17th Sunday – Keys to The Eucharist: Poverty

John 6:1-14

We have today, the beginning of the Eucharistic discourse in John. We’ll be hearing it for the next four weeks. It’s a good time to meditate on this very rich text, slowly taking in of this gift and reflect on our relation to the Eucharist. We receive Jesus himself, every week. God himself comes to us in this bread and wine each week. Have you ever wondered if we should really be seeing more fruit in our lives, given this awesome gift we have in the Church? Every priest has to grapple with this question for himself, given his proximity to the Eucharist. I would like to explore one possible key to this, which emerges from this gospel. 

As the crowds start coming to them, Jesus asks Philip, ‘where can we buy enough food for them to eat?’. John notes that there were about five thousand men, meaning that the crowd was at least around 15 – 20,000, including the women and children. It’s too big a crowd for any man to provide. Philip does a quick calculation and comes up with the biggest number he can manage before he faints. Two hundred days’ wages. Even as he realises himself, that it would ‘only buy enough to give them a small piece each’. But two hundred denarii is a random number to pick up. Given the poverty of that time, a denarius, a labourer’s day wage might have provided for them for only a day. A number in the vicinity of 5000 might have been closer. But maybe two hundred was the biggest number he could think of. This question Jesus asks, has rolled down to us. We are constantly faced with similar questions. Where can we buy enough food for the worlds hungry? What can we do to eradicate world poverty? What can be done to clean up the oceans? Some of the clever people among us, like Philip, might come up with the biggest number possible that might be a start at solving all these issues – only to realise it doesn’t. But we don’t need a cosmic crisis to be similarly overwhelmed. We can look at our life ahead, our career and think of all the issues we need to solve. And we can come up with what might fix all of them. If I have two hundred days’ earnings in my bank, I’ll feel safe. This is what I need to provide for my family. Once I finish paying my mortgage, I can rest secure. If I get my PhD, my life will feel worthwhile. If I become this YouTube influencer, everyone will like me. We all have the magic two hundred number which will secure our life. But, like Philip, we can be faced with an event where we realise this is not going to do for us what we hoped it would. 

Philip spectacularly fails the test Jesus gives him. Jesus asks ‘where can we buy…’ and that word ‘buy’, interestingly, is the same word that is translated as ‘ransom’ or ‘redeemed’. The saints sing the praises of the Lamb who has ‘ransomed people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ (Rev 14:3) by his own blood. It is Christ who has paid the price for us. It is the price of his blood that heals the world’s ills. And it is in his promise that our lives can rest secure.

And just as Philip gives up, Andrew brings a boy with five loaves and two fish. He has something very small – it would have been enough for him, probably his family for one meal The word indicates this boy was little. It was a little child, too little to know that his offering is too small to make any difference in the world. He gives it all without knowing from where he is going to get his meal. He doesn’t despise the small thing in his life. And Jesus takes that very gift and turns it into food for the hungry. The gift of this child’s heart, given without reserve, allows God to be God in his life and provide for an immense multitude. We can be so fixed on our two hundred denarii as the key to our life and what solves all our problems. We can be focused on our gifts as what makes us acceptable to the world, easily rejecting so much of our life. We can despise our little achievements, let alone things in our history, our failures and other things we cannot accept. We can look at others and think that our life doesn’t mean much. But God doesn’t love us for our gifts, he has no need of them. He loves us because this is who He is. We are unique because of his love.

Sometime back, at a mother and toddler’s group, some of the mothers were feeling low about the endless, meaningless jobs they had to do through the day. Running behind their baby, clearing up and washing up constantly, feeling like nothing was making a difference. And some of them had given up important careers, where they felt like they had been achieving so much to stay at home. But one of the mothers noted, how, recently, as she was looking at her child, she realised how much he had grown up, even without her realising it. It was endless, seemingly meaningless work; but all of it was really her loving care for her child, which is what had enabled him to become grow so much. It might not have been immediate gratification, but it was a beautiful investment.

            After the crowds had eaten and had their fill, Jesus asks the disciples to gather the leftovers, ‘that nothing may be lost’. Nothing is lost of a life offered to Jesus. He gathers together all of it, the gifts that we have, the pieces we reject, the wounds that we would like to hide. That is what we bring to the altar. It is this very thing that Christ takes up in his thanksgiving, blesses and multiplies. Everything taken up in the prayer of Christ is made holy. It is gathered up, becoming salvation for the world, through the gift of the Eucharist.

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