YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
A small boy with a little bit of food stands at the edge of a hungry crowd of 5,000 who are perhaps cranky and certainly weary from a climb to the top of a mountain, all in pursuit of this mysterious man, Jesus. I imagine that boy looked at the little food he’d brought and at the hunger in the eyes of the many before him, and he remembered a familiar story:
“It was a chilly, overcast day when the horseman spied the little sparrow lying on its back in the middle of the road. Reining in his mount, he looked down and inquired of the fragile creature, ‘Why are you lying upside down like that?’ ‘I heard the heavens are going to fall today,’ replied the bird. The horseman laughed. ‘And I suppose your spindly legs can hold up the heavens?’ ‘One does what one can,’ said the little sparrow.” (Original source unknown) Some years back, I met others who have stood firm in the face of a seemingly hopeless cause, doing what one can to save others from destruction. I saw these men and women, some themselves as fragile-looking as sparrows, holding the weight of utter despair from crushing the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the generally left out and forgotten about. These men and women are the Franciscans who staff St. Francis Inn, an inner-city Philadelphia respite of nourishment for body and soul. Actually, I met these Franciscans through their video, entitled “We Have a Table for Four Ready.” For an hour I toured with them squalid neighborhoods and decrepit apartments. Arms heavy with hungry children, I saw the tears of mothers unable to feed their own. I heard the despair of elderly homeless whose nightly mattress was a cold street grate. And amid the dirt, the pain, the tears, the hunger and the desolate poverty, something small but real worked its way to the surface—laughter.
These Franciscans had the keen vision to perceive a need perhaps even more acute than food, clothing and shelter. Before anything else, these women and men of the Gospel nourished those at their door with a warm love and genuine respect, great bear-hugs, loud kisses and hearty slaps on the back a testimony to their kinship with their guests at St. Francis Inn. At the meal’s conclusion, the guests left with hunger tended to, at least for a few hours, and it didn’t seem to matter a bit that what satisfied their stomachs would dissipate so quickly. They all knew (and so did I by the smiles on their faces) that warm love and genuine respect go a long way in filling that deep-down emptiness. This is the enduring foodstuff of St. Francis Inn. One does what one can, and it matters, it makes a difference. That small boy on the mountaintop with the little bit of bread and a few fish remembered another story:
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a figure in the distance. As he got closer, he realized the figure was that of a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish in the ocean. The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’ ‘Son,’ the man replied, ‘don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t possibly make a difference!’ After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, ‘I made a difference for that one.’” (Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower) One does what one can, and knowing that even he could make a difference, the small boy elbowed his way to the center of the grumbling crowd and shyly handed his lunch sack to the man who seemed to be at the center of things. Jesus took what little the boy could offer and so multiplied it that the leftovers were hauled down the mountainside in baskets.