Pastor Column, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018
Msgr. Joseph Tracey, St. Stanislaus Parish
If you had to provide a detailed job description of what your duties and responsibilities of being a disciple of Jesus, what would you include? Some might describe their role as one of administration or leadership, with God’s grace enhancing all our talents and abilities. Attention to the day-to-day details and the ability to organize and delegate responsibilities to others might be some people’s main role. Perhaps others see themselves as a fundraiser, helping to finance the buildings and business systems that can help a church operate successfully. Still others might see themselves as a representative of the parish at various organizational and committee meetings.
While all of these duties are necessary in their own way, they may not have been the duties Jesus had uppermost in his mind when he sent His disciples out on ministry. To be renewed as disciples ourselves, we must turn again to he sacred texts where – for this Sunday and the following five Sundays of August – our teacher and mentor in ministry will be Jesus as portrayed by John the Evangelist.
For the next six weeks, Jesus will teach by example that the proper role and responsibility of every disciple of Jesus is to feed the hungers of God’s people. Responding to the hunger and starvation of others is a “square-one” obligation, not something like the icing on the Christian-life cake. Today in the Gospel it is the physical hunger of a very large crowd of people that merits Jesus’ full attention. He is compassionate toward their need. He undertook prophetic action, in a manner similar to God’s representatives in the Jewish tradition associated with miraculous feedings. His offer of bread for the many echoes similar action by Elisha the prophet, recalled in today’s first reading. The prophet’s power as a man of God and his authority to speak God’s truth were affirmed by his feeding of one hundred people. Jesus’ actions affirmed his power and authority as well. At the same time, his providing of food for the many cast Jesus in the light as God who provided manna for the Israelites during their desert wandering. Jesus fed all who would be nourished by Him. His willingness to feed humankind’s physical hungers is told no less than six times in the four Gospels; this fact affirms the significance of his actions and serves as a guide for those seeking to identify themselves as Jesus’ disciples.
Our Lord satisfied people’s hunger in other ways as well. He fed those hungry for the truth of His teaching; His compassion fed the sorrowing; His mercy fed the marginalized, His caring fed the sick, ding and the lonely. His love fed the hunger of the sinner yearning to be loved, to belong, to be forgiven and redeemed. But it was Jesus’ willingness to feed humanity’s endless physical hunger that stands out today and challenges our claim to discipleship.
The Food Cupboard at St. Stanislaus is a direct response to feed the physically hungry. The shelf donations in that simple room alleviate the hungers of scores of persons from our little postage-stamp piece of the world. Looking around, the needs are great and unrelenting. But our supporters of the Food Cupboard do not allow themselves to feel small, frustrated or inept. Our efforts are not overwhelmed by the sense of great need. Perhaps at times the sense of being overwhelmed may slow down our efforts at tending to the needs of so many. In spite of this, organizers have taken the few resources they have and made a meal of them for the many.
Jesus challenges all of us today with this account of the loaves and fishes. Through His action, He calls those would-be disciples to use the resources at hand and make a beginning. Talk less and do more, Jesus exemplifies. Complain less and trust more. Jesus also challenges his own to understand that what He has done in the feeding of the hungry points to the ultimate sharing of His very self as food for all of us sinners. He gives the Bread of Life … and for that we are immensely grateful.