These are notes for a homily to be given today. The readings are from Isaiah 25, Psalm 23, and Matthew 15. Today would have been my brother David’s sixtieth birthday. He died in 1994 from AIDS.
As this is the birthday of my brother, David, I would like to tell a story about him. On the occasion of my ordination, we held a Mass of Thanksgiving in Sacramento, at St. Ignatius Church. Afterwards, we hosted a pot-luck reception in the parish hall. Our oldest neighbors from across the street, Helen and Grant Morgan, were there. Helen and Grant were sort of fallen-away Methodists, the dearest and most genuine people you can imagine. He was a plumber, and also an expert fisherman. Grant and David were fishing partners. Grant was happy for the Crowleys, and, to contribute to the party, he had filleted a beautiful salmon he had caught in the waters of the upper Sacramento. By the time he delivered the salmon to the hall, however (on a very hot day up there), it had spoiled, unbeknownst to Grant. David, who was a manager in the Engineering Department at the Hyatt Hotel downtown, knew just what to do. He called the kitchen and asked the chef to fillet a salmon on a platter. He would pick it up, put it in the place where Grant had placed his fish, and Grant would never know the difference. David didn’t want Grant suffer disappointment, especially when his gesture was one of such generosity and pride in his beautiful catch. Grant died, a year or so ago, never knowing what David had done.
Double generosity—on both Grant’s part, and David’s—and a history of friendship and mutual care, resulting in plenty for everyone. The images we encounter in the Scripture readings this Advent day are of such plenty, of banquets and bounty overflowing. Isaiah speaks of rich food and choice wines; the Psalmist speaks of a table spread before him, of a cup that overflows; and Jesus—Jesus, moved with care and compassion for his people, provides good food to the crowd: fresh bread and bounteous fish.
What fascinates me about this gospel is what must have been stirring in Jesus’s heart. His gesture, one of such warm hospitality, of generosity and care, must have come from a heart that was well honed by direct experience of these things. Growing up in a large Middle Eastern Jewish family, there must have been lots of food being cooked and shared all the time, guests invited in and treated royally, and plenteous wine, along with bread and dates and figs. There must have been a deep sense of beauty implanted in his soul, at the core of his being; he must have known verdant pastures in Galilee that spoke to him of God; he must have had a keen sensitivity toward others, and a desire to care for them, to bring them to life. He must have known himself the kind of tender care of which the Psalmist speaks, his head overflowing with the oil of love. And he must have wanted to share these great gifts, this overflowing bounty, with others. And do he did.
Generosity to generosity, beauty and expansiveness of heart, the generation of plenty. Loving care for one another. Joy. What great gifts we have to ponder and to be thankful for.