The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
BBC last July reported on children caught up in the Syrian war. It is a war on childhood in which children are targeted, homes destroyed and schools attacked; children displaced and forced to live in refugee camps. BBC spoke with Kifah, a boy of 14, if he is still alive.
“Tell me what is was like for you inside [the refugee camp]?” His face filled with uneasiness and nervousness Kifah replies: “Good, normal, but there is some hunger.” He then breaks down in tears: “There is no bread.”
I have saved the BBC video on my computer and look at it periodically. Each morning I look at Kifah from photos hanging on my bathroom wall. Kifah is the face of a child of war, representing millions of children around the world. Kifah is also the face of hunger: “There is no bread.”
Have you ever experienced hunger?
Not the daily grumblings of the stomach when its meal time. I mean real hunger with its
accompanying fear and worry if there will be food tomorrow. Have you experienced hunger in the face of the inability to obtain food?
I have never been in want for food. I have never experienced hunger or its fearful tomorrows. I have always had more than what satisfies. I am therefore over a healthy weight. I can afford to eat out. I can afford healthier foods which are more expensive.
How do I; how do we relate to hunger?
There is a chasm between many of us and the more than 49 million Americans who daily struggle to put food on the table due to unemployment, underemployment and poverty. There is a chasm between us and the 1 in 5 American children who live at risk of hunger. Kifah is not just the face of Syria. He is the face of American hunger as well. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not many of us are the world’s affluent as we often jealously covert more.
It concerns me that in both passages from Scripture, the Second Book of Kings and the Gospel of John, excuses are made.
“How can I set [twenty barley loaves] before a hundred people?” [2 Kings 4:43]
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good is that for so many?” [John 6:7]
Practical but shortsighted questions. Questions of self-preservation. Questions which shelter us from making any life changing decisions or taking any action to change the situation for our brothers and sisters. We become indifferent; uninterested; next news cycle, please.
In this light, I find embarrassing the norms for Lenten fasting in our church: a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. Define “full” in a culture of “mega-sizing” food.
- How many people living in poverty in our country eat three meals of any size every day?
- How does a Christian experience hunger resulting from fasting so as to be in solidarity with the hungry of the world in body and in spirit?
- The good news for me is I won’t have to fast next Lent. The norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59 and I’ll be 60 years old! How ridiculous! And yet how many elderly Catholics are proud to tell me they don’t have to fast because the law says they don’t. We forget law kills the spirit.
In the light of the scriptural questions we need to understand that the work of volunteers and outreach from Saint Mary’s and area food pantries; the meal sites at Saint James’ The Lord’s Table, First United Methodist Church’s, Saturday’s Bread and the Salvation Army’s Meal with a Message while commendable is charity. And the shortfall of charity is that it does not change a situation. People are hungry the next day. Charity does not end hunger. Charity, through necessary, is different from the work of justice and advocacy which strive to address the root causes and bring an end to hunger.
Where do we begin to go beyond charity to justice? How is justice lived out in relation to people who are daily hungry?
- Mediate on the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread…” [Matthew 6:11] What does that mean?
- Reclaim the Christian tradition of praying a grace before each meal. A “thank you”; an acknowledgment that all food comes from God.
- Reflect on what you purchase at the supermarket; especially for our children. What is the quality? What is the amount? How much food do we waste? Is the bread and the wine that become the Body and Blood of Christ the only sacred food and drink in our lives or is all food sacred?
- Reflect on how much you eat daily? Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught us not to push ourselves away from a table stuffed or hungry but satisfied.
- Fast one day a week. A real fast of only water or juices. The desert monks and nuns of the fourth century taught that if you cannot control your tongue and your stomach you cannot enter on the spiritual path.
- Regularly donate food and/or volunteer time to one of the food related agencies in our area.
- Educate yourself through the web at The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Christian agency, Bread for the World.
In two weeks, you will be invited and given an opportunity after Mass to write letters to our congressional representatives in regard to funding for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program; the federal Child and Adult Care Feeding Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps).
Will you give the small amount of time needed to write a letter to feed the Kifahs of our nation?