4 Lent 2009

Super Sized

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 22 March 2009
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? – St. John 6:5

Would you like to make that a Combination? Would you like to ‘Super Size’ your order? Those are typical questions coming our way from the mouth of the young man or woman with whom you’re placing your order, whether at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway or Popeye’s – any fast food chain, or from the attendant at the refreshment counter of your local cinema. ‘Super Size’ it? As if we Americans are not over-indulgent eaters as it is! We tend to over-eat, over-indulge, over-consume whether it be with regard to our eating habits or any other of our personal pleasures.

A neighborhood friend of mine comes to have supper at my home most Sunday evenings. After supper we watch an hour or so of television together. Well, he has gotten me hooked on a reality TV program entitled ‘Extreme Makeover.’ No! This is not a copy-cat version of the health and physical fitness TV program, ‘The Big Looser.’ Nor is it like one of those personal make-over programs, having to do with a surprised member in a crowd or a studio audience, usually female, being treated to a free make-over, that entails restyling of the hair, proper application of cosmetics and updating of the wardrobe.

Rather (for those who have not seen the show), it is a program in which near-hundreds of volunteers, usually fellow residents from a local township, join with host Ty Pennington and his small but professional crew of wonder-workers to surprise a worthy family with a complete make-over of their present house.

A house which typically has suffered severe structural damage from a natural disaster, such as a tornado, flood or earthquake, or from fire or toxicity, or from some freak accident like structural damage done the roof crushed as the result of a large fallen tree, etc.

The household inhabitants have usually suffered some great personal loss as well: such as has inhibited, immobilized or otherwise robbed one or both parents of the ability to support the family. And, frequently, one or more of the children of the household suffers from some debilitating or rare or incurable disease.

Usually there is some heroic connection associated with the storyline: the soldier who had returned home from Iraq without his legs, the fireman severely burned in the line of duty trying to rescue an infant trapped inside, the mother who, as an innocent bystander during a bank heist or a drive by shutting, caught a stray bullet and will be a paraplegic for the rest of her life. Now one might think such television programming would be depressing to watch. Granted, the situation the family finds itself in is most certainly so! But all is about to change!

In desperation they have made an appeal to the producers of ‘Extreme Makeover’ because after doing their best, they simply cannot handle their situation or cope with their misfortune any longer and are in need of the assistance of a compassionate helping hand. And that is where Ty Pennington and his crew, and a multitude of local neighbors and some professional builders and tradesmen come in – to totally demolish the present dwelling place and construct a new, bigger and much better house in its place, furnished always with time saving, state of the art appliances and handsome decor.

After arriving on site, Ty’s crew scopes out the condition of the present house, then interviews the parents or widowed parent, and also the individual children, with thought in mind to individualize and personalize the new rooms they will occupy. The personalization will be expressed in the general lay out of the house and rooms, and especially in the outfitting of the kitchen and the customized decoration of the bedrooms of each member of the family. After the scope-out of the house and the interviews, the family is sent off to a relaxing vacation out of state while the present house is demolished and the local professional builder and the countless volunteers from the community arrive set for work.

Well the episode of last Sunday especially caught my attention, as did its relevance to today’s Gospel narrative from St. John. In this episode neither parent was suffering from any condition that would inhibit, immobilize or otherwise prevent them from their ability to support the family. And neither of their two children suffered from any debilitating, rare or incurable disease.

The house in which they lived however was gradually becoming un-inhabitable from general deterioration of the exterior, effecting the soundness of the interior, plus the fact that neither the exterior, interior or the plumbing had ever been properly completed. As with most episodes, there was a heroic connection associated with the storyline: this family had reprioritized their purpose in life, weighing the importance of completing their home verses the calling they felt to minister to those in dire need.

They live in El Paso, Texas, just across the boarder from Juarez, Mexico. Juarez is a dangerous and impoverish city with hundreds upon hundreds of hungry inhabitants. This family in El Paso took it upon themselves to begin feeding those hungry people. And they’ve fed several hundred every day, thousands every month, from their tiny kitchen off a small gas range, from the meager stock of food from the shelves of their modest pantry.

Mind you, the husband holds down two jobs. Not only to provide food for his family; but to provide food also for those hundreds of hungry who come to their house daily to be fed! They exemplified what St. Paul enjoined, ‘Work with your own hands; that you may have to give to them that have need.’ The living room is stocked also with second-hand clothes and used toys that neighbors and other towns folk drop off regularly for the children of those who come to eat. Ty noted that their living room lacked furniture. At one time it was furnished; but the couple said others had greater need of it than they, and so they gave it away to them! I earlier mentioned that there are two children in the family, with both nearing their teen years. One might think that they would be harboring some resentment. Never any new clothes or new toys! Never any allowance to spend on themselves, their friends or on ice cream! But these were remarkably mature young children for their age. They are in fact happy that they are able to help their parents to help those less fortunate than themselves!

Did I fail to mention that this truly remarkable family is a family of devout Christians! The husband is in fact an ordained minister: of which denomination he did not say. He appeared to be an extremely modest soul and the specific detail seemed unimportant for him to mention. Instead, they are simply grateful to God for all His blessings, and grateful that they were called to minister to His hungry children across the boarder. But they were afraid that without some compassionate help from the outside their ministry of feeding the hungry would not be able to continue much longer, as they were unsure as to how much longer they could continue living in their home before the city might condemn it as being unsafe for habitation.

A.B.C. and Ty Pennington and his crew thought this an earnest appeal, and this most worthy family warranted the help they could offer them. So one morning early Pennington raised his bull-horn and shouted into it, ‘Good morning, Ruiz Family!’ And the project was underway! The old inadequate house was demolished, the new and larger house erected, with all its rooms personalized, the furniture vans arrived and soon all was in readiness for occupancy. When the family caught first glimpse of their new dwelling they were overwhelmed and ever so thankful to EVERYONE who had made their dream a reality!

Next they learned that several vanloads containing thousands of canned goods that had been collected within the community had arrived to stock the new pantry. And last but not least the couple was shown an adjacent, additional large kitchen replete with state of the art appliances and two professional stoves. ‘Extreme makeover’ had not only fulfilled their request for help, but had ‘super sized’ their operation thus enabling this unique family to more easily continue to feed the hungry multitudes that come to them.

In this morning’s gospel narrative, Jesus and his disciples looked up and saw a great multitude before them. People who had not eaten for some time: by no means starving, but now definitely quite hungry. He had compassion on the multitude and questioned his disciples how they might feed them. Philip simply threw up his hands and saw only the seeming impossibility of such a task. Andrew was a more helpful. He had inquired of some of the crowd and found that a little lad had about a half dozen barley loaves (being the size of a small dinner roll) and a couple of fish.

What is of major importance is that the little boy thought it could help and he was willing to turn what he had over to Jesus if that might help. Even Andrew however, thought it ridiculously inadequate in light of the enormity of the crowd. Jesus on the other hand simply ordered that the crowd should be seated, that he could the easier feed them!

Jesus took the loaves and the fish. Jesus did not say, ‘Abracadabra,’ or wave a wand. He simply gave thanks to God for it, and began handing it out to the disciples to distribute amongst the crowd. And the seated crowd of 5000 began to eat. You see unfathomable miracles happen when people believe and when in faith they offer what little, or whatever they have to the use of the Almighty God. With it He can more than satisfy man’s hunger. Just as in El Paso an unfathomable miracle had been taking place every day as a family that had very little, none-the-less used the little they had to feed multitudes of people every day.

When we believe and when in faith we offer however much or whatever little we have and consecrate it to the use of Almighty God, unfathomable miracles will happen. Just as happens every time we along with the rest of the Church worldwide celebrate the Eucharist. In faith we offer our little pieces of bread to God and He consecrates them (‘super sizes’ them) to meet His purpose, and with them will feed the multitudes, including us, spiritually with the Bread of Life that cometh down from heaven. What a colossal miracle! If a man eat of this Bread, he shall live forever. Another colossal! Now that is what you call ‘super sizing!’