Abundance or Scarcity?
Radio, television and other means of mass media have given most of you ideas about what is called the gospel of success although you may not know explicitly that this was the gospel of success. This gospel has other names. It is also called prosperity theology, prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel. Basically it teaches that material wealth is God's will for all of us. All of us can be healthy and wealthy if we follow God's will. And it is God's will that we have faith in this truth, that we speak only positive things about ourselves and others and that we give to God's work our donations of tithes and other gifts so that God can bless us with better health and more wealth.
In our country we have heard about the El Shaddai movement which teaches this gospel of prosperity. Some leaders and members of the Catholic Renewal Movement also preach this gospel of success. Among our non-Catholic brothers and sisters there are some who also promote this message of health and wealth for all. They put forth verses like Jesus saying, I came that they may have life and life in abundance (John 10:10). Usually they incorporate in their messages that if we want to be blessed by God we have to give him a part of our income.
But there are other Christians who oppose this gospel of success and prosperity. They argue that Jesus was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. If we are genuine Christians, followers of Jesus, we have to live like him, poor. They mention that Jesus condemned wealth in the parable of the rich man who acquired so many things, then told his soul to rest but that very night he died. They also cite that famous statement of Jesus that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
So does Jesus want us to have prosperity or scarcity or just sufficiency?
Our Gospel reading today gives us an answer to this question. In the story Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish so that these were able to feed five thousand people. The more wonderful detail in the story is that the people were satisfied and there were still twelve wicker baskets of left over. This detail is mentioned by all four evangelists and they agree on the number of baskets, twelve.
In other words Jesus multiplied bread and fish that were more than the amount needed by the people. Some of us may notice the appropriateness of the number twelve. It seems that each apostle had a basket of left over food.
If we observe nature which is a creature of Jesus as the Word of God it produces abundance to an exaggerated degree. Take the mango tree. One seed of mango tree planted and grown to maturity produces millions of flowers and tens of thousands of fruits in its lifetime which can be three hundred years. The same can be said of the seed of a grain. One seed in time produces grains enough to fill granaries. The world Jesus created is a world of abundance.
What is most important for us to remember is that Jesus gives of himself in abundance. Today we celebrate the solemnity of the body and blood of Christ. He gives of himself through the bread and wine in the Mass in abundance. He does not spare himself. He even gives himself to those who are not properly prepared to receive him in holy communion. He gives himself to saints and sinners alike.
According to world estimates there are 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world. If even only one percent of that receive the body and blood of Jesus that would be 12 million, a staggering number. Jesus feeds 12 million people with his body and blood. Surely this is feeding us with abundance.
What Jesus wants us to have is not an abundance of perishable things like material wealth, but of the things that matter most in life. And nothing is of more value than his own body and blood. This is perfect food for all humanity.
What more can we ask of Jesus greater than his own body and blood? He has given us himself and with this he has given us all things, as the Apostle Paul affirms in his first letter to the Corinthians. He says, "Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours" (3:21-22 AV).
Jesus has given us everything, more than what we need. It is only proper that we surrender to him all that we are and all that we have.
For our prayer today let us recite the famous prayer attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola which has been put into song. Let us bow our heads in prayer.
Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty. Take all my will, my mind, my memory. All things I hold and all I own are yours. Yours is the gift, to you I all resign. Do you direct and govern all and sway, do what you will, command and I obey. Only your grace, your love on me bestow. These make me rich, all else will I forego. Amen.