This past week we had to say “goodbye” to our dear friend Fr. Eder. I’ll admit that I regret not spending more time with him while I was still Associate Pastor. Nevertheless, he still made an impression on me. His stories of how he decided to get a pilot’s license and then used it to take youth on trips (on his plane!) and of how, when he was assigned as a chaplain to the State Hospital and they didn’t have enough counselors, he decided to get a degree in psychotherapy in order to help out impressed me the most. Here was a man who had a rare mix of a servant’s heart and a “can-do” attitude that was inspiring. Like all of us he came to God without much; but when God asked him to take what he had and give it to the people he did, and what he offered was multiplied to do more than probably he could have imagined, just like the offerings that were made in this weekend’s readings. Perhaps this week, in Fr. Eder’s spirit, we too could strive to let God multiply our meager gifts by placing them before him and responding in faith to his call to serve.
Homily: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
If you’ve read the books, or seen the film, or have been to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, then you perhaps know the story of Oskar Schindler, a businessman in Germany during World War II who worked to save over 1000 Jews from death in German Concentration Camps. The film, titled Schindler’s List, is how I came to know him. It dramatically and powerfully portrays how this, at times, shady businessman turned his prowess towards keeping his factory open and maintaining a mainly Jewish workforce as a way to keep as many of them as he could from the horrors that they faced daily in the camps.
One of the most moving parts of this powerful movie happens towards the end, of course. After the Russian forces liberate the camp from which Oskar Schindler was taking the Jews to work in his factory (and he, thus, sees a glimpse of the full horror that those camps inflicted) he begins to feel guilty for not having done more to save more Jews from those horrors. I often wonder, if he had known the scope of the problem before he started, would he have even begun? Or would he have thought that he couldn’t have made a difference and so turned away from the problem all together, hoping someone else would do something? Thankfully, we’ll never know.
But this is something rather human for us, isn’t it? That when we look at a problem that seems far too big for us to solve alone we often turn away from it, instead of offering what we can, because we think that our offering won’t make much of a difference. 1200 Jews isn’t much when you think that 6 million were killed and so it’s not unreasonable for us to sympathize with individuals who understood the scope of the killing and could have done something, but failed to do anything because they were paralyzed by thinking that it would make little difference. When we look at Oskar Schindler’s story, however, and the stories we read in our Sacred Scriptures today, we realize just how wrong we can be.
In our first reading, we heard how a man brought the firstfruits of his harvest—the “fresh grain in the ear”—to Elisha, the “man of God”, in order to offer it to God. This was a very common thing to do as a way of showing reverence to God from whom all life (and, thus, the harvest) flows. Elisha does something dramatic, however, when he directs the man to place it before the gathered people, instead. The firstfruits offered to God were for God alone and should not be eaten by the “common” folk (who we might call “laity” today). This reveals, perhaps, that there was great hunger at that time and so it could be thought that Elisha was responding to the truth that “God desires mercy, not sacrifice” by directing that the offering be given to those who were hungry.
Nevertheless, the man observes that his offering is insufficient to feed the number of people who had gathered and so he tries to object. It seems as if he thought that because his offering would be insufficient to feed all of the gathered people, that it would be useless to offer it. Elisha, however, knowing the sign that God wanted to show through the offering, insists that he offer it anyway, which he does. And, as we heard, the Lord multiplied his meager offering: so much so that there was bread to spare.
Then, in the Gospel reading, we heard how Jesus asked his disciples how they could get enough food to feed the large crowd who had gathered to hear him teach. And we heard how Philip responded; thinking that even a Bill Gates’ sized fortune wouldn’t be enough to feed them all. Andrew, however, found a boy who had some loaves and fish. He mentioned it to Jesus, acknowledging that this meager amount might as well be nothing on account of there being so many to feed. But Jesus knew the sign that he wanted to show through this offering, and so he directs the gathered crowd to recline (as if at a dinner table) as he prepares the meal that he will share with them. What they had to offer was insignificant in comparison to the problem that needed to be solved and so they wanted to give up. But the Lord multiplied their meager offering: again, so much so that the leftovers were more abundant than what was offered.
One of the unique characteristics of each of these offerings, however, is their Eucharistic nature. The man in the first reading brought the firstfruits of his harvest to offer to God as an act of thanksgiving for the abundance of his harvest. In the Gospel, Jesus takes the gift of loaves and fish and first gives thanks to God for having received them. In both cases, the thanksgiving offerings were multiplied to satisfy the need. None of us, of course, has enough on our own to resolve the world’s greatest problems. Nevertheless, if we would only offer to God what we have, in thanksgiving for what we have received, God would multiply our individual offerings, too, and thus satisfy the needs of those around us. This is what our beloved Fr. Eder did in his life and, if you were at his funeral Mass this past Friday, you’ll know that because of this God multiplied his offering and so touched many more lives than Fr. Eder probably would have ever imagined he could have touched.
This, too, therefore, highlights the sacramental nature of our offerings: that in spite of what our offering looks like on the outside, in God’s hands it is always something greater. Just look at what happens here at this Mass: we bring forward our meager offering of bread and wine and as we give thanks to God for these gifts—united in thanksgiving for all of the gifts that he has given us—he transforms them into the Body and Blood of Jesus for us to receive: an immeasurable multiplication of what we offered.
My brothers and sisters, our Church, our parish, is not dying: it’s alive! It will only live, however, if we continue to trust that God will multiply our gifts when we offer them to him in thanksgiving for all that we have received; which happens whenever we respond to the needs of the materially and spiritually poor. And so, in thanksgiving for all that we have received, let us make our offering today; and then let us go forth in faith to see how God will work a miracle of grace in our lives and in the lives around us.