All Glory and Honor are His

Douglas P. McManaman
Homily: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 21, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

Gospel reading: Jn 6, 1-15 (the multiplication of the loaves and fishes)

This is one miracle that appears in all four gospels. What struck me when reading it this time around is the fact that Jesus puts Philip to the test: "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Of course, Philip answers that we simply don't have the resources to feed them: "Six months' wages would not buy enough". All that's available are five barley loaves and two fish from a boy among them: "But what are they among so many people?" In other words, it's hopeless. There is nothing they can do to feed these people.

Getting the disciples to this point was important; for they had to come to the realization that they were powerless to achieve what they saw needed to be done, namely, to feed this multitude--in the gospel of Matthew, the number is said to have been five thousand men, besides women and children.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of my early years as a teacher in Markham. I began teaching at a Catholic high school in Markham in 2001, after spending twelve and a half years in the Toronto Catholic board. When I heard the Valedictorian speech at that year's graduation, I was very impressed, to say the least. It was the first time I'd heard a valedictorian focus not on herself, but on all the good that she saw in the school, and it was the only valedictorian speech I'd heard in which God was actually mentioned. But in the years that followed, the valedictorian speeches fell back to what they typically are: a string of tired cliches, not to mention fifteen minutes of self-indulgent narcissism. I finally told the administration that I won't be going to another graduation again unless I was allowed to mentor the valedictorian every June on precisely what to say and what not to say in a valedictorian speech. And they agreed, for they too were tired of them as well; the message was always the same: "You can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you believe in yourself"; " You can change the world, you just need to give it 110% and have faith in yourself"; or, "We are the generation that's going to change this world", etc.

I couldn't sit through that anymore; it was as if everything we taught them in religion went in one ear and out the other. It is difficult enough to begin changing ourselves; how is it that we are suddenly equipped, after high school, to change the world? Don't we have to get our own house in order before we take it upon ourselves to change others? And of course, what happens to the best of these young students is that when they graduate and get out into the world, reality hits them right between the eyes like a 2x4 piece of wood, and they soon discover that the world is inconceivably larger than they had figured it was, that it is vastly more complicated and how little any of us really understand of the world we live in.

This disillusionment can be a very difficult and dark experience that causes tremendous anxiety, but it is a very important experience, because the fact of the matter is we really can't do much on our own resources. But if, at that point, we turn to the Lord in a spirit of genuine humility and faith and hand everything we have over to him, then we will begin to see miracles. The disciples in this gospel had to get to that point. All they had were five barley loaves and two fish from a young boy, but that's not going to make a dent in the situation. Jesus tells Philip to hand over to him the little bit that he has, and he feeds them, miraculously accomplishing what they had no hope of doing on their own--feeding at least 5000 with scraps left over. And so, it's not about believing in yourself; it's about believing in Christ.

The first beatitude is "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs". In other words, blessed are those who are aware of their radical need for God, that in themselves they are nothing but vessels of poverty. If we don't know our own poverty of spirit, our own radical limitations, we are not going to rely on the power of God, but on our own power, which is ineffective for changing the world in any significant way. But, as St. Paul says: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me." (Phil 4, 13)

Another part of this gospel to think about is the ending: "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world." When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself."

Jesus knew that in their minds, he was nothing more than a political Messiah, one who was to free them from Roman occupation and raise Israel to the status of a kingdom once again. Of course, that's not who he is, which is why he prepared them by predicting his passion and death three times. He came to defeat the one enemy that man could not hope to defeat, namely sin and death. God is so powerful that he defeats death by dying on a cross. The resurrection is the definitive sign that his victory over death has been accomplished.

What does this mean? Among other things, it means that the good news of the gospel is the resurrection, that is, our redemption from sin and death. The gospel cannot be reduced to morality, to a social justice ethics, a political or international morality. It is nothing of the sort. The gospel certainly has moral implications, both social and personal, but the gospel is first and foremost a message of salvation. The good news is not that we now have some moral code to live by in order to do good; we can't do the good we may want to do. As St. Paul says in Romans: "The good that I want to do I do not do, and the evil that I do not want to do, I do" (Rm 7, 19). The good news is that Christ has died and Christ is risen, and that he offers us his divinity if we give him our humanity. That's the good news of the divine exchange. We can live our lives in him, in the risen Christ. He alone will complete the victory that was achieved on Good Friday and usher in the new heaven and new earth, and he will use us to bring about the completion of that victory if we allow him to. But it's not us who accomplishes anything, but him. All glory and honor are his.