July 29, 2018
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“Grandpa ‘Owl’, I am always hungry.”
What my younger son, Luke, said when he was four or five years old. We dropped him and his brother at their grandfather’s house to stay the weekend. Luke wasn’t too sure about it all, and so he at least needed to state his most important basic need. “I am always hungry!” (His grandad’s name was Al, but as four-year-old, Luke thought it was Owl.)
As many of you know, when you become a parent, you become responsible for satisfying a child’s hunger. Early on I didn’t really get this. I mean, I knew of course, that as a parent I had to feed my children, but I didn’t quite get the fact that I now had to own their hunger. I had no choice but to satisfy it.
Early on as infants, the demand on a nursing mother is relentless, every 90 minutes or so, 24/7. Just ask Lindy Gibbons about seven-week-old Leo’s constant hunger.
As parents, though, we learn as we go. For example, when the same son, Luke, was a baby, he always woke from his nap in a screaming, crying fit, and of course, in desperate need for a diaper change. Rene & I learned that instead of going directly to the crib to change his diaper, I would first go to the kitchen and cut off a piece of banana to shove into his mouth, which would calm him down, so that I could change the diaper in relative piece. A learned survival skill of parenting.
Clearly, I did not learn enough however. A number of years later, when our sons were grade school age, (I may have told you this) I was home one afternoon preparing a talk that I was to give to a group of parents that night. So, to make it real, I asked my sons, "What advice would you have me give to other parents?" Without hesitation, Luke said, “Tell those parents to feed their kids enough!” And his older brother, Nicolo, said, “Yea, and tell those parents to love their kids’ pets.”
Okay, so it wasn’t just the hunger thing that I needed to work on.
Point is, unlike me as a parent who sort of reluctantly learned to satisfy the hungers of my children in a minimalist way, God desires to satisfy our hungers in an abundant way. I love that line in the first reading where Elisha said, “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.” Out of a few barley loaves, a hundred people ate, and there was some left over.
This is, of course, a precursor to our gospel story where Jesus fed 5000 people on just five loaves and two fish . . . and there was an abundance of leftovers.
We know this story/event was very important to all the early Christian communities because it is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospel accounts. Today, we hear it from John, but it also appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
And pay attention to the gospel stories coming in the next few weeks as we explore in John what is known as the “bread of life” discourse—which will break open for us the gift and the meaning of the Eucharist itself.
Why did Jesus feed them? Because they were hungry. It really is that simple. The refrain of today’s psalm rings true and clear: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; answers all our needs.” God desires to satisfy our hungers in a big way, in abundance.
A few Sundays ago, it was going on two in the afternoon, and I was wrapping up my work in the office so I could go home and enjoy the remainder of my afternoon, when a man, a stranger, came into the office looking for assistance. Not unusual. He explained that he and his wife and children were driving back home to Arizona, their van broke down and the repair cost took all the cash and credit they had. The van got repaired; they just needed gas money. I told him we don’t normally have cash in the office, but I’ll see what I can find. Well, because it was Sunday, the red box with hospitality money was still on my desk, so I took a good portion and gave it to him.
As he was leaving, I half-heartedly asked, “Would you like some food for the road?” He said, “Sure.” So I told him to sit in the hallway, while I go down to the SVDP food pantry for a bag of food. I didn’t ask him what he wanted or needed, thinking I’ll just give him a few snacks for the road.
Jo Martens just happened to be in the pantry, so I told her what was going on. She said, “Bring him in here and have him pick out what he wants.” For the next 20 minutes Jo showed him what was on every shelf, all the while peppering him with questions about what he and his wife and his little children like to eat. She filled up multiple bags of goodies, all the while learning all about his family, the trip they were taking, and all sorts of things. She ended by saying, “Come on, I’ll help you out with these things. I’ve got to meet these babies of yours.” Mom and the kids were waiting in the van.
My approach to helping this man was minimalist to send him on his way so that I could go home and enjoy my Sunday afternoon. Jo’s approach was just the opposite . . . a sincere desire to satisfy their hunger with abundance. I don’t know anyone who exemplifies God’s desire to satisfy the hungry, in abundance, more than our own Jo Martens.
We all know what it’s like to be hungry . . . some of us more than others. We gather each week around this table to recognize that God desires to satisfy our hungers. And we realize that we must participate in God’s work in feeding the hungry with abundance. I am inspired by nursing moms, parents of all children, Jo Martens and people like her whose hospitality and generosity overflows.
Who inspires you?