GOD PROVIDES MORE THAN WE COULD EVER IMAGINE
2Kings 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
In the first reading and in the Gospel of today, we hear of two instances where crowds are fed with only a few barley loaves and some fish. Elisha’s visitor had 2 barley loaves for 100 people. In the Gospel, 5000 were following Jesus and he fed them with five barley loaves and two fish that a little provided. That sounds hard to believe but the gospel tells us that it happened.
Jesus and his disciples have a problem. The large crowd of people following him was hungry and needed to be fed. Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jn 6:5). John adds that “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do” (Jn 6:6). Philip makes a quick and rough calculation: “Two hundred days’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6:7). Just then Andrew, one of the disciples standing by, speaks up. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (verse 9). Andrew is realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish are nothing before a crowd of 5,000 men in addition to women and children, yet he has enough faith to see that it is enough for a start. Perhaps Andrew mentions the fish and loaves to Jesus because he remembers the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. He remembers that Jesus did not make wine out of nothing; he made it out of something.
It is the disciples’ duty to provide that basic something which Jesus in his love would then transform, like water into wine, or multiply, like bread to feed the hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands doing nothing, looking up to heaven. Rather it spurs us on to make our best contribution, our five loaves and two fish, knowing that without it there would be no miracle. A miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us. Believers, by believing, enable miracles to happen in their lives. Non-believers, by not believing, block their chances of experiencing a miracle. As Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Matt 9:29).
Today’s gospel reading focuses on John chapter 6. And in the next two Sundays we shall be concentrating on different aspects of John 6 as well. The large crowd that is following Jesus today does so because of the signs that he was performing. They are hungering for the Good News and when they experienced Jesus they know that he was not only the bearer of Good News but more than that. He was the Good News; both the messenger and the message. Jesus’ desire is to satisfy their hunger, both the spiritual and physical. Jesus cares about our total being, both our mortal lives here and our immortal lives in the afterworld. This multiplication and distribution of 5 loaves and 2 fish to a crowd of 5000 by Jesus, and the gathering up 12 baskets of fragments, has several important lessons for us:
- A SIGN OF THE EUCHARIST
In the sign of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes through his disciples, we have a prefiguration of the superabundance of the unique bread of his Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. It is a sign of the Holy Communion which we receive at Mass every time. This miracle points to the truth that the Word of God, the LOGOS of God, the divine Creator incarnate, is standing in their midst, and he is reproducing bread and fish to feed these five thousand people. It is a sign of Jesus’ identity! It is saying to them, “I am the bread of life.” (we shall witness more of this in the following two Sundays.) This is not simply a miracle of sharing! This is principally a miracle of multiplication!
- GOD GIVES TO ALL, WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION
The bread that Jesus gives is meant for all of us, without exception. He wants everybody to feed from his generosity. It is only those who turn away deliberately that are left out from partaking of his divine meal. No doubt, every one of us would like to receive the Eucharist, the food that God gives to all those who turn up to him for food. It is worth asking ourselves why very many people do not receive the Eucharist. What obstacle do they have on the way that hinders them to come and feed from the indiscriminate generosity of Jesus?
- WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE: The feeding of the five thousand shows that God can use your few loaves to feed many. God takes the little we have and multiplies it for the good of others. But you must let go of your loaves, like the little boy in the gospel. No one could see beyond the five loaves and two fish and the thousands of hungry people. The disciples of Jesus were looking at the situation with human reasoning. But what God offers us is beyond this world. And to prove it, Jesus fed the thousands with only five loaves and two fish and the scraps left over filled twelve baskets, even more than the food they had before eating. That is what God offers us: more than we can ever imagine. The disciples had been thinking about the situation with human logic. Philip said, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit.” (John 6:7) Andrew also did not see any divine possibilities, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” (John 6:9)
This is precisely the thinking of our world today. We see the same also in our first reading today (2 Kings 4:42-44). Elisha said to his servant to give the hundred men twenty barley loaves and fresh grain but the servant replied that it would not be enough for 100 men. But Elisha insisted and there was food left over. With God all things are possible. When we allow our minds to limit the infinite goodness and almighty works of God, we do an injustice to both God and ourselves. When we think that we do not have enough to make a difference, let us think again. Whether it be a particular ability or gift, time or treasure, if we take what little we have and offer it to the Lord, it is amazing how much can be done. The Lord draws out of us gifts and talents that we never thought we had. The apostles and disciples did this and went from being fishermen and tradesmen to evangelists and missionaries who traveled all over world.
- GOD IS GENEROUS AND KIND
This miracle also shows the remarkable generosity of God and his great kindness towards us. When God gives, he gives abundantly. He gives more than we need for ourselves so that we may have something to share with others, especially those who lack what they need. Now and then Christians ask: How can I imitate Jesus? It is by doing what he did and doing what he said we should do. One obvious way is to do what Jesus did today. Share your resources with the needy. Jesus distributed food. We should also distribute food. This becomes part of our Christian calling: a “sharing-calling,” or a “fellowship-calling.”
The gospel of today is a validation of the common saying that “whatever is not shared does not multiply.” This is a practical way of explaining the implication of the act of Jesus today. As John tells us, “then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). This is a powerful message to a grabbing society, whose other name has become selfishness. Instead of distributing, we are continuously amassing wealth. Today, God is recruiting all of us to become his “fellow distributors” of God’s wealth. We are once more reminded of the Greek koinonia, or fellowship, or sharing that characterized the early Christian church. In this regard, Luke says: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
- GOD DOES NOT ENTERAIN WASTAGE: Even though God gives freely, he does not entertain wastage. Our modern society is a wasteful society. Today, in one sentence in the gospel, Jesus talks directly to the contemporary Christian: “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12). Even God insisted on gathering the left over. This is what he wants every Christian to do in the household or wherever there is a left over to be gathered.
Imagine what happens during parties and assemblies where people eat. Think of how much food and drink that people waste! During preparation for such parties, no one seems to know the actual quantity one needs. Similarly, those who consume do not seem to know what quantity to load on their plates. It is common place to see half full plates, half full bottles of drinks, food wasted in every sense of it during parties. Today, Jesus orders us: “gather up the fragments left over.” It belongs to us to teach our kids the importance of frugality in life. Even the state water company is now beginning to say: ‘conserve.’ We have to conserve resources and not waste them. We have to prevent wastage. We have to do everything to curb extravagance. Let us not forget that there is extreme hunger and abject poverty all over the world. Each time we waste food, we are robbing the poor, who need what we thoughtlessly throw away. Jesus asks that the crumbs and left-over bread be gathered together.
- CHRISTIANS IN SEARCH FOR MATERIAL WELBEING: The gospel of today has put many Christians on the spot. Just as we had “material-following” disciples of Christ in his own time, still, we have “material-seeking” disciples in contemporary Christianity. Today’s gospel begins this way: “After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” This crowd was following Jesus because they saw material things. In other words, they were simply hoping for a material reward. The incentive is not necessarily the person of Jesus but the acts of Jesus. This is also a problem for Christianity today. Many people go to the Church because there is hope of a material reward. For instance, how many pastors or priests would remain in active ministry if there were no material reward? We have Christians looking for a “powerful man of God” because they are looking for one “miracle” or the other; they are looking for a solution to their human needs. Many Christians today see in every “man of God” a “problem-solving” instrument.
These problems are numerous. It could be the jobless in need of work; or the childless in need of a child; or the bachelor or spinster in need of marriage; or the sick in need of cure; or it could be a petty trader in need of trade success; or it could be a family whose child has poor performance at school. In Catholicism, people begin to make distinctions between one “holy water” blessed by one priest and the other blessed by another priest. Even, distinctions are made between one Eucharistic celebration and the other. Accordingly, one priest comes to celebrate the Holy Mass and the field is filled up, while the other comes and the church is virtually empty. This is because what is sought is not actually Christ, but immediate reward. Hence, people wander around in search of the “this worldly” under the umbrella of Christianity. As a result, in many places in our country and in Africa in general, the amulet makers and native medicine men have become the “alternative priests” with supposedly magical wand to solve all kinds of problems in a mysterious or magical way. Similarly, the “occultic priesthood” is gaining ground. Even people operating as “pastors” are known to be using occultic powers in the name of Christianity to draw many unsuspecting Christians to their Churches. Occultism and the quest for occultic powers are on the rise. Being a pastor or priest is attractive for many people because it has immediate material reward. Take away this reward, many would quit in search of greener pastures.
- JESUS SATISFIES OUR VARIOUS HUNGERS: The final lesson is that just as Jesus satisfied the human hunger of the crowd he is one whom we can call upon to satisfy our various hungers in life. Even greater than this he satisfies our spiritual hunger, for he is the Bread of Life. In the Beatitudes Jesus taught us, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) We can come to the Lord with all the hungers we experience and he will satisfy us, we can come to the Lord with all we have, even when it seems inadequate and insufficient for our needs, and he will take this offering, bless it, and we will find that not only does he satisfy us, he gives us much more than enough.
Let us, therefore turn to Jesus with all our very many hungers and he will satisfy us.