Dear friends in Christ, On this seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time in the Church’s liturgical Calendar year B, we celebrate Christ who is a compassionate father and whose compassion is for all. Our first reading and the gospel are similar. Both narrate the miracles of the multiplication of bread motivated by compassion and generosity. One of the central themes of most religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, is compassion. Again, one of the central themes of most religious Congregations too, is compassion. Most of our Christian ministries and institutions, like schools for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, home for the aged and for people afflicted with incurable diseases, education of the poor, health care in rural areas, etc., are an offshoot of compassion. Meister Eckhart says: “You may call God love, you may call God goodness; but the best name for God is compassion” The good news of Jesus is that God is a compassionate Father and there is no limit to His compassion. His compassionate love and forgiveness are unlimited, unconditional and all embracing. Hence the great call for all the disciples of Jesus is to be compassionate in life.
The word ‘compassion’ comes from two Latin words: ‘Cum’ and ‘patire’, which mean ‘to suffer with’. In other words compassion means to enter into the suffering of the other and to be with him/her in his/her suffering. It is to suffer with the other and to be kind and gentle to him/her in his/her pain. Compassion means to be weak with the weak, to be powerless with the powerless and to be vulnerable with the vulnerable. In short, it is a movement of entering into the painful situation and experience of the other and remaining with him/her in a sense of solidarity and oneness. It is to remain immersed in the conditions of fellow human beings in their brokenness. To be compassionate means to come down to the painful situation of the other, to enter into the skin of the other and feel with him/her. Hence, It is compassion that moves and drives us to the need of others to come to their assistance, to give food, clothes, water to those in need. It is the same compassion that moves us to visit prisoners, the sick and the less privileged, to identify with and share the pain of all in need.
The practice of compassion increases our ability to care for others; it is thus linked to charity and generosity, for without it, the heart cannot be moved to acts of charity. In our first reading, Elisha got a gift of food from Baal-shalishah, noticing that the people were hungry and moved by compassion, he generously offered it them. Through him God miraculously multiplied the food. Thus, fulfilling his prophecy: “They will eat and have left over.” In the second reading, Paul reminds us of the virtues that we need in order to live and survive together as a body of Christ. That is a community and family united by one faith, one baptism and one spirit. These virtues include: “Charity, generosity, gentility, complete selflessness and patience towards one another.” In the gospel, moved by compassion for his flock, Jesus, “the new Elisha,” replicated the miracle of Elisha. He fed more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. He was sensitive to their situation and need. Christ cares both for our physical and spiritual needs. He feeds us with both His word, and the Holy Eucharist.
There are many important lessons we can learn from today’s readings and especially from the miracles. The first is from the compassion and generosity of both Elisha and Jesus for their flocks. Compassion moved them to generously feed their people. Compassion is the basis of empathy and sympathy. We need it to understand what it means for others to be hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, jobless, and lonely. In fact, we need them to be human. The Second lesson is that God can transform something little into something great. So, we must not doubt God as the disciples did. This is because, our God is a God of impossibilities. As Christ tells us: “With God all things are possible” (Mt 19: 26), and Paul affirms: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13). The third lesson is the generosity of the little boy. He is a hero in Jesus’ miracle. He generously offered what he had and is generosity became the motivation of a great miracle for his community. From two fish and five loves, the community was blessed with more twelve baskets of food. This shows that at times, God works with what we have. To be compassionate is to be like Christ. To be generous is to cooperate with Christ in his ministry.
Christ sought the cooperation of his disciples and community, and the little boy cooperated with what he had. He exhibited a fraternal spirit and so, changed the destiny of his community. How do we respond to the needs of our community in times of need? The goods we have, our talents, time, knowledge, experience, including our faith are values that we must place at the service of others. A generous and compassionate attitude towards others can enrich the life of many, as well as our own life. When compassion and generosity embrace, great miracles happen for a community united by one faith, one spirit and one baptism. Finally, through his generosity and compassion, Christ continues to work miracles in our midst. He continues to feed and nourish us physically and spiritually at every Eucharistic celebration. So, with the psalmist let us praise Christ: “You open your hand, Lord, and you satisfy us. May God bless his word in our hearts through Christ our Lord. Amen