Cycle (B) 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 2 Kg 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

There were times when Jesus desired to withdraw from the crowds. When the disciples returned from their first mission Jesus withdrew with them into privacy. Jesus went up into the hill behind the plain and he was sitting there with his disciples. Then the crowd began to appear. At the sight of the crowd Jesus' sympathy was kindled. They were hungry and tired, and they must be fed. No one asked Jesus to provide the crowd with food.  It was Jesus who first expressed his concern about the people's need for food.

One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the fact that millions of people are reduced to starvation throughout the world.  In the Asian, African and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called "absolute poverty". Every year 15 million children die of hunger. For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for 5 years. 100 million deaths could be prevented for the price of ten Stealth bombers, or what the world spends on its military in two days! The Indian subcontinent has nearly half the world's hungry people. Africa and the rest of Asia together have approximately 40%, and the remaining hungry people are found in Latin America and other parts of the world. Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion - a majority of humanity - live on less than $1 per day, while the world's 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people.

God has arranged the world in such a way, that ever person may have the food he or she needs. God continues to work thousands and millions of miracles in nature to provide food for his children: the power to sprout which a seed contains, the way a grain grows and the way nature takes care of the crops. Food in the world should suffice to feed God's children but it will never suffice to fill the greed of men. One of the reasons for world hunger is priorities. Those of us who live in an industrialized society place a high priority on comfort and convenience. Our standard of living places a significant strain on the world economy. Certainly this is something Christians must consider in terms of their own economic lifestyle. At a time when people are not getting enough to eat, we are living a lifestyle far beyond what many could even imagine. We have a great challenge before us. We must not only consider what we can do to feed the hungry, but we must also consider what we should do to limit our indulgent lifestyle.

With the failure of the potato crop in 1845, Ireland was sent into a downward spiral of starvation, poverty, disease and death. Subsequent annual crop failures brought even more suffering. As the Great Hunger progressed, more and more Irish were made destitute and homeless, without any means of obtaining food. The truly sad truth about the Great Hunger is that the British continued to ship food from Ireland while millions of Irish starved.

In March of 1849, over six hundred starving people made their way into the town of Louisburgh in search of food through outdoor relief or a ticket that would admit them to the workhouse. They met with the Receiving Officer at the Louisburgh workhouse. He told them he had no authority to grant them food or a ticket, but they could appeal to two of the Board of Guardians, Colonel Hograve and Mr. Lecky, who were meeting the next day at Delphi Lodge, located twelve miles south of Louisburgh.

The crowd spent the night in Louisburg. Weakened from their trip, many of the 600 men, women and children who slept in the streets that night died. The next day, five hundred of those that remained trudged through the mud and rain along a goat track in the direction of Delphi Lodge, crossing the Glankeen River at flood stage and through the mountain pass. Still more died of exhaustion along the way. They arrived wet and cold at Delphi Lodge the next afternoon.

The Board of Guardian members were at lunch when the people arrived and amazingly, they could not be disturbed. The starving crowd was told to wait. A few more died of exhaustion while waiting. When they had finished their meal the crowd was advised to return to Louisburgh. Disappointed, the group headed back to Louisburgh over the same bleak and dangerous path they had just taken. It is unknown how many of this group of starving people met their death in the waters of Doolough. Some call them the dead victims of the Great Hunger; others refer to them as martyrs.

Hunger and poverty are the consequences of the selfishness of people. So the solution to this devastating problems lies with man alone.

One day, a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"

"It was great, Dad."

"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.

"Oh yeah," said the son.

"So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered, "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them."

The boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."

There stood the little boy before Jesus. He had not much to offer but in what he had Jesus found the materials for a miracle. Jesus needs what we can bring him. It may not be much but he needs it. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Jesus what we have. He wants us to make good use of all his gifts. And the generosity of the boy contains a lesson for us. Today Jesus' message to us is "Go and do the same thing."