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Homily 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

By Deacon Jim Grebe

Jesus and his disciples have just received news of the brutal murder of John the Baptist. And, they have just experienced a long day with a large crowd with many needs. Jesus and his disciples are grief stricken, exhausted, and just want to get away.

Jesus tries to slip away in a boat. He attempts to go to a deserted place, a place where no one is present. But the crowd follows him.

The disciples want to do what we would likely want to do, they want to tell the people to go away – to give this man some time alone so he can deal with his grief.

However, thousands follow and what does Jesus do? He has compassion. Compassion – it literally means “to suffer with”. Jesus suffers with the people and he begins healing the sick.

As evening approaches, the disciples are ready to send the crowd home. But Jesus invites this large crowd to stay and eat. And he turns to his disciples and says, “I want you to feed them”. This is exactly what is he asks of each of us every day. Feed them.

The disciples are shocked. They are only able to cobble together two fish and five loaves of bread. “We have nothing…” they say. They see their tiny supply as insufficient in comparison to the enormous need. So, Jesus tells them to bring the little they had to him, and we hear in the Gospel:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
 he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
 and gave them to the disciples,
 who in turn gave them to the crowds

Sound familiar?

There are volumes – really – stacks of books written on this miracle. It does not really matter how we understand this miracle. What matters is that God saw possibility where the disciples saw nothing.

God’s medium for creation is nothingness!!

When humans create, we start with something. Think of art. Artists choose their medium – potters use clay; sculptors use marble; painters use oils; some weave fine tapestry from bare thread. God’s medium is nothingness.

The disciples looked at 5 loaves and 2 fish and saw nothing. God looked at it and saw a feast!

This gospel story is our story.

Who hasn’t at one point or another looked at your finances and saw what amounted to nothing. But it really comes down to how we see what we do have, a matter of rejecting that imperfect and human impulse to continually consume. Even in the church, we look at what we have and wish we had more of it. We forget that God has promised to transform all we have.

Yes, “nothing” is God’s medium.

This is also our story as we look at our efforts to combat hunger; provide housing; help people pay utility bills; find school supplies; and, help immigrants to not live in fear.

When we look at the contributions we receive and give out through our charitable ministries, our gifts can seem like 5 loaves and 2 fish when compared to the actual need that exists.

But, God uses our offerings in ways that begin to transform peoples’ lives. These small things begin to take on a life of their own. They make dents in the need even when the need is still great. God sees our modest offerings, receives them and sets his banquet table!

Yes, “nothing” is God’s medium.

There is still much more to this story. Before the disciples even identify the loaves and fish, they look out at the crowd of hungry people and see a problem. They see nothing good coming from a hungry group of people. But, Jesus’ invitation to feed the thousands rather than send them away indicates that he looks at the same crowd and sees the possibility of a celebration. Thousands of hungry people are not a problem but an opportunity for God’s grace – His free gift – to work – to take hold.

Yes, “nothing” is God’s medium.

We often function from a mindset of nothingness. We see a world consumed in conflicts and we see no hope for peace. We look at the current political climate in our country – the divisiveness. And we say “how are we going to get out of this?”

At times – too many times – we feel like we are looking at that hungry crowd with nothing but a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

But somehow, in all of this upheaval, we trust God’s promises. We trust that God sees fighting people, helpless bystanders, hungry people, the marginalized who go unheard, the terrified immigrant, and God still sees the possibility of peace and justice.

We see nothing, but God is already planning that great feast where waring people will sit in peace and enjoy a meal together; where all people are heard with understanding and love; where hungry people eat; and where the immigrant is not afraid.

Yes, “nothing” is God’s medium.

How often do we, as individuals, adopt this “nothing attitude” when we look at other people and judge them as not enough? He’s too old; she’s too young; those people have the wrong attitudes and viewpoints on politics, religion, morality.

  • We forget that even infants have something good to teach us about God. And He wants us to feed them.

  • People in nursing homes who cannot event recognize their own family members have something good to teach us about God. And He wants us to feed them.

  • People with addictions have something good to teach us about God. And He wants us to feed them.

  • Immigrants – no matter how they are here – have something good to teach us about God. And he wants us to feed them.

  • Criminals have something good to teach us about God. And He wants us to feed them.

  • Even in these unusual times that we live, people who demand we wear masks have something good to teach us about God. AND, people who do not want to wear masks have something good to teach us about God.

God invites us to see not another problem. God invites us to see another person who is loved by God and who is invited to His feast.

Yes! nothing is God's medium

In today's Gospel at the end of the story there are leftovers. Leftovers are the opposite of nothing.

But even then, sometimes we even see leftovers as a problem. Where am I going to put these leftovers, so they don’t spoil?

If I had the kind of week and day that Jesus and the disciples had, I would have been tempted to just leave the food for the animals and gone to bed.

But they take the time to gather the leftovers – and they end up with twelve baskets full.

Twelve – the sign and symbol of abundance and completeness. There are no accidental words in the Gospel. Every word is there for a reason. Twelve baskets mean something. Twelve baskets teach us something.

They teach us that God's eternal banquet is more than a single earthly meal can ever contain.

Yes!! nothing is God's medium

Today's gospel also previews what is to come at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.

The disciples will again find themselves seeing nothing. They will look at the cross -- the crucified Jesus -- and they will see nothing but a dead body. But three days later they will look at that empty tomb. And they will again be shocked. But this time they will be shocked by the abundance of what it means.

This is a reminder for each one of us. God is constantly transforming our life’s “nothings” into “somethings”. At these times we experience God's promise to us.

Even when we are staring at death itself, God is still there transforming what seems like nothing into something new.

Yes!! Nothing is God’s medium.

When we see nothing, God gives us new eyes, and a new heart to see nothing as something new.

To give you just one short example of a real life person who understood this, I refer you to Corrie ten Boom. The ten Boom family were Dutch watchmakers during World War II, and they were sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their house and their shop. The camp where they were sent had a horrible infestation of fleas. It was so bad that the guards paid no attention to the prisoners or their luggage, and this allowed Corrie and her sister Betsie to smuggle a bible into the camp where they were able to get comfort from the Word of God. Later, Corrie would recount that she learned to thank God for the fleas. Corrie’s thankfulness did not come easily or immediately. But with her sister’s help, she did finally come to understand the goodness that came from those fleas. Once again, God making something new out of nothing.

In a few minutes we will join Matthew’s hungry crowd as God invites us to His table to partake of a little bit of bread and wine. Nothing really -- but as we eat this bread, God will gift us with the very life of Himself. A feast beyond description. And in that feast God will transform our nothingness into the broken body of Christ so we can serve Him by serving each other in this world.

So come, as the Prophet Isaiah said in our first reading today. Come to the feast and enjoy being transformed by God into something new.


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