6 minutes reading time (1164 words)

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 2 August 2020  

The 'news' referred to at the beginning of the Gospel passage is the death in prison of John the Baptist. Not surprisingly, Jesus wants to be alone. And so, he withdraws to a lonely place with some disciples. But the crowds of people turn up, crying out for healing and good news. And their needs take priority over his own pain and distress. He doesn't just engage with them in a few nice words - and then send them home. He recognises their physical hunger as well as their spiritual needs. What can we learn from this?

Firstly, the early Christian realised this was a very important story as it appears in all four Gospels. And the words used to describe what Jesus did are revealing – he took bread, said the blessing, broke the loaves and handed them to the disciples. The echoes of the Last Supper are strong and clear. The Jesus of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and on the Cross reveals a God who gives his everything in order to feed those who are hungry in body and soul. The two commandments of loving God and loving your neighbour are part of an inseparable pair. There can be the temptation to offer a practical Christianity focused on justice or environmental issues and downplay the primary relationships with Jesus. But it is equally skewed to see Jesus as one who was concerned only with eternal life and to forget the questions of justice and the poor. The Last Supper was intimately connected with the brutal events of Calvary. The vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters is visible on the Cross. The Eucharistic Jesus wants to feed all our hungers. Jesus, the Bread of Life broken on Calvary, makes us sharers in his body. And our bodies become sanctified.

Reception of Holy Communion is centred around accepting the mission of Christ to go out to the desert places, not just about nourishing me in my quiet place.

Secondly, sharing in the Eucharist is sharing in the messy universal mission of Jesus through the victory which Jesus won on the Cross. The celebration of Mass is not something that belongs to the priest, something that he can celebrate as it suits him. Mass is celebrated in order to nourish all God's little ones wherever they are. The celebrant has a privileged position in the service of his people. But it is a privilege that comes with huge responsibilities. Right from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus rejects the temptations to take the easy path, and to focus his ministry around his fame, office hours and convenience. "He must increase, I must decrease", says John the Baptist (John 3:30). That applies to all who minister in his name. And for the congregation, sharing in Holy Communion is not merely a private privilege that I can demand on my terms. We share in the Eucharist on Jesus' uncomfortable terms. Reception of Holy Communion is centred around accepting the mission of Christ to go out to the desert places, not just about nourishing me in my quiet place.

Thus, we pay a huge price for the inestimable free gift of sharing in the Eucharistic Christ. We receive Holy Communion along with others and we take on responsibility for protecting others. I know that many people remain cautious about even coming out to church. Thus, temporary limitations have been placed on how Holy Communion is to be distributed. A small number of parishioners are unhappy with this situation. But our ways forward have to be focussed on the welfare of the many and not just on the wishes of the few. Mass is where the Lord call us together to feed us with his gifts. It is not a spiritual supermarket where we come to insist on the product we want.

Thirdly, it is interesting how Jesus responds to the disciples' worry about sending the people home. He constantly challenges those who want him to do something and asks them what they are going to do. Faith empowers, it does not take over. Jesus takes what little the disciples can gather up – five loaves and two fish. I do not know what happened – but the message is clear. With what little we have to offer God can do great things. Indeed, the story tells us that there was so much left over from the meal that started with a few small pieces of food.

Can we take time this week to be aware of the abundant love of God for us in our frailty – and trust in God's ability to feed our hopes and community?

As individuals and as a church we can often think that we have little to give or that someone else should shoulder the load and solve our problems. Here Jesus implies that everyone has a contribution to make. Wise shepherds will, like Jesus, have an eye to look not for the problems but for the solutions. The present pandemic provides us with a huge range of challenges. Today's Gospel is a call to all disciples to see what resources we have and to place them at Christ's service. I know that our parishes are facing a situation for which there is no training or guidebook. There are huge worries about personnel, churches, schools and finances. But, like the early Church at Pentecost, we are thrown out to do what little we think we can – and to leave the rest of God. Jesus can do miracles with very little.

St Paul knew that he faced almost impossible odds. But he did his work, not worried about possible failure or problems but trusting in the love of God, from which nothing could separate him. If Jesus faced the Cross, trusting in God's love, Paul could face any trial. His sharing in the grace of Jesus drove him outwards, not back in behind high secure walls. It drove him to take divine risks, not to seek refuge in man-made certainties.

In many ways, we may feel like the crowd in the Gospel, pushed by the pandemic out to a lonely, uncertain place. But Jesus shows that such places are not signs of abandonment but a place for miracles. In our weakness - not our strength - God is most easily revealed. Can we take time this week to be aware of the abundant love of God for us in our frailty – and trust in God's ability to feed our hopes and community? In the Gospel, Jesus looked on the crowd with love, not as a nuisance. Let him take your burdens on his shoulders. If we do that, he will use us to be a blessing on our hurting society.

+ Donal McKeown


Sunday's readings can be found at Universalis Publishing. Click here to view

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