courtesy in order to teach us deep sense of gratitude. Today, many have lost this courtesy, many waste their recourses in frivolous living. Today people make money and waste them on expensive wine; they wash their cars with expensive wine, buy expensive cars and lock them up in car parks. Many have money than necessary, squander on gadgets and gold wrist watches. In fact, it is a life spent in consumerism and materialism. Jesus calls us today to feed the hungry rather than feeding ourselves to constipation.
Lastly, we must desire God above all things: The miracles in today’s readings prefigure the Eucharist. “The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist” (CCC 1335). No doubt we need food and drink and lots of other things in this life, but above all we need God. The hundred ate and were satisfied, the five thousand ate and were satisfied; we are never satisfied. Human wants are insatiable – satisfaction does not come from bread; rather it comes from the Bread of life. So, those we feed physically we must learn to feed them spiritually with the Bread of life. The Bread of life is the only means we can derive true satisfaction. Isaiah 55:2 asked “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” This generation also needs to answer this question. We spend so much searching for satisfaction. Beloved, Jesus alone is satisfactory. A song goes thus; “I have Jesus in my life am satisfied; even though I have nothing I am satisfied.
FR. PAUL OREDIPE
GOD’S ABUNDANT PROVIDENCE – SHARE WITH OTHERS
Today can be described as the Abundant Divine Providence Sunday. I say this because that is the theme celebrated and proclaimed in our readings and prayers today. It is more evident in the Gospel passage just listened to.
Last Sunday our attention was drawn to the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd. As Christ saw a great multitude like sheep without a shepherd, He began to teach them at great length. After feeding the people’s minds, in today’s gospel, Christ fed their bodies – the great multitude of people who came to Him, to listen and to learn from Him. In this we see the great generosity of God and His abundant providence.
We usually refer to this as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but there is a lot more to this miracle than food for dinner. On a deeper scale, the miracle is sharing in the Lord of all that He is. It is a miracle of being filled with the food the Lord gives, Himself.
In the First reading taken from the second book of Kings, there is the story of Elisha and the feeding of some people with twenty barley loaves. This is seen as foreshadowing the multiplication of the loaves and fish in the gospel. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but it is meant to lead us to the thought that in the Old Testament God cared for his people too.
This is equally the message of the Responsorial Psalm which links the reading from the Old Testament with that of the New. We rejoice in the generosity and providence of God: “All your creatures thank you, O Lord . . . You give them their food in due time. You open wide you hand, O Lord, and grant us our desires.” The response confirms this:
In the Gospel, a large crowd had come to listen to Jesus. He is concerned about their welfare and well-being. This generosity and providence of God is not just for admiration. It is to be imitated in our lives. This is what the young boy in the crowd did. He did not keep the five barley loaves and the two fish to himself. Rather, he gave it up, he shared it. The young boy gave them to Jesus, and Jesus did the rest. Jesus could have fed the crowd without the loaves and fish. However, He asked for it to show a lesson – that we have to do our part; – that we have to share with others. It is only then that He will bless it, it is only then that He will multiply it.
Let us learn a lesson from this young boy in the gospel of today. His sacrifice was well rewarded when Jesus feed the multitude with the food he has provided. Through the power and prayer of the Lord, the impossible becomes possible. What is given to Jesus as a sacrifice is given back by Him totally transformed. The crowd is fed, symbolising that Jesus has come to give life to all people.
Each time we refuse or withdraw our sharing hands from a neighbour, we are simply refusing to give God the five loaves and the two fish that we have. We want him to do the miracle alone. He is ready to work miracles, yes, still today, but with our efforts. He wants our efforts in working with Him. Our efforts at pleasing Him in the way we live. Our efforts in turning to Him in prayer, asking Him to show us what He wants from us, in this or that situation.
Saint Augustine reminds us of this need to join hands with God in working our own miracles when he said that “the God who made us without our co-operation will not save us without our co-operation.” We can take the five loaves to stand for our five fingers and the two fish to stand for our two hands. What this means is that God wants the works of our hands. He requires our efforts in increasing what we have. If we give Him our five loaves (5 fingers symbolizing the entire works of our hands), we can be sure that we will get as much as we need, and even more than we can dream of.
Looking at our world today, our country today, our societies today, our homes today, we see many who are not ready to share what they have.
Little becomes ENOUGH when Jesus handles it and blesses it. A meager amount is a banquet with Jesus in charge. When Jesus breaks the Bread, He is the Creator and Sustainer of the whole Universe, the Word of God – is anything too difficult for God? God abundantly gives, gives, gives and gives more and more… Grace is constantly pressed down… Overflowing.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. On one level, Jesus satisfies our physical hunger. On a deeper level, He is the bread, through which we are led to a deeper level of faith, to participate in God’s life.
The five loaves and two fishes can be seen as our cooperation in Jesus’ work. How do we use our God-given talents to help others? Jesus is the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we become one with God. What do you do before and after receiving the Eucharist? How does receiving the Eucharist help your faith?
What is left over: Twelve baskets of fragments are left, one for each of the disciples who doubted they could feed the multitude. Jesus asks His disciples to gather the leftover bread fragments; “so they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets.” In this consumer society, we are wasting foods, materials, resources, and talents.
I heard someone during the week asking: what happened to those twelve baskets full of pieces left over after the miraculous feeding of the multitude? We were not told. But from our human reckoning and estimation, one will imagine that they should have been given to the young boy who provided the raw materials. Is this not so logical and sequential?
What should we do with the leftovers to show our gratitude to God? That is how it happens when we share even our little things with others.
God multiplies it and we have so much left over. We experience this in the Eucharist. There is no meal capable of satisfying our hunger if we ourselves do not bring our own bread and fish (our person, our love) and share it with others. What is not enough today is going to be surplus tomorrow. Are we patient for that tomorrow to come? Rather we want to have it now, now, now.
Again, when you look at it very closely, you discover that it is actually those who really do not have much; those who are blinded by what they have; those who are possessed by their possession; those who allow their material wealth to deceive them; those who rely so much on the vanities of wealth, these are the ones who continue to parade their ignorance about.
Jesus had compassion on the people – He healed their sicknesses, taught them at length and gave them food in abundance. He did not do it for show off but for sharing and love. If a little of the power to do this was given to one of us, perhaps we shall use it for show off, to oppress. Those who show off their material possession instead of sharing with others are simply displaying their ignorance and even their abject poverty in being possessed by their vain possessions.
If we really believe in the generosity and providence of God, we shall truly and sincerely extend hands of sharing to our neighbour. The wonder that Jesus worked two thousand years ago – multiplication of the loaves – He works even today in our midst when we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. He shares with us His own body and blood. This sharing manifests our love and communion with Him and with one another.
The Eucharist is a bond of love with God and man. As we pray at Mass: “Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” Let us pray sincerely for this unity today and much more for a deep spirit of sincere sharing. In the Eucharist Jesus breaks himself to feed us with his own body and blood. Our participation will be full to the extent we (literally) ‘break ourselves’ for the sake of others. The Lord has fed and blessed us abundantly, let us spread this blessing to people around us.
The scarcity we have in the world today is certainly an artificial scarcity. It is simply caused by the greed and laziness of some and negligence and laziness of others. That is why St Paul encouraged us to “bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. He pleads for the kind of authenticity in Christian living that flows from the Eucharist we celebrate: a community marked by “humility…gentleness…patience…the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”
Only with God’s help can we become this reality – which is what we will pray for in a moment, in our Eucharistic Prayer. God, the Father of all, is, in the last analysis, the basis of the natural unity of mankind.
May God bless and keep you in His grace and abundant providence through Christ our Lord. Amen.