17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 25, 2021
Ana Cloughly, OSB, Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, Colorado Springs, CO
In 1994, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutus. They were targeting members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin. The sheer enormity of the massacre shocked the whole world. Right after the news broke, I was with a priest who had just returned to the United States after ministering in Rwanda for over a decade. The news shocked him to his very core. Tearfully, he told me of his sorrow and distress.
He told me often the missions would provide meals for the surrounding villages. In these joyful gatherings, the missionaries would share the Good News. Many accepted Christianity and were baptized. He believed he and the other missionaries were doing a great job. With the news of the slaughter, it occurred to him that perhaps what he thought was the conversion of hearts turned out to be just the filling of bellies. Many who perpetrated these horrendous acts were the people he served. He was inconsolable.
So, why am I telling this sad story? I believe that that tragic situation may help prover a path for deeper reflection on today’s readings. We hear two stories about the multiplication of bread. First through Elisha in 2 Kings and by Jesus in John’s gospel. On both occasions small amounts of bread are offered to a large crowd of people and in the end, all are satisfied with plenty of bread left over. Truly God gives generously.
For most Americans food is never so scare that we risk starvation. During the height of the pandemic people in need could go to a food bank to receive food. Contributions to the food banks reaches all-time highs. The poverty in the United States looks very different than it does is developing nations. According to the United Nations, there is more than enough food for everyone on earth. The problem is the distribution of food is woefully unjust. And here is the heart of the matter, food driven politics.
By multiplying the loaves (and fish) Jesus satiated two core needs that day, bodily hunger and spiritual hunger. Jesus taught the people about God and invited them into a deeper relationship with God (the table of God’s Word). He also gave them food for their bodies.
St. John tells us that there were 5,000 men there (not including women and children according to St. Matthew). It was only after speaking with the priest who ministered in Rwanda that I thought to ask more questions, “Who were these people?” With that many people, there must have been people from all walks of life, the poor and the rich, those who grew food and those that owned land and had tenant farmers. Food merchants and laborers. Today as it was back then, those who control the food, control the world. In Rwanda the priest ministered to all, but all were not equal. The majority Hutus and minority Tutsi are all the same, much like people of color and our “white” majority here in the United States. The lines we draw between peoples are arbitrary, and too often deadly. Jesus gave the people what they most hungered for and then escaped their effort to make him king because God does not see such distinctions. I believe this narrative is less about the miracle of multiplying bread and more about an economy of justice. In God’s justice none are better or more deserving than another. The haves and have-nots received the bread Jesus shared. No one went hungry. Jesus was only concerned that all were satisfied. My priest friend has come to grips with the reality, there likely was nothing he could have possibly done to stop the slaughter. And he has put a great deal of effort into assessing missionary activities that might fill both hearts and bellies.
Sister Ana Cloughly is the Director of the Contemplative Vision Ministry at Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs, CO. She facilitates courses in contemplative prayer practices and Christian mysticism, leads group retreats and is a Spiritual Director. She is a member of the planning committee for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Federation of St. Scholastica.