17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2021: GATHER THE FRAGMENT
Last Sunday, we were presented with the care and compassion of Christ the chief shepherd who was moved with pity for the flock because they were scattered like sheep without a shepherd. This Sunday brings us close to the practical actions of Christ towards the hungry followers. He multiplies the loaves and the fish and feeds five thousand people. The steps leading to the multiplication of loaves reveal the power of Christ as a miracle worker, but significantly, they show the deep concerns which God has for his church. Christ says to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Scripture maintained that he said this to test Philip. Christ already knew the powers he has and what he planned to do. Doesn’t God mess with our tiny brains when he tests us? But we don’t realize that. God always has the plan, yet he tests us to know if we truly believe in Him enough. Philip represents the human limitations and our inability to perceive God’s presence at a time of need. He says to Christ, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” Can you imagine that? Just “for them to have a little”! Don’t we all have our Philip moments? God steps in, his ways are not our ways…
Bet you, Philip is not alone. Andrew responds in what seems like a ray of limited hope. At least, he is able to identify a solution within albeit insufficient within the context. Andrew points out a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. In his head, they are talking about five thousand hungry men. So, what good is such a small quantity for so many hungry persons? We can call the representations of Philip and Andrew the stages of lack in spiritual vision. Philip is at the highest stage of disbelief whereas Andrew sees with a blurry image of the mission of Christ as the Son of God. Both of them see the problem as much bigger than the solution. Their glass is half-empty instead of half-full, hence, the question from Andrew, “What good are these for so many?”
Jesus teaches the disciples a strong lesson here. He invites the people to sit down, takes the loaves and the fish, gives thanks, and distributes it to the people. Everyone is fed. The Psalm reminds us that the hand of the Lord feeds us and that God answers all our needs. That is exactly what the chief shepherd does. God cares for his sheep both physically and spiritually. Today’s miracle shows God reveals his miraculous powers through his prophets. We see that in the first reading, the prophet Elisha feeds about a hundred people with twenty barley loaves.
The feeding of the five thousand in today’s gospel goes deeper than the physical giving of food by Christ. It reflects for us the communal dimension of Christ’s action. Usually, the gospels would present us with instances of miracles done for individuals who come to Christ. Often time, such persons would appear in the crowd such as the case of the woman with hemorrhages, the Centurion servant, the blind Bartimaeus, or the man born blind. Christ would either cure them there, take them aside, or even step out to visit their homes. At other times, we see groups of persons as in the case of the paralytic brought by his friends, the men possessed by demons, or the case of the lepers cured in groups. Although Christ would always teach the crowd to show empathy to such persons, the miracle of feeding the five thousand is one instance where he physically takes care of a large multitude, thereby bringing attention to the way a community of believers should act. Let’s not overlook what happened at the end of the miracle, “When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
The feeding of the five thousand shows Christ’s vision for his church, that nothing or no one is wasted. Christ’s mission is to gather the lost sheep. A passage that brings this out clearly is the call of Matthew, the tax collector, and the subsequent reaction of the Jews.
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9:9-13
Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel to gather the fragments. To gather the fragments means to adopt the manner worthy of God’s call for them. To gather the fragments means to live out the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, and to bear with one another through love. To gather the fragments means to preserve the unity of the spiritual bond of peace. It means to live as people untied by one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all, who reigns over all things that He created. It means to be mindful of the needy within the community. The Didache once wrote, “We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory forever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom” (9:6-8).
My dear friends, let us pray today, that God’s shepherds will recognize the need to gather the fragments in the Church in the manner that Christ did. We seem to live in a church that is greatly fragmented and somewhat has its flock confused. A lot of the sheep are hungry and scattered. These sheep are looking for not just physical food but for spiritual satisfaction. The feeding of the five thousand foreshadows Christ’s giving of himself for the life of the world. It emphasizes the vision which Christ has for his followers.
Although the members of the Church might be short-sighted and limited in their views as reflected in Philip and Andrew, the disciples of Jesus, they need shepherds who can be leaders and can see beyond the moment. They need strong shepherds who are positive-minded and spiritually convinced. They need shepherds who will remind them that the cup of faith is never half-empty, rather, half-full. Christ wants us to build a community of support. He invites us to come to him in humility, to approach each other with gentleness and patience, to support one another with the love, and to recognize that the power of the Church is in being united as the mystical body of her Master. The fragments are seen in the hungry, the sick, the naked, the needy, the infants, the homeless, the prisoners, the widows, and orphans who seem to be left out. The fragments are seen in those hungry for the truth, the reason why he prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” Nothing of Christ’s flock should be wasted.
Readings: 1st- 2 Kgs. 4:42-44; 2nd- Eph. 4:1-6; Gospel- Jn. 6:1-15