August 3, 2014
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last week I was traveling on a rural highway, relatively free of traffic, enjoying that beautiful, golden glow that comes with these summer sunsets we’ve been blessed with. I happened to glance over to the south and recognized a perfectly manicured golf course. Within seconds, I noticed two golf carts, perched side by side on the little rise leading up to, what I assumed must be the 18th hole. There were four, very colorfully dressed men, standing around, leaning against their putters; clearly waiting to finish up their round of golf. Because of the hour, I guessed they were the last foursome on the links. It was a very ordinary summer scene that was abruptly cut off by a narrow but thick and tall stand of trees that marked the boundary of the course.
Before I turned my attention back to the road, I saw what was on the other side of the tree line. Side by side with the golf course, was an enormous field with a healthy crop growing in it. And, there were people in this scene as well, using up the last of the day light. These people were also colorfully dressed, with red and blue head scarves and straw hats. These people however, we’re not leisurely waiting to bring a few house of relaxation to a close. They were bent over weeding and hoeing this field, where they had most likely been hard at work since the first light of day. The contract between the two scenes was shocking and thought provoking.
As I drove on, I wondered whether they were aware of one another. The screen of trees made it impossible to see from the golf course to the field…but still…the golfers had to drive past the field and the workers in order to get to the greens. Did they even notice? Or we’re they so excited about the hours of fun ahead of them, that they drove past without seeing.
I also wondered whether the farm workers were aware of the fact that such a short distance away, there were people enjoying the summer evening, rather than bent over, exhausted but anxious to use the last of the light to finish their work. Could they hear laughter coming through the trees or smell hot dogs grilling at the club house? Did it make their work even more tedious being aware of what was so close to them, but at the same time so very far away?
The lines from this week’s Gospel (Matt 14:13-21) that seem to blast off the page…at least for me…are: “GIVE THEM SOME FOOD.” This is Jesus’ rapid fire response to the disciples urging Him to “DIMISS THEM! SEND THEM AWAY! GET RID OF THEM! THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO FOR THEM!
At least the disciples noticed. They recognized the need, but seemed to be so overwhelmed by it that they just wanted it to go away. They didn’t want to take it on as their issue…their problem. They wanted to send the hungry off for someone else to deal with. It’s not so easy to wave away the needy however. There aren’t tall, thick stands of trees blocking our view from what surrounds us. There are no borders secure enough, that we aren’t forced to look at the hungry, needy people who are on the wrong side of poverty. They are certainly aware of and looking to the privileged for help. And the Lord is as well…with the challenging words: “You give them something to eat!”
St. John Paul II, when contrasting the privileged with the poor once summarized Christian social doctrine as follows: “The goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. As far as the Church is concerned, the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis for motivation and action.” (From Go in Peace)
In other words, we have to look through the forest…and see the people on the other side of the trees. Those who are in need have a right to look to those who have plenty …for something to eat. The privileged cannot in good conscience, simply put out and then turn and walk towards the club house. We cannot ignore the poor. We cannot simply send them away. We need to give them something to eat.