YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT YOURSELVES!
BY:FFr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Is 55 : 1 – 3, Rom 8 : 35 – 39, Matt 14 : 13 – 21.
We have 2 commands from the Word of God today ; the 1st command from the 1st reading is to everybody : ‘come to the waters (Church) all you who are thirsty’ and the 2nd command from the gospel is to the apostles or the Church leaders : ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’. These words present both a challenge and a warning to the Church of today.
The greatest pastoral challenge Christ has placed on the Church by this gospel message is to feed the people of God. Many will prefer to argue that this feeding is mainly spiritual but the fact remains that it is both physical and spiritual because Jesus did both in this gospel just to give us the example. No doubt, the feeding must begin with the spiritual as Christ did in this pericope. A large crowd came to him even at a time he was most ill disposed – He was just mourning the death of his cousin John the Baptist, yet he healed their sick and taught them at some length. Evening came and then came the request of the apostles to send the people away to buy food. Jesus said : ‘There is no need for them to go…’
I think that an essential aspect of pastoral care /challenge which the 21st century Church must address is providing for the people’s physical and spiritual needs. The Church is not an extortory organization or even a social club. The Church is becoming populated with more receivers than givers. Today, as the government seems to disappoint the people more and more, the Church should think of providing alternative /auxiliary government to help alleviate the sufferings of the people and not vice versa. The Church can embark on poverty alleviation projects, Job provision, business investments targeted at feeding the poor, school projects targeted at providing qualitative education at the doorsteps of the poor, youth empowerment schemes, free water projects, farm projects, etc.
We must also care about what is taking people to other Churches. Jesus says : ‘We don’t need to allow them go’. If it is healing that is taking them to other Churches, we can provide that in the Catholic Church. We must use the spiritual amenities we have like the Eucharist to address people’s needs. It is true that the true spirit of adoration is not mainly to present our physical problems to Christ but to adore him. But sometimes, after adoring and listening to Christ, he also likes to take of our physical problems like he did in today’s gospel.
I will summarize this into 3 kinds of ecclesiastical empowerment ;
1. Economic empowerment – provision of physical needs.
2. Educational empowerment – provision of education.
3. Psycho spiritual empowerment – provision of succour and deliverance.
C. CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS
There are 3 types of christian reaction to problems that I will like to underscore in today’s gospel ;
(a) Helpless pessimism (the unbeliever’s reaction); this is seen in Philip’s reaction to the problem in today’s gospel. He failed to look beyond himself for solutions to the people’s problem of hunger and said, according to St John’s account that ‘200 denarii would not buy enough to give them a little piece each’, Jn 6 : 7. That’s not the best way to react when Jesus is in our midst.
(b) Theological optimism ( the believer’s reaction) ; this is seen clearly in Andrew’s reaction. He trusted Jesus and always brought people to Jesus. On this occasion he fished out from the crowd the lad with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Yes, little in the hands of Jesus can always turn into much,Eph 3 : 20, Jn 12 : 3 – 4.
(c) Freewill donation (the humanitarian’s reaction); this is the reaction of a generous soul who willingly supplied Jesus the raw materials for the miracle. Jesus likes our widow’s mite. It could be the lad’s own left over meal after selling for the parents or he perhaps he trusted so much in the generosity of his parents to understand the offering but the lesson is that the generosity of one person can salvage the destiny of a whole community. Unfortunately, many believers in the Church are not generous when it comes to denying themselves something in order to change the situation of the society.
The emphasis of the 1st reading of today is on God’s free invitation to the Church : ‘Though you have no money, come’. O Church of Christ, how dare you send people out of communion with God because they have no money? How dare you send people out of baptism, confirmation or matrimony because they have no money?
The second warning is on the flock of Christ : Why spend your money on what cannot nourish or your wages on what fails to satisfy? Why this neopaganist view of looking at the priest as one who solves our spiritual problems even without our need for repentance? Why so much alcoholism among children of God? Why do Christians not insist on freewill donations instead of levies? Even our tithe offerings by the new testament dispensation have no obligatory percentage. Why do we erect mission schools that the poor people who built it would eventually not be able to afford to have their children school there?
Emphasis must be on providing generously for the Church to have abundance of food for the poor not money to enrich the pockets of priests and pastors, Mal 3 : 1-11, 2 Cor 9 : 6. The provision of tithe offering (or whatever you call it) is for the poor (of course, priests are also inclusive). It is not mearnt for the enrichment of priests or any individual but enrichment of the Church of Christ. It is from this resource that the Church is supposed to explode in charity and care for the poor and be able to undertake other projects without levies and taxations.
The third warning of today’s readings is that we should listen to the Word of God. It says : ‘Pay attention, listen carefully to me and you will have the good things to eat and rich food to enjoy’. Prosperity is one of the benefits of obedience no matter how we look at it. It may not always be physical but it does not also exclude it. According to Emeric Lawrence, “Religion does not consist in what we can do for God but in what God does through us”.
May nothing separate us from the love of Christ, as the second reading tells us today, whether material or spiritual problems because Christ is bigger than all our problems. The Church should overflow with this love of Christ from the sanctuary to the pews ; from the diocesan to the parish quarters, from the station to the zonal levels. We must give the people something to eat and not make them poorer!
May God bless you today!
FR BEN AGBO.