18 Sunday A – July 31, 2011 – Feed the Least Among Us
Is 55:1-3, Ps 145:8-9, 15-18, Rom 8:35, 37-39, Mt 14:13-21
Just how big is the gap between rich and poor people in this country? Here is one example. This past week the Pew Research Center reported that the median wealth of white households is 18-20 times that of Hispanic and black households respectively. What might this mean in our kitchen cupboards?
According to the Hunger Action Network of NYS eighteen percent of Americans reported they could not afford to feed their families in 2010. [Here I asked 18 people to stand. I then said that if this assembly represented 100% of the US population look at these people who could not feed their families last year] Further, in recent months the demand on emergency food programs in this State increased by over 50% with more than 3 million people needing help.
We often think the global south is where the most impoverished people live. It is hard for us to imagine that so much hunger exists in this country. Last week our Bishop, Howard Hubbard, who is Chair of the US Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent a letter to the House of Representatives reminding Congress that the central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the least among us. The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first, he wrote. 
All four gospels contain a version of the story we heard this morning — the feeding of the multitudes. The thousands who followed Jesus, most of whom led oppressed and impoverished lives, were looking for some good news, a bit of inspiration from an itinerant preacher and miracle worker. The disciples themselves, tired and irritated, complained to Jesus why should they worry about feeding a hungry crowd of four or five thousand children, women and men. Jesus, looked them in the eye and said to them in so many words, “Work together and figure something out.” It was probably the first time the disciples discovered that to follow Jesus would involve hard work.
This gospel is less about Jesus multiplying loaves and fish. It is more about how he inspired his disciples and thousands of others on that hillside to share what they had with “the least among them” — those who had little or nothing. One commentary suggested that as the disciples passed through the crowds people added food to the baskets and those that had nothing took what they needed. We are reminded of the Israelites starving in the Sinai desert and how they were fed with manna. Jesus is like that prophet Elisha who said to his disciples, “Give to the people and let them eat.” (2 Kings 4:42-4)
The feeding of the multitudes is an allegorical reference to the eucharist and our hopes for the future. We once thought of the Mass in sacrificial terms only. Now we also understand it to be a foretaste of the eternal banquet to be shared in the kin-dom of God … where no one is hungry.
Our liturgy, then, affirms our common bond and nourishes us to hasten that kin-dom by sharing our goods with one another. If we are not doing this much after we leave church one must ask why do we come. Discipleship is hard. Our parish food pantry is a wonderful model for participating in this mission of the church.
There are, of course, different kinds of hunger in the world.  Along with food insecurity people hunger for spiritual sustenance. We search for something deep inside that says everything will be OK if you trust in God, that God will provide. We seek something that stirs in our hearts, our minds and bodies the belief that Jesus Christ is the bread of life and that we will not go hungry or ever be thirsty.
Jesus fed thousands both spiritually and physically without prejudice. He was compassionate and generous and encouraged others to be the same. As Congress and the White House continue to debate the best way to raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending our Bishop Howard Hubbard gives us good advice. Feed the least among us.
1 Hubbard and Bishop Stephen Blair (Stockton, CA) sent the letter. Blair is the chair of the US Bishops’ Committee Domestic Justice and Human Development.
2 See Ratzinger, Joseph Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) 267