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When Humans Add, God Multiplies

July 25, 2015

A photo of the ancient mosaic found beneath the altar of the church in Tabgha, Israel.

 

Sunday Reflection: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
(2 Kings 4:42-44 / Eph 4:1-6 / Jn 6:1-15) 

 

This morning, I was blessed to attend the diaconal ordination of two of my former philosophy students since I got back in the Philippines 2009. As they lie prostrate while everyone was singing the litany of saints on their knees, I contemplated the scene at the altar, and try to recall some of the shared stories of their lives. Some of my former students have left seminary formation on regency; some have decided that God calls them to the married life; some are still journeying and discerning God's will. But for these two former students, the simple "yes" that they made when they decided to enter the seminary is now starting to bear fruit in a life-long commitment to becoming priests of God.

One simple "yes" to God has multiplied into the many "yeses" of years of seminary formation, and which now comes to the big "YES" to the transitional phase of ordination to the diaconate.

 

A photo taken during the diaconal ordination held at Santuario de San Vicente de Paul in Tandang Sora, 25 July 2015.


They gave their "yes" to the mission of Christ, and Christ blessed this "yes", multiplying it a hundredfold. All these "yeses" in the spirit of generosity and self-giving.

The Gospel and the First Reading of today speaks of generosity. In the First Reading, a man from Baal-shalishah went to the Prophet Elisha with twenty barley loaves and fresh grain from the ear. The gifts were obviously not enough for the hundred people gathered.  Yet, Elisha insisted twice:

 

“Give it to the people to eat.” 

 

His servant reluctantly complied, and miraculously the loaves were multiplied, such that leftovers were even gathered after the people had their fill.

The loaves offered as a gift enough only for a few were multiplied by God as a blessing to many.

The Gospel Reading for today repeats the same theme. It's a well known account, with all four Gospels offering their own version of the "Feeding of the Five Thousand." What is unique, though, in John's version, which we hear today, is that the five barley loaves and two fish came from a boy.

 

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?” 

 

Both the First and the Gospel readings speak of generosity and self-forgetfulness. Moreover, these two readings distinguish two groups of people with a different attitude. The man from Baal-shalisha and the boy from the Gospel Reading, who both were generous in offering whatever they have, however measly, were motivated by an Attitude of Abundance. Whatever they have, they give. It's an attitude that flows from a heart in the habit of offering itself to others. It is not calculative because this attitude stems from a worldview that there will always be enough for everyone if each offers the little that one has. In this attitude, there is value in sharing and camaraderie.

The other group of people refers to the servant of the Prophet Elisha and to Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Elisha's servant objected:

 

“How can I set this before a hundred people?” 

While Andrew was even more cynical:

 but what good are these for so many?” 

 

Both these persons were motivated by an Attitude of Scarcity. It's a calculative attitude that proceeds from a heart that feels that when one gives something, that is something taken away from the self. It's an attitude that stems from a worldview that what is given to others is deprived of the self. In this attitude, there is no value in sharing and camaraderie, but only in competition, greed, and hoarding only for the sake of the self and the others one loves.

In a world focused on the material, an attitude of scarcity abounds. A whole cake shared by many only means that each would have a small share. However, this world is not only material. It's also spiritual. The fabric of this world is made of the spiritual values of love, care, understanding, peace, knowledge, forgiveness, and others. We don't lose love, when we give love. We don't lessen our knowledge, when we start sharing our knowledge. Yes, we may become hungry by offering what we have to others hungrier than us. But the value of sacrifice is the seed of which a forest of generosity starts. That forest may never see the light of day, if there were no one generous enough to offer what one has in the spirit of self-forgetfulness. It is this generosity filled with an attitude of abundance that God blesses and multiplies.

There is an old Filipino saying, "Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa." Perhaps this world would be blessed a hundredfold more, if only there were few people generous enough to offer what they have, even if a little.

The simple "yes" to the priesthood of my former students may have seem measly, insignificant and paltry at the beginning of their seminary formation, but along the way, God blessed that personal affirmation with the many "yeses" each step of the way. Now it's starting to flower and bear fruit.

Yes, God multiples by blessing, but only if we learn to add something, in the spirit of self-forgetfulness and generosity.

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