Today’s scriptural reflection is from Dr. Elsie Miranda, a Cuban-American, Roman Catholic Practical Theologian, who serves as Director of Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness at The Association of Theological Schools. For twenty years, she taught and ministered at Barry University, Florida. Her academic interests are in Liberation Theologies, Practical Theological Method, Hispanic Latinx Theology, Pastoral Care and Counseling, and Queer Theology.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
Today’s readings challenge us to reflect deeply about what we need to endure life’s struggles. Isaiah asks us, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” This question is preceded by the invitation to those who “thirst,” to come to the water; to those who have “no money,” to come, receive…
To the thirsty, the invitation to come to the water is about coming to the source of all life. Life cannot be sustained without water, so to thirst, reminds us that we are designed to seek life, to nurture life, to cherish the source of all life. Yet this invitation begs the question:What do you thirst for?
The second invitation to those without money, is to come and receive! Receiving is a very important and humbling posture because it requires openness, a generosity of spirit, and a grateful heart. To receive without paying reminds us of the spiritual economy wherein money cannot pay for what we most fundamentally need: belonging, love.
A life-giving culture is one where my thirsts are satiated by a community of kindness, of generosity and of hope. When I encounter people who strive to live out of kindness, generosity, and hope, they animate me to bring my best self to the table. However, communities also can be damaged by self-interests that cause good people to lose their way, and innocent bystanders become collateral damage in an ideological war where the sacredness of life is sacrificed for the sake of fitting into the “right group”.
I’d like to share the story of Tommy, an only child who at age 14 came out as gay to his mother Gloria, a Cuban-American, devout Catholic, and a 44-year old single mom. Several years after Gloria’s divorce, she and toddler Tommy moved into her mother Carmen’s house. Tommy loved his grandmother who taught him about the love of God, how to pray in his own words, how to cook, and how to play cards.
At the end of Tommy’s freshmen year in high school, he wrote his mom a “coming out” letter and gave it to her one morning in the hopes that he could live more honestly and without the continual pressure of “finding the right girl.” Tommy’s revelation crushed Gloria and sent her spiraling into her own grief. She couldn’t conceive of rejecting her own flesh and blood,but she was also convinced that this “gay identity” was caused by outside.
Gloria believed she had failed Tommy because he did not have enough male role models. She thought that she and her mom had coddled Tommy too much , makinghim flojo “(a Cubans term for “soft” used to describe a man who lacks brawn).
Gloria asked her ex-husband Jack to take Tommy for the entire summer instead of the previously agreed upon two weeks. She explained to Jack that he needed to “do something about” Tommy being gay. Carmen asked Gloria to reconsider this plan, but the daughter told her not to get involved.
Tommy described that summer as a living hell. Jack told Tommy that he heard he was “mixed up,” and he wanted Tommy to understand, “I will not be the father of any faggot. You got that son?” Jack was convinced that Tommy’s “confusion” was due to Gloria and Carmen babying him, but he would “help straighten his son out.” He started to call —him “Tom.” He showed him pornogarphy and encouraged him to masturbate while looking at the women. He even took him to a hotel and brought him a young escort “to make him a man.” Tommy, a virgin, said he “wanted to die.”
Tommy returned to Florida with an acute anxiety disorder that impacted his digestion. He developed asthma which impacted his heart rate. Tommy was convinced that something was fundamentally wrong with him.
When we thirst, when we are in need of God’s grace and mercy, what satiates that need is most often found in the mercy and compassion of another. If our response to the need of the other becomes about us, or if our response to difficult truths of another’s life yields an attempt to dislodge or fix them without understanding what is inherently sacred there, then the question is what God do you serve?
When Tommy returned home, his grandmother quenched his thirst by listening to his stories of personal identity and joy, and also his experiences of anguish, torture, shame, and psychological abuse. His grandmother’s unconditional love nurtured him back to health and a wholeness of being. Later that year, Carmen led Gloria and Tommy to see a counselor who could help them sort out the wounds of that seemingly endless summer. His grandmother showed Tommy what it means “to come to the water,” but also what St. Paul meant in Romans 8 “that nothing could separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”
This leads us to today’s gospel. Typically, what we are told about this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is the awesome power of Jesus. This interpretation keeps us as members of the crowd. However, when today’s readings are taken together, the undergirding spirit of these texts challenge us to participate in an active and loving relationship with God who calls us to embody love in action. Consider for example how Jesus is inviting you, in the context of your own life, “to come to the water… and to receive without cost” because that which truly matters and satiates our hunger and thirst is often priceless, as was the case with Tommy and Carmen.
I invite you to consider how this gospel story’s act of generosity and the experience of embodied grace may have animated a similar generosity among the crowds. Sitting on the grass as a community, we too are asked to be offered up to be broken and shared. The spirit of the living God desires to awaken in us a generosity that turns a perceived scarcity into abundance. The twelve baskets of leftovers point out that perceptions are only a glimpse of reality, and that sitting together–perhaps even in socially distant ways–still provides us with the opportunities to know ourselves and one another better.,
And perhaps we will be moved to embrace our own humility, to receive the healing power of God’s grace, and to offer ourselves in generosity to attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Go in peace—to love and serve the Lord and one another.
—Elsie Miranda, August 2, 2020