The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35
“Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion…” [Exodus 16:4] Sound familiar? Do we not regularly pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?” [Matthew 6:11] Why the emphasis on the ‘daily’?
God says, “thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instruction or not.” [Exodus 16:4] But is God’s intention in ordering a daily portion just about seeing whether we are paying attention and doing what we are told or might it not rather be to encourage us to make a daily act of trust in God. To take from the world only our daily portion is to trust that each new day God will provide what we need. And does not Scripture attest over and over again that God gives abundantly?
In last week’s readings, someone complained and took note in both stories – from the Second Book of Kings and the Gospel of John – that there simply was not enough food for the people to eat. Yet the Elisha story ended “And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.” [2 Kings 4:43] In the Gospel, Jesus instructed the disciples to gather up the left over fragments of bread…“and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” [John 6:13] Five barley loaves had been more than they could eat!
How often have you and I sat at a table or in a restaurant and had placed before us “more than we could eat” and then ate it? On a day like Thanksgiving, we boast about it! If we take more than our daily portion, than what we need, Saint Ambrose of Milan would accuse us of stealing from our sisters and brothers who then have less than their daily portion? The world is very good and has been given to us for our use; but we can use as much as we need. To take anything more is greed; it is stealing. What is extra in our lives must be shared with those who are in need. That is a challenge to our way of life.
How much do you and I take from the world each day?
Do you and I make a daily act of trust in God regarding our needs?
Recall last week’s Gospel story, which we call the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. What happened?
A boy is brought forward who has five barley loaves and two fish which Jesus accepts, gives thanks and begins distributing to the people seated around him. Of close to 5,000 men, not including the women and children, is the boy the only smart one to have had some food with him? Which is the greater miracle; to magically multiply loaves and fishes (which is not what the Gospel records; it records that Jesus accepts a daily portion and gives thanks) or to open people’s hearts by example. An example through which people began to share what they already had and there was more than they all could eat. If a person only comes to this story as a magical, miraculous, and extraordinary experience than they need to confront why has Jesus not continued to act in such a manner to feed the poor and hungry of our world today?
I don’t think Jesus does allow people to go hungry today or has at any time but like the night before he died and washed the feet of the disciples he says to us, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” [John 6 13:15] Isn’t giving an example the best way to teach another person? It’s how my parents taught me. Jesus example is to take what each of us has, an abundance and share with others.
To my way of thinking we are called to be participants with God in the action of miracle; of giving abundantly to our sisters and brothers; to feed our world; to end hunger. That is a miracle worth believing in, a supple heart in concert with God. And when we who are affluent, who have more than enough of our daily portion physically feed our sisters and brothers we are also being spiritually fed ourselves.
The Church Fathers, early bishop-theologians of our tradition, did not attack the rich or wealth. What they did attack was the desire for wealth, for accumulating more than we need. They attacked greed. Because when we suffer from self-absorption we are oblivious to the needs of the poor. When our own needs are superabundantly satisfied, we seem are incapable of imagining what it is like to be poor and hungry and thus remain untouched by the suffering of the poor. As I asked last week, have you ever experienced hunger? I mean real hunger with its accompanying fear and worry if there will be food tomorrow. I have never been in want for food. I have always had more than what satisfies. How do I; how do we relate to hunger?
Clement of Alexandria believed a person can be both affluent and “poor in spirit” if they acknowledge that all they have, even if honestly acquired or inherited legally [Saint John Chrysostomos], is gift from God, given “for their sister and brother’s sake more than for their own.” The acid test for us to know whether we are the masters or the slaves of our affluence is our ability to suffer the loss of our wealth or to share cheerfully and willingly. It is simply taking our daily portion.