We are in the opening scenes of John 6, and just like where we left off in Mark, the crowds have followed Jesus and gathered around him. Jesus wants to take care of the crowds and give them life. And Jesus responds to their need for food by feeding them through the loaves and the fish. Over these next five weeks, we will hear the entire chapter of John 6, more commonly known as the Bread of Life discourse where he will teach and proclaim that He is the Bread of Life.
Friends, the Church is zoning in on this one chapter to remind us that Jesus continues to feed the crowds today through the context of the Mass. As the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself spiritually feeds us in the Eucharist! John says that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining… When we hear this our minds immediately think of the Eucharist since we hear at every Mass, “he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them saying”. If we need any further proof that John is talking about the Eucharist consider these words in light of the other Gospels at the Last Supper:
- While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’ (Matthew 26:26).
- While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body’ (Mark 14:22).
- Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me (Luke 22:19).
Every early Christian would have made the connection between these last supper narratives and the words John used in the story of Christ feeding the five thousand. It is undeniable, we are talking about the Eucharist.
If John is talking about the Eucharist and that is our focus in general for these next five weeks, then what is our particular focus for this weekend? I believe the answer to that is the offertory. Have you ever wondered why we both collect money at this point and have a family/or people of the community bring up the bread and wine? This is not a stage production. This is not just something done to pass the time.
Listen to these words from the instructions on the celebration of the Mass: At the time of the offertory, “the offerings are then brought forward. It is a praiseworthy practice for the bread and wine to be presented by the faithful. They are then accepted at an appropriate place by the Priest or the Deacon to be carried to the altar. Even though the faithful no longer bring from their own possessions the bread and wine intended for the liturgy as was once the case, nevertheless the rite of carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance.”
Carrying up the offerings still keeps its spiritual efficacy and significance…(brief pause). The purpose of the offertory is our time to intentionally give God thanks for the gifts he has given us. Its where we offer back the fruit of our labor to God. Further, it is where we, in faith, place our trust in God that He can take the little we have to offer and do something extraordinary!
Okay, so by now you all must be thinking… “why is there a fridge next to Fr. Stephen?” Well, I thought it might be fun to playfully consider what the priests could offer God this weekend… So let’s look inside. (have Danny go to the fridge and pull out each item one by one).
Fr. Stephen: “Danny what’s the first thing you got.”
Danny: “Skittles padre…”
Fr. Stephen: “Oh no, we can’t give the skittles, those are my favorite… look for something else man.”
Danny: “Alright.. well we have my espresso…you’re not going to make me give this away, are you???”
Fr. Stephen: “Dude man, I don’t want to see what you become without your coffee. I’ll save you, we won’t give that away either. What else is in there?”
Danny: “we got Fr. Ton’s Fritos?”
Fr. Stephen: “Haha, lets not upset the pastor. He likes those man. Let’s save that for him.”
Danny: “We go some of Deacon Jim’s favorite potato chips!”
Fr. Stephen: No, let’s be good to the Deacon man, anything else in there?
Danny: “Aha! I found a winner man! Look at this we got ‘Leftovers’”!
Fr. Stephen: “Absolutely man! Boom! Winner! We’ll give the leftovers to God this weekend…Well done!” (Danny goes back to his seat).
All kidding aside, I believe God is inviting us to consider “What holds you and I back from giving to God and His Church?” Our readings name different destructive mentalities we can hold on to that can discourage us in our giving.
The first is this leftover mentality. It is something we can all struggle with; including me. When we are confronted with giving, most times we only do it at the end. We look for what is left over. But this is contrary to what happens in our first reading. We heard about a man who came to the Prophet Elisha offering twenty loaves of bread; which were from the firstfruits! One of the greatest roadblocks to our own personal giving is waiting to give that which is leftover. If we do this, then we run the risk of running out and not having anything left to give God.
But our Gospel also illustrates ways we can become discouraged in our giving. The first comes from Philip. Jesus asks where can we get enough food for the crowds and Philip responds despairingly, Lord, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little!” Friends, we know this way of thinking all too well. All we have to do is think about our pending capital campaign. In all honesty, I know that there have been times Fr. Tony, or myself, or anyone among you has thought, “6.2 million! Really? Even if we raised 2 million we only have enough to accomplish a little.” We see the need, but then we see the costs and we can become discouraged. Just as Philip saw the need. He saw the crowds. He saw and agreed with Jesus; that they needed food, but Philip allowed himself to be discouraged, “Lord even if we had two hundred days wages, we still couldn’t provide for them.” Because we are overwhelmed with how much we need, we tend to hold back because we think the amount, like Philip, is unattainable.
But the discouragement doesn’t end there. Then we hear from Andrew. Andrew points to the boy and says, here is a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew also is discouraged but instead, because the gift is so small. Lord, how can we provide for five thousand with only five loaves and two fish!?! What does this mentality look like in our parish? It looks something like this: “You know, I don’t make that much money… and what I have to give is not very much at all. So, how could my gift do anything? What could my small gift really do for the parish?”
And finally, the last destructive mentality…. Thanks be to God, the boy offered the five loaves of bread and two fish, but imagine… What if the boy said to Jesus, “Hey man, this bread and these fish are for my family. It’s not for those people. If you take our food my family will suffer.” This is what I think would have been a normal response for somebody in the boy’s position. “We were prepared, we shouldn’t suffer because they didn’t bring anything. Because they didn’t give.” Or what if Christ said this to the Father? What if our Lord would have said, “Heavenly Father, why should I give up my life for them? This doesn’t benefit me? It’s too great of a cost!” Praise the Lord, Jesus didn’t say this…
I think all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have experienced each of these discouragements when we are asked to give to the Church.
Friends, these are mentalities that are easy for us all to slip into. But here’s the thing, these mentalities are not consistent with the Christian way of life. These mentalities are not Jesus’ mentality. Saint Peter reminds us in his letter that the mentality of a Christian is one who recognizes that all that we have is a gift, and the gifts we have are meant to be shared for the good of all as good stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).
Praise God that Jesus had a different way of thinking! Praise God that Jesus knew how to turn a small gift into a large one! And really, should we be surprised? Think about it, our Lord Jesus already performed the greatest miracle ever: He is God and He became one of us. Then he called the apostles, who were simple men and in the eyes of the world lacked talent. And yet, they became the catalyst for the early Church to grow. Then there is the gift of the Eucharist, where Jesus sends down his Holy Spirit and transforms simple bread and simple wine into his real presence so that he could spiritually feed us today. Should we really doubt that he can transform our gifts into something amazing at this parish?
Brothers and Sister, imagine for a moment, just imagine… What good Jesus could accomplish through our parish if all of us gave in a way that was appropriate to our family. I encourage any family’s here who have not been able to give ask yourself, “what could my family right now afford to give this parish?” Or if you are already an active giver, is God maybe inviting you to increase your giving by 1%? Here’s the point: Fr. Tony, myself, and the staff wants to offer so much more for this parish. Imagine what God could do through the ministries of this parish if all of us confronted our own discouragements and had the courage and trust of the boy from the Gospel. We, through God’s grace, could accomplish even more amazing things here at Our Lady of Consolation.
In Christ’s love and friendship,