Antonio P. Pueyo
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
July 31, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

I have just read an article in yesterday's nation-wide paper about a certain practice called "pagpag". It is a verb that describes the act of dusting off dirt. One does this action with one's jacket after a dusty journey or with one's shoes before entering the house. Also, one does this with food, such as a piece of bread, when it accidentally slips your hand and you rescue it from the floor. You can still eat it, just dust it off or "pagpag" it.

In this newspaper story, a group of people makes a living by recycling garbage. They gather the thrown away plastic, papers, and whatever they can find, including food, that could still be recycled. They sell the papers and plastics to the factories and the recovered food items, usually half-eaten meat, to some stall-owners who cook them again and sell them to the customers. This dish is "pagpag". The verb has become a noun. Some clients know they are eating "pagpag" but they reason out that it is cheap, delicious, and have not made them ill yet.

One reading this might not believe that such unsanitary practice takes place. But it does. Hunger in the cities is such that some people make do with recycled garbage for food. Those in the countryside have their own way of dealing with hunger. In some tropical countries, one can dig for wild potatoes or yam. One may also get fruits from the coconut tree or banana plants. In my country, during extreme famines some people resort to eating a dangerous potato-like tuber called "kayos". These are poisonous and can kill if improperly prepared. People avoid eating it when there are alternative sources of food.

Hunger still stalks our cities and our countryside at a time when we have the resources and the technology to produce enough food. Many people around the world are hungry for material food. They also hunger for security, peace, attention, and care. They are hungry for the basic necessities of life -- shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. We will not go into statistics. It is enough to open our eyes and look around us or open our tv sets to see the appalling hunger in many parts of the globe.

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus took it upon Himself to feed the hungry five thousand. In a gesture that reminds us of the Holy Eucharist, he took the bread and the fishes, raised his eyes to heaven, pronounced the blessing, broke the loaves and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people (Mt. 14:19). Satisfying the hungry is one of God's activities. The Lord extends his invitation in the first reading, "You who are thirsty, come to the waterÉcome receive grain and eat" (Is. 55:1). God fed Israel with manna in the desert. In the Gospel, God in and through Jesus fed the hungry. God cares for his people's needs. God wishes to continue feeding his people.

Who can perform the miracle of the bread today? We do not have the extraordinary power of multiplying bread to feed five thousand people We do have the power to multiply our efforts so that the hungry will be fed. We have the power to use technology to increase the food supply. We have the power to create roads so that farmers can sell their products. We have the power to ensure fair market practices so that the farmer-producers, the vendors, and the consummers go home satisfied. We have the power to make land available for food production. We have the power to distribute wealth more equitably.

Doing Jesus' work of feeding the hungry is not just in the personal or face to face manner of giving food. Feeding the hungry today also means advocating policies that would facilitate food production, easier marketing of products, distribution of land resources, and developing appropriate technologies. And because as the U.N. admits, war is the main reason for hunger, feeding the hungry also means advocating for peace.

We pray that the day will come when no one will eat "pagpag" or "kayos" just to survive.

Action starter: Designate a meal during the week (Friday is good) when you decide to eat less. Give the savings to a project that helps the poor.