HOMILY for the 17th Sunday per annum (B)
“How can I do this?” Both Elisha’s servant and Philip express wonder, astonishment and even doubt when asked to make their few provisions stretch to feed a hundred, and then, five thousand people. In the Gospel, Philip says they would need over a year’s wages to feed so many with even just a little bread. And this would be the normal sane response; it’s not humanly possible. But God’s response always goes beyond our human imagination and expectations.
However, God does not work independently of us. He works alongside us, using whatever we offer him. In the First Reading a man brings twenty barley loaves from Baal-shalishah, from impure pagan territory as the name prefix ‘Baal’ indicates. And in the Gospel, a boy, a “lad” provides five barley loaves and two fish. The boy stands for someone small, weak, powerless and vulnerable. And both these people offer something paltry. So, God takes what little we have to offer him, even from our weakness, even if it originates from imperfect motivations. But God receives whatever we offer him, and he does something new with it, something that exceeds our dreams.
He accepts our poor gifts, he blesses and gives thanks for them, and so, he declares them to be good. Thus God transforms you and me when we offer him our selves, giving us in return more than we dared hope for. For God doesn’t just take and accept us, forgiving us our sins. He gives us “grace upon grace”, blessing us by filling us with the grace of Jesus Christ. This gift of grace elevates us to friendship with God, and, with his Spirit at work in us, God transforms us and makes us good, so that we can become one with him in love.
For it is only this – being united to God by being filled with love – that can satisfy our deepest longings. For only love can quench the fundamental thirst of the human heart, our search for happiness and pleasure. St Augustine understood this well when he said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. Because we have been created with this profound longing for God. It’s manifested as a desire for love and truth, for goodness and beauty. These fundamental desires, which surpass every material want, every physical hunger, can only be satisfied by God’s love. So, as we said in the psalm response: “You satisfy the desire of every living thing”.
Now, you might be thinking, this is all very well, but what about food for our bodies? After all, we’re human beings not angels. There’s a danger about spiritualizing the Gospel when it has such tangible material effects. For we need to eat, and there are many people who are poor, starving, suffering from the effects of famine. So, what does God do about our physical hunger?