We can see this Sunday’s gospel as a continuation of the last two Sundays. We had Jesus sending the Apostles out two by two giving them the authority to preach and heal. Last Sunday, we heard of them coming home filled with enthusiastic stories of all the great things they did – Jesus invites them to come away and rest a while – they’d been so busy they didn’t even had time to eat. They cross the lake to a deserted place only to discover the people had already beaten them to the place so Jesus set aside his plan for rest and began again to teach the people many things.
In his book ‘ When Bad Things Happen to Good People ‘ Rabbi Kurshner tells us that whenever bad things happen to good people – whenever we are faced with a crisis – the first question asked is ‘why’ – why this, why us, why now? He says there’s never an adequate answer to these questions. He maintains the important question should be ‘what’. What am I going to do with this situation, what challenge is offered me in this crisis, this tragedy? How am going to deal with this?
Let’s image the apostles ‘had it’ with this demanding crowd. It’s getting late in the day and they begin to question – why are these people still hanging around – why don’t they go home – what do they think is going to happen next?
Jesus knew it was one thing to feed the soul but it was another to feed the body – again, moved by compassion, Jesus asks Philip ‘where can we buy food for these good people’. Philip must have thought Jesus was out of his mind. It would cost a fortune – Andrew lets Jesus know – but, there’s a kid here with five loaves of bread and two fish – not much help there.
We know the rest of the story – Jesus has the people sit down – takes what the boy has to offer – and begins to share it with this mass of people. And all are fed and there is much left over.
That boy was probably with his parents. Being sensible people they knew they had to bring something to eat with them as they went out to hear what Jesus had to say. So did everyone else in that crowd. But they were all thinking of themselves – they were not about to share. Whatever Jesus spoke to them about that day needed a practical application – that’s why He took the five loaves and two fish and began to share it with the people next to Him. Like a wave, like a tsunami – His example of generosity spread thru the crowd – til everyone was sharing with someone else.
This is the miracle of that day – people were challenged out of their selfishness and shared with total strangers. If we read today’s gospel literally then all those people left that place unchanged, unchallenged – but that’s not the way Jesus did things. He didn’t ask ‘ why’ are these people still hanging around – ‘why don’t they go home’ – He asked ‘what’ can I do to make these people think of someone other than themselves – what can I do to help them more sensitive to the needs of others? So He gave them a good example – the flesh and blood example of sharing the little He had with others.
The life and teaching of Jesus – the good example of good people are offered to us to help us face our own lack of sensitivity to the needs of others – our own stinginess with sharing our time and attention with those who need us. The teaching and example of Jesus and the good example of others challenge us to take the gifts with which we have been blessed – even if we see them as insignificant as five loaves and two fish – and share them with others who may have more or may have less then we have. So often we forget the simple message of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in giving that we receive – or the message of the song The Rose – it’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot learn to give.
As we continue this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we take to heart the message of today’s gospel – that we not ask ‘ why’ but we ask ‘what’ – what can I bring to this hurt, this challenge, this crisis, this need of others – to change and transform not only the situation but also myself and in this simple way come to live a life worthy of the vocation to which we have all been called – to be the voice, the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet, the heart of Christ to all those people we meet in the ordinary living of our ordinary lives.