Today’s gospel tells the beautiful story of Jesus feeding the hungry multitude. Just a few chapters before this one we have Jesus at a wedding banquet facing another crisis, ‘they have no wine.’ Jesus comes to the rescue ‘fill the jars with water, water that become choice wine and the celebration of love goes on.
I think there is a bit of reality which we should be aware as we listen to today’s gospel. This great crowd was made up of a lot streets smart people. No one is his/her right mind who take off on a trip without taking a stash of food and drink with them. But these people were pretty tight with their food and drink; it was just for family, not for any Freddie free loader.
Jesus asks his faithful friend Philip, ‘how are we going to feed all these people?’ Philip and Andrew get into the economics of it all; they talk about six months’ wages. All they could come up with was five barley loaves and two fish – not much there. Jesus gets the people to sit down in manageable groups and then starts to share what He had with those around Him. This was a teaching moment for the whole crowd. If Jesus was willing to share, so were they. Bit by bit their hidden stashes are brought out and people began to share with one another. And as the saying goes, a grand time was had by all. There was plenty of food in that crowd, more than enough. They collected twelve baskets of scraps. The miracle in this gospel was not in some kind of multiplication of loaves and fishes. If that’s what happened none of those people would have left that gathering changed, transformed. The miracle was in the people’s generous response to the challenge Jesus put before them, the challenge to share with others the food they had with those who may have had less.
This week the author of Angela’s Ashes died, Frank McCourt. I mentioned once before that one of the things that struck me reading that novel was that, so often no matter how poor the poor of Limerick were, no matter how little they had to feed themselves, they were always willing to share that little with those who had less.
We know that famine is a harsh reality in so many lands. We see pictures of gaunt mothers holding bone thin, big eyed children. Starvation is every where. Compare that to the abundance we see every day as we walk through a super market, compare that to the amount of food we throw out every day. But we can look at the food shortage situation in the developing countries and ask ‘Why doesn’t God do something about this, why does God allow this”? Often these good but powerless people are the victims of the greed of their leaders and the mismanagement of their own resources.
In his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” Rabbi Kushner quotes an old Sabbath prayer that does the same things. It goes: We cannot merely pray to you God to end war / for we know that you have made the world in such a way that man must find his own path to peace, within himself and with his neighbour. We cannot merely pray to you Lord to end starvation, for you have already given us the resources to feed the entire world, if only we would use them wisely. We cannot merely pray to you Lord to root out prejudice, for You have already given us eyes with which to see the good in all people, if only we would use them rightly.
We cannot pray to you Lord to end despair, for you have already given us the power to clear away slums and give hope, if only you would use your power justly. We cannot merely pray to you Lord to end disease, for you have already given us great minds with which to search out cures and healings, if only we would use them constructively.
Therefore we pray to you instead Lord for strength, determination and will power to do, instead of just to pray, to become instead of merely to wish. We can’t expect God to step into the world’s crisis and make all things right.
God has already gifted us with the means to right the injustices that surrounded us. It’s up to us to discover and use those gifts.
In Jesus’ gesture of sharing His meager five barely loaves and two fish with those around Him, He challenges each of us, in whatever seemingly hopeless, helpless situation in which we may find ourselves, to find the will power to do, the will power to become, the people we are meant to be. Today’s gospel challenges us to be thankful for the blessings with which we’ve been blessed and be willing to share those blessing – our own hidden stashes, with those in need.