This Sunday we move away from the parables on seeds and growth of the Kingdom in the world. Yet, we have another well-known event in the ministry of Jesus: the multiplication of bread. Feeding thousands of persons with just five loaves of bread and two fish is certainly a wow. But how does this event spur us beyond mere sensation of amazement to an action of faith? Let’s discover together in this reflection.
1st Reading: Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 144:8-9, 15-18
In the desert after John
In the desert John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming of the messiah. And if Herod hoped to remain untroubled in his sinfulness after having eliminated John, he got it wrong! The light of Kingdom is not put off with the death of John the Baptist. Not only is God’s word still announced in the desert, but also something striking happens there.
In the desert, lieu arid, hostile and poor; thousands of people are fed to their satisfaction with as little as five loaves of bread and two fish. With such event which does not leave you indifferent, you begin to appreciate that the Kingdom is truly manifesting itself in the world. However, if this sign of the Kingdom is to have meaning in our own lives we shouldn’t read it as an event of the past. We can ask ourselves: how can the multiplication of bread, as sign of the Kingdom, manifest itself in life of every person today? In other words: how is it good news for an individual person, thereby becoming good news also for the entire world?
The desert in me
Among many images that a desert can evoke is poverty or nothingness. I can equally experience the desert in me when I’m overwhelmed by an unhealthy feeling of “not enough”, not enough both in who I’m and in what I have. When that happens it’s the Christian witness that is undermined. Remember the words of Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” It’s the human beings alive both in their being and their deeds who radiate the glory of God in the world. As Christians we witness and announce the reign of God in the world both through who we are and what we have. For that, we need to have confidence in ourselves that we have something to offer, as we observe in the Gospel.
Feeling of powerlessness
Jesus clearly tells his disciples that they are not as insufficient as they think of themselves to be. They have received enough, and with that, they have enough to bear witness of the presence of the Kingdom before these tired and hungry crowds. The disciples notice, quite all right, that it’s getting late and the place is isolated, however, such correct analysis is apparently tinted with the feeling: we don’t have enough, there’s nothing we can do. The solution, hence, is to dismiss the people so that they can go and look for food for themselves. “There is no need for them to go away” Jesus is categorical in his response, “give them some food yourselves.” But what will five loaves and two fish do to thousands? They disciples try to reason with him but to no avail. For Jesus, it’s the disciples themselves, and no one else, to act in favour of this hungry people.
Isn’t it like Jesus sees the potential untapped in the disciples which they themselves, seemingly, do not appreciate? Jesus asks them to bring to him nothing beyond their means but the very little they have, five loaves of bread and two fish; nothing more and nothing less. What does Jesus do, which finally makes it possible for thousands eat to their satisfaction with such meagre supply?
Gratitude and generosity
Well, the text speaks of no incantations of Jesus trying to multiply the bread. Yet, the miracle is unquestioned here! All that Jesus does is: take the bread and the fish, his eyes raised to heaven, he pronounces the prayer of blessing as Jews did, we can imagine: “Blessed are you Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.” He blesses his father for bread and the fish as if saying: this is what we have received from you; and that’s what we are going to share with others.
Indeed, what first attitude to develop if not that of gratitude; that is, acknowledging who I’m and what I have as gift from God? The second, is that of generosity. I raise my eyes to God who gave me and, in my turn, I share with those in need. Without sharing, even if there’s abundance, there won’t be enough even for few persons. But when you share, even the little reaches everyone. That’s the miracle of sharing!
Do you feel you have enough bread?
Even before thinking about what I have; I should begin with what I feel about myself. Not appreciating my right worth, it’s practically impossible to do anything. I end up feeling I’m not good enough because I’m not as gifted as my neighbour; I don’t act. But remember one thing!
You are unique message God has delivered into this world, and there’s none else like you. Through you God is acting in the world in the manner no one else, but only you, can do. We often want to compare. That is normal. Yet, it’s not normal if I’m paralysed to inaction simply because I find out that I have not as much as the other. But Jesus’ request to his disciples is clear: he asks from them nothing more than what they actually have, no matter how little.
Similarly, for a Christian witnessing God’s Kingdom in the world today is not about what I will be and have tomorrow; Jesus is asking you to bring out what you have here and now. Then, we can then think of this time of Covid 19 pandemic; we may be overwhelmed by many desperate situations before our eyes but limited means. But Jesus is not asking for solutions for the entire universe. We risk finding ourselves depressed, haunted by the feeling of insufficiency and incapable of doing a thing. All he expects from us is being generous with the little we can bring out of our bag. When we stretch our hand out, someone is touched by our generosity. And if everyone can do the same there where they are, it’s the entire world that is blazed and connected in such network of generosity. No one is left to starve.
Contradiction in our world
How do we explain what’s happening in our world? One person is throwing the food away and another one is practically starving to death. How can God’s bounty help us to heal such contradiction, if not injustice, of our world? We need to acknowledge the gratuity of God in our lives as expressed in the first reading.
“Thus says the Lord:
All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”
The sentiment that can overwhelm us to the point of rendering us unfeeling to the plight of our neighbour is to say: the other is lazy, I have worked hard to acquire what I have. If only the other can work a little harder like me. In so doing, I credit myself for all my achievements; I see only my merit. And yet, behind the apparent efforts of my own, there are favourable conditions I have enjoyed which have rendered my efforts fructuous. To my efforts, hence, there’s also a lining of grace, God’s gratuity which should inspire me to act gratuitously towards others. I share freely because I have freely received. Yes, I become a sacrament of God’s bounty in the measure I become aware of the bounty shown to me.
We come before the Lord each one with their own hungers and thirsts; for some is for food, clothing, shelter… Others still may be suffering from the feeling of inadequacy, obstructing them from appreciating their right value. Consequently, they are prevented from acting as they lack the confidence in what they can do. That’s why it’s our wounded personalities, as our meagre bread and fish, which we offer you, Lord, with our eyes raised to heaven. We count, no more on our own resources, but on you who can fructify even the little we have.
Thank you, Jesus, for your challenging demand to your disciples and to me. You challenge us to bring out the best of who we are and best of what we have. You make me realise that I too hold a brick necessary for the growth of your Kingdom in the world. Yes, Lord, give us the courage to dare to do what’s good!
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