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Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

My dear encountered couples:

Have you ever felt totally incapable of handling a problem? That’s how the apostles must have felt when Jesus asked Philip how they were going to feed all those people - 5000 of them. Philip answered that not even two hundred days wages could buy enough food to come up with even one mouthful for each person. Then Andrew mentioned a boy who had five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, pointing out the futility of trying to make a meal out of that for all of them. You know the rest of the story. Jesus not only turned that boy’s bread and fish into more than enough for the 5000 but ended up with twelve baskets of leftovers.

What’s the point of this story? To give us hope. No matter how small the amount we can contribute to the solution of a problem, when we do it in and with Christ it is multiplied in value and quality thousands, even millions of times. Maybe you don’t have enough to feed the world, but possibly you can take care of one other person besides yourself. Maybe you aren’t able to bring a ray of sunshine into the lives of everyone in this town who are in desperate need of it, but your smiling “hello” to even one of them may be very important.

Let me tell you a little story I read. A woman, on her summer vacation, was out walking along the beach at dawn. To see the sun come up over the ocean on a clear morning is a beautiful sight. As she walked along she noticed a young man ahead of her picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the boy, she asked what he was doing. His answer was that the starfish, stranded on the beach when the waves washed them up, would die if left in the morning sun.

The woman was quite taken back and said, “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish. How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand, and then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.

And that’s what we are asked to do. Make a difference in at least one person’s life - hopefully, every day. Whether it is taking a little of your time to talk with someone who has no one to talk to, or if it is sharing your money or your talents with someone who needs them, it adds up. Even if you only do something helpful to others five times a week, it adds up to 260 acts of special love a year. And if everyone in this parish also does something good for others five times a week, just think of how much good can then be done in a year. If every person in the world joined in, this sure would become a wonderful planet to live on. But you’ve heard that before.

The fact is, though, that there are too many of us who create problems instead of helping to solve them, and too many who are always occupied with their own concerns and don’t give a hoot about anyone else’s happiness. But don’t let that stop you. Each of us has been given talents and abilities which we are to use for the good of ourselves and others. Usually, good for ourselves is accomplished by doing something for someone else. Think of that boy with the five loaves of bread and two dried fish. If he hadn’t been willing to share any of it with others, if he just shook his head and said, “Well there’s nothing I can do here.” and walked away, maybe no one there would have eaten that day. How many have not been served because you walked away thinking your little couldn’t help?

The feeding of those five thousand is to teach us that we are all needed, that we are all important — no, not important, but necessary to alleviate the problems in people’s lives. Jesus was not only asking Philip, “Where shall we buy enough bread for these people to eat.” He is asking you – today – now – every day. And he is not only asking you to help him with the food problem, but with anything that can lessen the sufferings and needs of people. If you say, “I don’t know what people need,” then maybe you haven’t been interested, maybe you aren’t looking and listening to what is going on in the world, even in your own neighborhood.

We offer petitions during Mass called the “Prayers of the Faithful.” Some of these petitions are specific, often they are very general. But no matter which, none of them are going to be answered unless some human being is willing to try to do that which will be an answer. God doesn’t ordinarily drop food from the sky, he doesn’t patch up arguments within families and between countries. He doesn’t take a person without transportation to go shopping or to church. He doesn’t throw any starfish back into the sea. He relies on you to do it. He relies on you, and you, and you, and yes, you way back there — and on me.

God’s way is to work through people. He tries to move people to do things. And when we do them at his urgings, he does them with us. And when he does them with us, we do them with his strength, his wisdom, his love. And our actions take on a divine quality, a divine value. Maybe we won’t see a miracle happening, like the feeding of the five thousand, but in the world of invisible realities a miracle of equal proportion, or better, will be taking place.

Jesus wants you to know that God needs you. Without that boy on the mountain the people would not have eaten. Without the young man on the beach all the starfish would have died. Do you want that to happen? Do you want to come to the end of your life and remember the people you turned your back on and walked away from?

Philip replied, “Not even with two hundred days wages could we buy loaves enough to give each of them a mouthful.” The woman said, “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish. How can your effort make any difference?” Don’t let people like that discourage you. Don’t let any of your own negative thoughts sway you. Do what you can. It makes a big difference to God - and it certainly makes a big difference to the person you are trying to help.

Wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves, is more important than where we would like to be, or what else we might prefer to be doing. For a vacation, for that matter any time of the year, if we would just try to live in the present, relax, see worth in it, and try to enjoy it, we’d be much better off mentally, physically, and spiritually. Giving our attention and concern, our smiles and our laughter, the best of the best we have in us to those we are with is worth much more than sunshine, ice cream, and luxury hotels. We might like all those things, but it is the people we are with, and us, who make for a good time.

Jesus said to his apostles, “Come by yourselves to an out-of—the-way place and rest a little.” I hope you get time off to rest this summer. Maybe you’ve already had it. How did it go? Whether we stay home or travel to the far corners of the world, we make or break the vacation not only for ourselves, but for those special people with us. Love your traveling partners as yourself, and you will have a good time.

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