GOD’S FREE LUNCH: Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

FREE LUNCH

Anthony was among the few Nigerians who had the opportunity of obtaining a scholarship to study in the United States of America in the early 80s. It was his first time of leaving the shores of the country, his first time of going far away from home and also the first time of travelling by air. In the University where he obtained the scholarship, he was one of the few blacks and the only Nigerian.

Few days into their orientation programme, the facilitator encouraged the new students to get to know themselves through active interactions which could include having lunch and dinner with people from other cultures and languages. Anthony was surprised and highly elated when one white guy approached him and offered to take him out for lunch in one of the best restaurants in the city. He also told Tony that he had also invited some other people to join them.

At the agreed time, Anthony met the white guy whose name he came to know as Tom and four others (three females and one boy). Anthony felt more relaxed and nostalgic when he noticed that one of the girls was African and also from the neighbouring Ghana. The girl, Maame Afia, had lived in the States from her middle school years. The lunch was a very sumptuous one as they went through courses of meal and later settled for drinks. Anthony kept imagining how rich, benevolent and kind Tom was as to have convoked such a great lunch in such a cosy place which could not have been cheap.

At the end of the lunch which was fairly long, the waiter brought the bill to Tom and he in turn showed it to all in the lunch group. Anthony himself saw it and it was totalling about $66 (big money back in the day). Anthony was surprised when not only Tom but also the rest of the members of the group started bringing out money to contribute to pay for the Lunch. In his mind, he thought that Tom would settle the bill since he was the one that invited them all for the lunch. He was still thinking about this when the Ghanaian girl, Maame, brought out more money from her purse and said “this is Anthony’s contribution I guess he forgot his wallet”.

When they left the restaurant, Maame took Anthony aside to give him an orientation that he could not have learnt in the class. She began by telling him that: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (TANSTAFL). She went further to explain: “That means if anyone takes you out for lunch or dinner be sure you are going to pay for your meal or part of it. So in case you don’t have money take excuse that you may not make it”. Maame’s orientation became a great insight for Anthony for the rest of his stay in the United States of Africa.

We all like FREEBIES and DISCOUNTS. Unknown to many, most marketers use it as a bait to attract customers and make gains. Sometimes you hear such things as “buy three and get one free”. Often this is done to get rid of a product that is about to expire and one can end up clearing up such products only to have them expire in his/her house; of course business is business. There is hardly anything that does not have a price tag on it whether explicitly or implicitly. Even in our relationships we consciously or unconsciously ask: “what do I stand to gain?” Economists would call this “opportunity cost”.

While “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, we are today presented with something very contrary from the point of view of God. With God and in God we not only have free lunch but also free breakfast, dinner and takeaway packs; like the free air we receive from Him. In the First Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3) we are presented with God’s plenary convocation for lunch without boarders; without hidden charges and prices. In fact, to make it clear we are told not to come with money.

 Within that scope, we are instructively asked why we spend our money buying worthless things while we can get the most valuable without pay. This is indeed very true when we consider the amount of money most people spend trying to secure things that will make them happy, yet they still cannot get inner peace and joy which are fruits that can be obtained by being conversant with God.

 The menu is presented to us as being rich; in fact it says: “eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food”. Often we feed ourselves with costly junks that have poor values while neglecting the rich food that are much cheaper and even free. For instance, people in the rural areas value junky snacks from the city more than the highly nutritious fruits and vegetables around them. The same thing happens in various spheres of our lives. Some people prefer to spend so much money consulting one prophets and seers for immediate solutions to some problems instead of developing a constant and dependable relationship with God with does not cost a dime.

In the Gospel Reading (Matt.14:13-21) we are reconnected with the story of the multiplication of bread and fish by our Lord Jesus Christ. We are conversant with the story but we may not be conversant with the lessons. We are told that our Lord withdrew from where he was after learning about the death of John the Baptist. “Was he afraid of being arrested and killed”, one may ask. The answer can be answered by our Lord himself when he said “father the hour has come” (John 17:1). Hence, he was not avoiding arrest but was skilfully waiting for the due season (Gal.6:9).

At this point in the gospel narrative, our Lord had become a religious celebrity so it was not easy for him to move around without being noticed. That explains the reason why a multitude followed him to his supposed lonely place if you like hiding place and when he saw how hungry they were spiritually, he had compassion on them and set out to heal the sick among them. Afterwards our Lord also saw their hunger for physical food asked his disciples to give them something to eat. We are told in the reading that those who followed constituted a great throng. “What was our Lord thinking when he asked his disciples to give them something to eat?” Well our Lord knew exactly what could be done. When they mentioned that they had five loaves of bread and two fish he asked them to bring them. He prayed and the five loaves and two fish multiplied and was able to feed five thousand men excluding women and children who could not be counted because they were more in number.

There are many lessons here. Our Lord knew everything; the hunger and how it could be addressed. Sometimes we erroneously think and feel that God does not know nor care about us. God really care about us more than we can imagine (Ps, 27:10). In the passage we read, we are told that the Lord upon seeing the crowd had compassion on them and began to heal them. God knows about whatever that is going on in your lives at any time and he knows exactly what can be done and the right time. He knows your needs before you mention them. The Prophet Isaiah (65:24) said “even before you finish praying He will answer you”. God is able to do this because it is His nature. Put in another way, it presupposes God’s love; God is love (1 John 4:8). For this reason, St. Paul declared in the Second Reading that nothing and nobody can separate us from the love of Christ; nothing, whether visible or invisible.

It will be worthwhile to take a closer look at the bread and fish. “What if the disciples had nothing at all?” Surely God does not work in a vacuum. There is need for a seed to be planted before the ceremony of a harvest. Often some of us want harvests without sowing our seeds. If you want God to grant you increase, there is need for you to present what you have to Him no matter how small or insignificant it could be. The widow at Zarephat presented a handful of flour and a little oil and got enough flour and oil throughout the time of the famine (1 Kings 17:12-14). The widow of in 2 kings (4:1-7) presented a little oil to Elisha and all the containers she brought to the house were filled up with oil. The woman with the issue of blood presented her faith and she got healing (Luke 8:43-48).  From the episode of the multiplication it could be right to say that if there were no bread and fish nothing could have been multiplied.

 There is finally one pre-condition for anyone to participate in God’s free lunch and this is presented in the First Reading and as well as in the Gospel. The pre-condition is BEING PRESENT. In the First Reading we hear the word “COME” repeated up to three times. It all means that those who would participate in the Free Lunch are those who show up. In the Gospel Reading, those who were cured and fed were those who took the pain to come with our Lord to that lonely place. Among the people in the crowd, it is possible that some people were discouraged at some point and discontinued. Some may have seen the search for Jesus Christ as worthless and went back with both their physical and spiritual hunger. With God there is need to be steady and consistent.

As we march into the new week, let us be mindful of God’s invitation to us to join in partaking of His Free Lunch. We will surely stand to gain because it is totally free the only payment is our availability which is actually cost-less. Do have a lovely week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com)

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