HOMILY FOR 18TH SUNDAY OF Ordinary Time

2 August 2020 by Father James DiLuzio CSP NOTE: Scripture Readings are cited below and featured in their entirety at the end of the homily

Reading 1  IS 55:1-3 Responsorial Psalm    PS 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-1 Reading 2 ROM 8:35, 37-39 Gospel MT MT 14:13-21

We are into our sixth month of the corona virus pandemic and (to quote the prophet Jeremiah) “our teeth are set on edge.”  We would love it if all our prayer, all the masses we’ve attended sitting in alternate pews, covering our faces with masks or, sharing in spiritual communion online—if all this prayer would keep us centered In Jesus. That is why we are here today, isn’t it? So that Jesus’ love for us and for the world will ground us in SERENITY to prevent us from caving into despair over difficult situations and/or difficult people.

We have so many spiritual resources at our disposal, and yet, reading or watching the news, can fill us with anxieties, fears, and hopelessness. Isaiah cried out “Come to the Waters!” but we feel our thirsts are not quenched.  Not because this pandemic prohibits Holy Water in our founts, but we let the troubles of our times diminish the indelible marks of our Baptisms. Today I propose we reclaim our Baptismal identities as God’s people, empowered by the Spirit to be Christ’s ministers to our wounded world. Today why not re-commit ourselves to God who offers us the equilibrium to be Christ-bearers—a people who, like our Savior offering a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes to a hungry crowd, disciples who care enough to pay attention to our African American neighbors’ cries for justice to join them in establishing a more equitable nation?

Remember Jesus incarnated “Peace Be with You” during the great Roman occupation of half the European, North African, and Middle Eastern world.  Yes, like our nation today, Rome offered history a legacy of centuries of grandeur but centuries of great suffering and oppression, too. And in one among many of thousands of examples of following Jesus, of persevering faith in difficult times, sixteen hundred years after Our Lord walked upon this earth, one of his disciples, Saint Teresa of Avilla wrote:    Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing affright thee. All things are passing. Patience obtains all things. He who has God has everything – God alone suffices.”

Teresa wrote this in the era of the Reformation, of Religious Wars, Political Chaos–the European map was in free fall in her day–and the INQUISITION was reinvigorated to threaten almost everyone –including her!

I suggest we plead with God today for constancy amidst the social movements of our time, so we can collaborate for change.  We can say “Yes,” to gender equality, equal pay for equal work, and school systems and work environments that truly offer equal opportunity for all, and a justice and prison system that offers reform and rehabilitation instead of dehumanizing, soul crushing castigation.  

Everyone in church today and those participating at home have so many Spiritual Gifts bestowed upon us, but let’s admit it:  we do not access these graces enough.  Even though many of us are able to work amid this pandemic; many have resources enough to see us through better days, we don’t let the Spirit enliven us! In light of this Gospel of Jesus’ pity for the crowds, we must THINK of those whose workplaces are closed, who are relying on unemployment (which may soon end) or who are dependent on resources for basic needs that may be withheld. We must see their full humanity akin to our own that acknowledges their inner struggles–wrestling matches of pride with need, dignity with want and the corresponding judgments from within their own souls as well as those outward judgments, condescension and cruelty thrusted upon them by too many sectors of our  society.

Think of those who may have work but are clearly not in a “safe environment”” either due to lack of health precautions or because of sub-standard working conditions; jobs that our government labeled “essential” but exist in un-evaluated conditions. And think of those who are assumed guilty when attempting only to exercise their rights, both God-given and legal.  

The words of former congressman John Lewis’ post-mortem message continually ring in my ears about the terror of racism’s impact on his childhood— America’s racism had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.” Is not Jesus’ pity and mercy applicable to all those forced to live in a State of the Union such as that?  For what was experienced years ago by Congressman John Lewis continues to be experienced today by all too many people whose skin shades are of a darker hue than most of us sitting in these pews.

Today, Jesus’ pity must motivate us to pity and to the kind of action that mirrors miraculous multiplication of loaves.  We’re so used to making distinctions among peoples based on money, prestige, celebrity, cultural preferences and ethnicities that these way heavy on our national psyches. It’s time we reject this way of thinking! Jesus didn’t divide the crowds into “first class, business class” or any other class. He fed them all. We keep hearing the adage “We’re all in this together,” but, my dear friends, Jesus, the Eucharist and this Gospel have been telling us that for 2,020 years.

Eighteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 112

Reading 1  IS 55:1-3

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.

Responsorial Psalm    PS 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-1

R. (cf. 16) The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,    
    slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
    and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
    and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
    and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is just in all his ways
    and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
    to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading 2 ROM 8:35, 37-39

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Alleluia MT

R.    Alleluia, alleluia.
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God
R.    Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT MT 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.  
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

A Modest Proposal: Tips for McDonald’s Workers

The article on Fast-Food Workers in the September 15 issue of the NEW YORKER is worth our time:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/15/dignity-4

I am particularly concerned about this statement:  “A recent study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fifty-two per cent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance.” (i.e., Food Stamps and Medicaid).”  And this one: Most of their employees today are adults—median age twenty-eight. More than a quarter have children” (i.e., not high-school and college students working part-time, especially since the 2008 recession.)

The volatile discourse, of course, is on the hot topics of union organization, government intervention on minimum wage and the reality of government assistance in food-stamps and Medicare. It seems at least half of the American population wants to do away with all of these things.  So often I hear people insisting that there be no government involvement in setting minimum wages, no government assistance for low-wage workers and no unions.

Here’s an option I haven’t seen in print yet:

Tip each MacDonald’s cashier as you would tip a restaurant worker – that is offering 20 % of your bill. (That’s $2 dollars for every $10 you spend at McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s etc.)  The cashiers would then share the total in tips with the cooks and janitors, etc.  Would Americans agree to do this?  Would the amounts make a difference?

If the answer is “YES!” then all fast-food workers could potentially afford part-time College courses and get out of the Fast Food industry.  (Yay!)   They could then turn over the entire fast-food worker population to our high school and college part-timers.  (It’s already been proven that students would have to make far more than minimum wage to support themselves through even community colleges.)

Now, of course, there still will be adults with less talent or intellectual abilities who would stay on as fast-food workers, but at least with this “Americans are Generous and Will Tip Program”  they could live on salary and tips and maybe have a family or live alone or with friends if they wish.

The success of this program would prove two things:  Americans ARE generous at heart AND American Fast-Food Corporations are NOT.  Even with Americans subsidizing fast food worker’s salaries through tips, the Fast Food Corporations would maintain their profits while continue to spend millions of dollars in legal fees and payments to the “NRA” (National Restaurant Association) which is dominated by the major fast food and other chain restaurants.  Why would they do this?  Because they would want to maintain and expand their many successful accomplishments defeating the following: “minimum-wage legislation, paid-sick-leave laws, the Affordable Care Act, worker-safety regulations, restrictions on the marketing of junk food to children, menu-labeling requirements, and a variety of public-health measures, such as limits on sugar, sodium, and trans fats” as noted in the New Yorker article.

My last thoughts:  Can churches, synagogues, mosques and temples be of any help in bringing these and other issues into the greater public discourse? Wages and their impact on society are moral issues after all.  The topic is too complicated for the pulpit beyond posing an open-ended question or two while reflecting on a Scripture passage.  Parish Social Justice Committees and Religious Education Directors would need to offer a series or a seminar on the article with or without a featured speaker.  But do all of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have Social Justice Committees and /or do they want them?  Would congregants attend these seminars?  This answer to that may or may not depend on whether or not there fast-food workers among their worshipers or within the neighborhoods they serve.  Still, we are left with the question: shall we support fast food workers in either their desires to organize unions, get the government to legislate a $15. Minimum Wage or support them with alternatives such as tips and food pantries?   Or do we let them take care of themselves if they are able?

Any thoughts?