Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 18A
Whenever I travel to Elk Point to visit my parents, at the end of each visit is a sort of contest to see whether I can make it to my car and get on the road before having my hands and arms filled with different foods that my mom wants to send along with me. Now with a 5-hour drive, you can well imagine that not every kind food keeps as well as possible inside my car. But I realize that giving food is one of the concrete ways that many people express their love and concern. And I can understand how much this becomes ingrained into mothers, if you think of how new babies, some of the only things they do is eat, sleep, and fill their diapers. They’re so dependent upon their parents and especially their mothers for milk and nourishment. And when they get sick, parents show their love for their children by nursing them back to health, often very sacrificially, losing sleep and spending themselves in astonishing ways.
Our readings this Sunday reveal to us that God wants to express His love for us in some of the very same concrete ways, by healing and nursing those who are sick, and of course feeding the hungry. When Jesus gets to shore and sees the vast crowds, the Gospel tells us that His Heart was “moved with pity for them.” The Greek word that’s used here for being “moved with pity,” splagchnizomai, comes from the Greek word for inner organs or guts, that Jesus was moved from within Himself, from the very pit of His stomach, to show us mercy and love. The same word is used elsewhere in the Gospel for when the Father of the Prodigal Son catches sight of him while he was still a long way off, is moved with pity, and then runs to meet him, to clothe him, to embrace him, to prepare a feast for him.
So, too, when the most Sacred Heart of Jesus is moved with pity for the crowds who have followed Him, He jumps into action and immediately heals those who are sick among them. And in the evening, despite the disciples’ urging, Jesus refuses to send the crowds away without feeding them. The Gospel even tells us that Jesus “ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.” Now, can’t you just hear someone’s mother saying, “Oh, you can’t leave yet. You’ve gotta have something to eat first. Sit down. Sit down. I have something right here in the fridge that I can whip up real quick.”
God’s love for us is not abstract. It’s concrete, tangible, even physical. That’s why He gave us the seven sacraments, these bodily, sensible signs of His love and care for us. A close friend of mine as I was growing up, who was very Protestant but who challenged me in many wonderful ways to grow in the catholic faith, he had an older brother later on who married a Hispanic girl and converted to Catholicism. And when he asked his brother about it, his brother said it wasn’t because she was Catholic. It’s just that the Eucharist started to make so much sense to him. He saw and always acknowledged how God feeds us in different spiritual ways, through the words of Scripture and when we pray and ask for God’s help. And so, more and more, it just made sense to him that God would also feed us in more physical ways, that we’re body and soul, not just spirits.
It’s especially in the Eucharist that Jesus wants to heal us and feed us, even as He showed His love for the crowds in concrete ways. But it’s also God who feeds us by sending the rain upon our crops and gardens, providing the water in our aquifers, and who works through various other means to keep our livestock in good health. God works through doctors, nurses, and surgeons, through pharmacists and scientists, even through the natural processes of our bodies to help us experience health and strength each day. You might think of a kid climbing a tree who falls and breaks his arm. After getting it set in a cast, he prays and prays that God would heal his arm. Well, even if God doesn’t fix the broken bones instantaneously, God is still the One who designed our bones to be able to rebuild themselves, and God is the One healing his arm even if it ends up taking longer than the kid would like.
Are we able to recognize the myriad ways that God expresses His love for us, concretely, every day, all around us? If we’re not able to recognize His hand guiding so many of the blessings around us and within us that we so often take for granted every day, we’ll have a much more difficult time recognizing the Body and Blood of Jesus poured out for us upon this altar. God’s love is not abstract. I hope we’re able to see that, and in turn, I hope that our love will not just be abstract, but that we’ll express our love for God and for our neighbor in concrete ways.