Despite the advance technology and economic progress the world has achieved today, many still go hungry and/or do not receive proper nutrition. During the pandemic, many people not just died because of the virus but also because of hunger and illness due to unavailability of the proper kind of food to many.
The readings for today’s 17th Sunday in ordinary time deals with hunger and how God responded to it. We read today of the famous miracle of the multiplication of loaves both in the first reading and the gospel.
In the first reading from the second book of Kings (2 Kg 4:42-44), the prophet Elisha tells a man with twenty barley loaves to distribute them to a hundred men, and the man goes and does it, with “some left over.”
In the responsorial psalm, Psalm 145, the Psalmist says:
“The hand of the Lord feeds us;
the Lord answers all our needs.”
The Psalmist goes on to say that the Lord satisfies the desire of every living thing.
The little story from Elisha provides the literary prototype of the miraculous feedings in the Gospels (the multiplication of loaves is recorded in all the gospels). In the gospel today taken from John, Jesus takes the lead in feeding the crowd. Jesus fed about five thousand with five barley loaves and a couple of cooked fish, and there were even leftovers. The gospel story shows God’s/Jesus’ ability to transform too little into more than enough. God desires that everyone should find food in abundance.
The multiplication of loaves and fishes is more than a miracle. It’s an alternative way of life that God offers to the people. What happens on that hillside is an indication of how God wants the world to operate. It is a way of life and spirituality of multiplication. When we give away what we have, when we sacrifice even out of our scarcity, then God blesses our gifts and multiplies them, and there’s enough for everybody and even more.
Sadly, today’s reality is miles away from God’s desire. Many people die from malnutrition, disease and preventable hunger even though we grow enough grain in the world to provide for every man, woman, and child.
The Second Reading from Ephesians tells us to “make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.” The problem with the world is its fragmentation; it lacks unity and peace. There is a great divide between the haves and the haves not. And the gap is growing everyday, thanks to the present order of neo-liberal capitalism. The problem is not with God’s providence, for God has provided us with enough food for everyone. The problem is the divisions in the world maintained by a socio-economic system that directly and indirectly prevent food from getting to people or keep people away from the food.
We ordinary people also have contributed to this malaise. There is so much waste, for example, in rich countries while there is so much shortage in poor countries. According to the ABC, Australians throws away $8 billion worth of edible food in the bin each year.
Our planet has more than enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people all over the world. God has given blessings to the world: if only we could learn to use those blessings for the benefit of all. As Vatican II’s, Gaudium et Spes: Constitution on the Church in the Modern World urges us all,
Since there are so many people in this world afflicted with hunger, this sacred Council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the saying of the Fathers: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him” (Gaudium et Spes, #69).
Today’s reading serves as an indictment of the present world order. Jesus wants us to take a stock of our lifestyles. Jesus offers us an alternative lifestyle that is counter-cultural to the present world order. Jesus wants us to believe that a world of abundance is possible. But this will demand change in the social system and our attitudes. There is more than enough for everyone if we would believe that everyone deserves a share in the abundant food from nature that God has given us.
Christ comes among us today proclaiming God’s abundant blessings, in his Word, in our community life, and in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an invitation for us to participate in the miracle of multiplication of food that Jesus has first shown us.