Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled.” (Matthew 14:19-20)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday August 2 2020
“A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert-like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God. However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.
“The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.
“Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.
“Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.
“As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, ‘Why are you leaving your companion on the island?’ The man answered, ‘My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them. His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.’ The voice rebuked him, ‘You are mistaken! He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.’
“‘Tell me,’ the first man asked the voice, ‘What did he pray for that I should owe him anything?’ The voice responded, ‘He prayed that all your prayers be answered.’” (Original source unknown)
So, who was truly saved? Was it the man who received food, shelter, clothing and, finally, rescue from the island? Or was it the man who received none of these things, having spent his prayers on his neighbor? Were the story to continue, no doubt the ungrateful man was humbled by the truth of his salvation and welcomed his neighbor onboard the rescuing ship, so both men got off the island. Still, which of them was truly saved?
The gospel passage we hear today relates another story in which we find the frantic disciples empty-handed as a crowd of more than five thousand stands hungry before them. When Jesus calmly advises the disciples to open their larder and feed the crowd, the truth is revealed: there are only five loaves of bread and two fish in the wicker basket. Don’t fret, I’ll handle this, Jesus advises. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled.” (Matthew 14:19-20) And more than that, there were leftovers, twelve baskets full!
Indeed, Jesus reminds us today, emptiness is more about attitude than actuality. Let a final story, contemporary and true, give witness to fullness of heart when hands seem so very empty.
“It was a busy morning, about 8:30 AM, when an elderly gentleman in his 80’s arrived at the doctor’s office to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had another appointment at 9 AM.
“While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.
“I was surprised, and asked him, ‘And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?’ He smiled as he patted my hand and said, ‘She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.’” (Original source unknown)
Indeed, though Alzheimer’s disease had taken his wife and stranded her on some far away deserted island, he daily travelled to that distant shore where she feeds him abundantly from a wealth that only the heart can understand. And more than that, he knows there are leftovers, enough for many days to come.