Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
“Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.”—John 6:11
This past Lent, I was offering a series of classes on the Ten Commandments, morality, and the social issues that confront us today, including hunger, access to clean water, the rights of workers, violence and terrorism, the challenges faced by families, drugs, and human trafficking. The conversations that took place during and after the classes were often intense, matching the serious topics we were exploring.
More than once, participants in the class voiced their frustration by exclaiming, “It’s overwhelming. So much needs to be done. What difference could I make?” It’s certainly a feeling that I’ve shared. Even a quick glance at the news items that fill our television and computer screens can make the strongest among us feel powerless, even though we know that we should be doing something to try to promote justice and peace.
In the Gospel we hear this Sunday, Jesus and the Apostles also face a seemingly hopeless situation: how will they provide enough food for the thousands of people who have followed Jesus? Philip sums it up well when he exclaimed that “two hundred days wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little” (v. 7).
But we quickly learn that God’s compassion isn’t bound by our limited perspectives. When Andrew—perhaps in frustration—brought Jesus a boy carrying five small barley loaves and two fish, Jesus performed one of his greatest miracles, taking what the little boy had and transforming it into an abundant meal. Not only was there enough food to feed the immense crowd, but there were 12 baskets of food left over after everyone had eaten.
One of the lessons we can draw from this Sunday’s Gospel is that God can transform the little we have to offer into something greater than we ever imagined. Jesus is teaching us that, while there are very real needs that must be confronted, God’s abundance is available for everyone and that we all have a part to play by offering our “loaves and fishes.” When we entrust gifts—our prayers, our sacrifices, and charitable giving—into God’s hands, there will be enough for everyone.
How have you been blessed with abundance in your life? What injustice or hunger in the world touches your heart in a special way? What gift can you give—in God’s name—to help alleviate the suffering of another person?
Words of Wisdom: “Who is even now providing nourishment for the whole world if not the God who creates a field of wheat from a few seeds? Christ did what God does. Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, Christ multiplied the five loaves in his hands… Those loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast upon the earth but because they were multiplied by the one who made the earth.”—Saint Augustine of Hippo