Ordinary Time 17, Year B

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Give them some food yourselves (Mk. 6:37)

Prophet Elisha’s confidence—evident in the two times that it was commanded, “Give it to the people to eat”—sounds so unwavering that it may even border on arrogance.

Apostle Philip, however, not only lacks confidence; it seems to him that the problem is even more complicated. As he sizes up the situation, he finds that the problem is not just where to buy enough food but also where to get enough money to in order to feed so many people.

Apostle Andrew, for his part, appears to be lest pessimistic. Like a good development director, he knows where there are available resources. Yet he has no illusions about the sufficiency of what is at hand.

Like other folks, I imagine, I am at times an optimist, sometimes a pessimist, and at other times a realist. But if I focus on what I am, or on my disposition or temperament, when confronted with the kind of a problem that Elisha and his servant, or Jesus and his disciples, where faced with, I would be making a mistake and taking myself too seriously. For it is not about me, or about what or who I am. Rather, it is about those in need. What matters is not my condition, but rather others’ condition of need, from which I should try to remove them.

Others’ needs should compel me to do something, regardless of whether I am a Levite, a priest or a Samaritan or whatever. I have the obligation to respond to the needy, that is to say, I am responsible for them, whether I am like a rich man who can dress up in purple garments and fine linen and dine sumptuously each day, or like someone without money who frankly admits having neither gold nor silver, or like a centurion in an army of occupation who considers it an act of piety to give alms to the citizens of the occupied country, or like one of those who do not allow their afflictions and profound poverty to stop them from being generous and loving. I cannot appeal to any kind of disposition or temperament or condition in life for an excuse. Had the boy with five barley loaves and two fish not shared what he had for the reason that there would not be enough for everybody, would the more than 5,000 people have eaten? The possible pertains to us, while we leave the impossible to God, given that, as Simone Weil put it, only the impossible is possible for God, since he has given over the possible to the mechanics of matter and the autonomy of his creatures.

And the needs that should impel me must be those that present themselves really and not those that are merely products of my imagination or of my romantic daydreaming. Surely, the ultimate goal is to root out the causes of problems and to prevent present problems from becoming full-blown humanitarian catastrophes. What we want to happen ultimately is that we be and remain in communion, that is to say, that what St. Paul wrote should prevail, namely:

One body and one Spirit, as you were also called
to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith,
one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over
all and through all and in all.

But I cannot let the sight or vision of the ultimate goal or of the great program take my full and focused attention away from what is at hand. I cannot neglect what is hand. For one thing, small and random acts of humility here and now, of patience, of forbearance, make for the communion that we ultimately seek. A good billiard player plans and prepares for the next shot, for sure, but this does not mean he loses his concentration on the present shot, for he knows full well that on it depend the others. Needless to say, St. Vincent’s great accomplishments came from small beginnings of fidelity and responsibility, seemingly insignificant and of little consequence.

And God, of course, does make use of available resources and available folks, regardless of whether they are optimists, pessimists or realists.