17th Sunday in Ordinary Times
2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; Gospel of John 6:1-15
Prejudiced in Living our Faith and Relating to Others
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 29 July 2018

In today’s Gospel of St John that we just heard proclaimed, we are very familiar with the event of Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the five loaves of bread and two fish that a young boy offered Jesus.  The great crowds were following Jesus because they were impressed by the signs He gave by curing the sick, and not necessary because they had deep faith in Him as the Messiah.  Moreover, while the apostles believed that Jesus was the Messiah, their faith was still very lacking in many ways. 

And so, when Jesus tested them by asking, “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat,” Philip the apostle answered from a very logical and human level, “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.”  What turned the whole event around was when the young boy offered his five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus.

Let us note that the context of this Gospel event was that Jesus performed the miracle “shortly before the Jewish feast of the “Passover.” This means that Jesus was soon approaching Jerusalem and that He was about to be tortured, crucified and die.  In other words, the miraculous multiplication of loaves and two fish is also a foreshadowing of the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the Church. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have much to learn from, be inspired and challenged by this Gospel event.  I like to begin our reflection with a story.  Once there was a wise, elderly man who spent his days just outside his village sitting under a shady tree where he would enjoy the beauty of the countryside and reflect on the truth about life.  One day, a traveller came by and asked, “Sir, I have travelled much and I have seen many things and met many people.  Can you tell me, if I were to enter this village, what kind of people will I meet there?

The wise man replied, “Before I answer your question, may I ask you, ‘what kind of people have you met so far in all your travels?”  “Oh,” the traveller responded, “You wouldn’t believe it.  I have met the most awful people!  People who are unfriendly and unkind to strangers and one another.  People who are unbelievably selfish, and even foolish young people whom I could learn nothing from, and old people whose lack of hope depresses everyone they meet.” 

As the traveller spoke, a look of sadness grew in the wise man’s eyes and he nodded, “My friend, I am sorry to say that the people in my village is going to be exactly the kind of people you will meet.”  “I knew you were going to say that!”  “Why are people the same everywhere?!”  He kicked the dirt under his feet in frustration, and stormed off in anger.

The next day, another traveller came up to the wise man and asked him the same question, “Sir, I have travelled much and I have seen many things and met many people.  Can you tell me, if I were to go into this village, what kind of people will I meet there?  The wise man responded, ““Before I answer your question, may I ask you, ‘what kind of people have you met so far in all your travels?”  The traveller responded, Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. I have met the most amazing people!  People who are kind and hospitable to strangers; people who care for one another like family.  I’ve met older people with a youthful passion for life that brings joy to everyone they meet.  And I have learned much from all of them. 

As the traveller spoke, the wise man smiled brightly as he nodded in a knowing way, and replied, “Yes, I believe you will meet the same kind of people in my village.  The traveller was so happy to hear of this and with joy in his heart, he looked forward to meeting the villagers of the wise man. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, this story in many ways illustrate for us the truth that in reality, people are not necessarily what we see them to be.  If we choose to be negative and prejudiced about them, then we can be sure that we will be living a miserable life.  However, if we choose to see them in positive and Christ-like ways, then regardless of what they may be, the Spirit of Jesus will give us the wisdom to relate to them with peace, compassion and love, as Jesus has shown and taught us.

In today’s Gospel, while the crowds clamoured for Jesus, their faith in Him was superficial.   In many ways and only saw that there was very little they could do for the crowd with two hundred denarii.  What about us?  What are our perceptions of people and situations in life like?  Are we negative and prejudiced or are we positive and Christ-like?  Let us note that what turned everything around, to move Jesus to perform the miracle to feed the 5,000 men, excluding women and children, was the five loaves and two fish that the young boy offered to Jesus for the hungry crowd. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is inviting you and I to be more like the young boy in the Gospel event.  Jesus is inviting and challenging you and I to be more generous and selfless in what we possess, and to see beyond our own needs, and instead see the needs of others as privileged joyful opportunities for us to grow in our relationship with Jesus, and that the needs of others are not occasions that threaten to “rob us of our possessions”. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we share what we have, we do not lose what we give away.  In fact, we gain more than we give and share, provided they come from a heart that loves Jesus, and not from the ulterior motives to gain the glory and glamour from others.  If this is so, then Jesus would say to us that we have already have gained the rewards on this earth, and we are not to expect any more “rewards” from God, for what we have done or shared. 

But, if we are able to share happily what we have for the needs of others, as the young boy did in today’s Gospel, then Jesus would likewise, be able to bless what we offer to Him, for the great crowds of people who are in need in the world, and we can be sure that the immense benefits that would flow from our generosity would be so overwhelming, that as the Gospel says, there will be twelve baskets of leftovers, so to speak.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are good people.  We believe in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord of our lives.  We come to Mass weekly and for many of us even daily.  The apostles too were good people; like us, they too believed that Jesus is the Messiah.   

However, the truth may still be that perhaps, we have very cleverly convinced ourselves, and justified our behaviour logically that the needs of the crowd is too large and beyond us as the apostles did.  Like Philip, the apostle we say to Jesus, “we only have two hundred denarii, so what can we do for such a large crowd of people?” Like Philip, we cannot seem to see the power and presence of God working in our midst for the needs and good of others. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is inviting you and I to become more like the young boy who is willing to share all that he has generously for the sake of others.  The big difference between this young boy and us is probably, his heart is bigger than ours and is big enough to embrace the heart of Jesus, and allow Jesus’ Compassionate Care for the hungry crowd to seep into his own heart.  This young boy not only believed that Jesus could do something for the hungry crowd, but more importantly, he had the wisdom to see that Jesus would wish to work miracles through what we offer Him. 

A master potter cannot make a pot without clay.  Likewise, Jesus would not wish to feed hungry crowd, without first receiving the five loaves and two fish from the young boy or from the generosity of what we possess.  And so, when we justify all we like for not stepping forward to sharing what we possess, we have in many ways, also chosen to wear the prejudiced perceptions of the first traveller in our story.  And such a person, not only lives selfishly for himself; he is also angry with people and all situations in the world.  Indeed, such a person would not have the true peace and joy of Jesus in his heart and life. 

However, for those of us, who is like the second traveller and the young boy in the Gospel, you and I can also testify that during such times of being able to care, show compassion and share our blessings generously with others, whether they are material, financial, emotional or spiritual, especially for those in great need, God’s blessings can never be outdone in generosity.  Jesus will use what we offer Him to provide overwhelmingly for the needs of others, and with ‘twelve baskets of leftovers’ . . . And like the second traveller, Jesus too will fill our hearts and homes with the fullness of His Divine blessings, compassion and love.

And so, let us conclude by asking ourselves, “What type of quality of life and how deep do we wish our faith to grow in our relationship with Jesus?  Do we prefer the narrow, selfish and prejudiced view of life of the first traveller, and be easily upset and angry with people and the world?  Or do we accept Jesus’ invitation and challenge to become more like the “young boy” and the “second traveller” who sees and relates to others positively like Jesus, and as such deepen our love for Him and find the true peace, joy and happiness in our daily living?  The choice is ours, but the wisdom of living is to choose to become more like Jesus daily.

Story adapted from: https://academictips.org

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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