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What Good Are These?

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Jul. 30, 2012

Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at a meeting when a friend turned to me and asked if I had an extra pen.  I took a look, and on the bottom of my backpack, I saw an old ball-point pen.  The plastic outer shell of it was broken.  It was kind of dirty too from dust or whatever other particles made it into this Underarmour bag that doubles as both my gym bag and briefcase.  At any event, I pulled the pen out and kind of showed it to him as I said “No, I don’t.”

He looked at me kind of in disbelief trying to figure out whether I was stupid or busting on him as he said “Uh - what’s that?”  And I said “Oh this, you don’t want to use this, I mean look at it, it’s old, it’s broken, I doubt it even works.”  He grabbed the pen, swirled it on his pad a few times and then it started working again (gotta hand it to Ballpoint, they do make a good pen) and he said “yeah - this is fine…” as he proceeded to use it for the next hour without even the slightest of difficulties.

Here I was - maybe out of embarrassment, or a mistaken belief that there’s no way this would be useful - prepared not to give my friend something he needed at the moment he needed it, because I had already judged the pen inadequate.  Kind of a silly example, but we see something similar happening in today’s Gospel. 

In this reading, we hear of one of Jesus’ most famous, most recounted and remembered of  miracles - the feeding of the multitudes with 5 barley loaves and two fishes.   As told by St. John, this version contains an interesting detail.  When Jesus sees the crowd of well over 5,000 (considering that was only the number of men – with women and children, the crowd was probably well over 15,000) He shows his love, his concern and makes it clear that he wishes to get them something to eat.  Turning to his closest followers, his inner circle, his apostles, Andrew seems to be the only one with any ideas (the others are probably thinking, as we hear in the other gospels, to send them home thinking the crowd is to big).  Andrew points out that a young boy has come forward and offered all that he had.  The 5 loaves and 2 fish.  But as soon as Andrew acknowledges this offer, very quickly, he dismisses it as inadequate saying “what good are these for so many?”

How often in our land of plenty and abundance… (think of it, only in out “first world” culture could we have a reality show called “Hoarders” focusing on people who can’t get around their homes because they have so much crap they’ve “collected” - while countless other people in nations throughout the world are desperate for just enough to survive?  That’s another sermon for another day though, but I’ll leave the ADD thought here… anyway) in this land of plenty and abundance do we look at the material things we possess as inadequate?   Even more, how often do we see the gifts, the talents, the abilities that we possess as “not good enough?”

I’ve heard it in parishioners saying they can’t volunteer to help teach CCD because “they’re not good enough” or I won’t sing with the choir because “there’s people who sing better than I do.”  Even sadder when young men dismiss thoughts of a priestly vocation or young women think they could never be called to be a religious sister because “I’m not holy enough.”

One lesson this Gospel brings to mind is that it’s not about us.  We can get so worked up trying to evaluate things (and in the process, often times undermining how blessed we truly are as we compare ourselves to others) conceiving a plan, determining how things will work out that we can get overwhelmed, doubtful in our faith and stifling ourselves into inaction. 

Yet look at how Jesus takes this nameless boy’s example to speak to us today.  If like him, we simply, humbly offer to Jesus all that we have, all that we possess, all that we are - it is then that He is able to work miracles through us and with us. 

If that were something that was lived by every disciple, then this wouldn’t be simply a miracle story we recount once a year, remembering this one day where a multitude of people had their physical hunger alleviated.  It would be a model of how Jesus Christ continues to transform the hearts of his believers and the world around them.  Jesus would continue to be working miracles, fulfilling the deeper hungers, alleviating the spiritual and physical malnourishment that so many are suffering simply because we’ve been stuck asking ourselves as we look at our gifts, our talents, our possessions - “What good are these?”  Jesus is willing to show us exactly how good they are, if only we would be willing to share them.

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