17th Sun [B] 2006

Fr. Charles Irvin

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

There’s a phrase we all frequently use in our lives, a phrase that echoes a statement we just heard in today’s Gospel. The Old Testament reading likewise echoes that phrase.

How many times have you heard yourself say: I really would like to help but I just don’t have any experience or abilities in that sort of thing.” Or: “What can I do? Lots of other would do a much better job than I would.” “Or: “Well, I think I’ll decline your offer. I just couldn’t meet the expectations people would have for the job to be done.”

Many times such statements come from deep within our own sense of inadequacy, incompetency, or inferiority. Often enough such statements are not truthful about our selves or our true abilities. Today’s Scripture readings will, I hope, cause some of you to re-evaluate yourselves and what you can offer others in the future.

Now for the statement in today’s Gospel:

“There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what good is that among so many?”

What we need to pay attention to is that when a request is made of you and something needs to be done, don’t think about what you can do all by yourself. Ask rather what you and God can do together. God doesn’t need our opinion about our lack of competence or our lack of perfection. All God needs is our willingness. It’s our willingness that allows Him to feed the poor, bring justice to the oppressed, and relief to the lonely along with those who hunger and thirst for friendship and love. God can take just five barley loaves and two dried up fish and feed multitudes… if only we will let Him. Imagine what God can do with the love and friendship we give Him in order to provide for others in their hunger and need.

Jesus worked miracles all over the place during His public ministry, in every place, that is, except in His own home town. He didn’t work any miracles there because His hometown folks didn’t expect Him to; they didn’t believe in what He could do. God only works miracles in our lives when we believe that He can and expect Him to… when we really want Him to. It takes faith in Him to unleash His power.

God doesn’t work miracles, feed multitudes, and change our lives merely at our beck and call. Just because we ask Him to doesn’t mean that He will do it. No. We have to give Him everything we’ve got before He will give us everything He’s got. If we only have five moldy old barley loaves and two measly dried up fish, but we give them to Him nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it’s all we’ve got, then He can take what we give Him and He can work miracles with our gift. God really wants to, you know… only we’ve got to give Him the chance.

“There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what good is that among so many?” the disciples said. All too often we’re much too shortsighted. We look only at our competencies. We’re too egocentric. Our vision is arrested only on our selves, many times out of a sort of upside down pride. Instead of concentrating on ourselves under the aspect of what we have with God, we concentrate on ourselves under the aspect of what we don’t have.

Many of us have a hard time accepting the fact that all too often we don’t have enough money, enough education, enough experience, enough good looks, enough social poise, or what have you. When asked to help out on a committee or join a group in some project, we hold back, we refuse; we remain in our self-protective little cocoons.

Jesus says to you: “Bring me your five little barley loaves and your two dried up old fish and see what I can do with them! Don’t wait until your perfect before you get involved. Do you want to be perfect so you will get the credit? Instead give me your little widow’s mite, your little mustard seeds, your little bit of leaven… and see what I can do with them.”

Isn’t the story of creation God’s telling us that He can make a whole world, a whole universe, out of nothing? Hasn’t He told us that He bring His strength out of our weaknesses? Didn’t He make old Sarah (Abraham’s sterile wife) fertile? Didn’t Mary, a little virgin, given birth to God’s Son? Why, then, do we insist on not getting involved unless and until we feel adequate? It’s really quite crazy, you know. It’s much like a young man refusing to enter the seminary unless and until he feels perfect enough to be a priest. That attitude ties up God’s hands; He can’t do what He’s best at, namely working miracles.

What we have to do is overcome our pride and offer God our weaknesses. It’s only then that He can act to bring freedom to those in prison, joy to those in sorrow, and relief to the poor, the dispossessed, and the hungry. When we admit our poverty and let God take what little we have, He can take care of everything and even leave some left over…twelve baskets full.

Is there a collection being taken up for the poor? Don’t withhold until your can make a grand and glorious contribution. Is there a need to serve on a committee to improve your city or your government? Don’t wait until you have a degree in political science before your volunteer. Is God calling you to spend time in prayer with Him? Don’t wait until you’re ready to enter a religious order of contemplatives. Do you feel called to spend time with members of your family? Don’t wait until you’ve got lots and lots of time to give them your undivided attention.

Ask not what you can do for all these people around you. Forget your own ego and what you think you can do. Ask rather what God can do with what you give Him in order to meet these needs. Too many people all around us are starving, hungering for justice, for peace, for love, for equal employment opportunities, and for honesty and integrity in government. If you cling tightly to your little barley loaves and fishes, well, then, God can’t take them, multiply them by His power, and all around you people will sink into a worse form of need, hunger, and thirst.

And so, today, please think about being generous with your self, no matter in how little regard you hold yourself. Offer God what you’ve got and let Him handle the results and take care of the successes. All you need do is fearlessly, and in faith, give God your willingness. With your willingness and with God’s power you will be unstoppable. Try it. The saints were riddled with defects and weaknesses. What made them saints was that they gave God totally what little they had, setting their pride and self-estimations aside.

Always remember that God loves little things and little people. Look at what He has done with them!

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”