December 4, 2019
The following homily was originally delivered in 2013:
Today we hear a familiar story: Jesus feeds 5,000 people through the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish. I have often wondered how the people present at such an event would have responded, or how they would have perceived it. For example, what would the miracle have looked like through the eyes of the little boy who had the loaves and fishes?
My mom sent me to the market to get bread and fish. She gave me specific instructions: “Go right to the market and come right home.” But on the way home, I noticed a crowd had gathered over on the hillside. A big crowd. Maybe I would just go over and check it out, just for a minute. Something drew me closer to the crowd and the unusual man talking to them. Another man spotted the package I carried, and yelled, “This boy has food!” The unusual man prayed over my food and told others to pass it out. Then I watched it all happen. When it was all over, there was more food than I started with! Way more food! My heart was jumping out of my chest. It was a miracle! This man multiplied my loaves and fish and fed all of these people! Now an even bigger miracle will be if I can avoid getting in trouble when I try to explain to my mom what happened.
Jesus was certainly capable of performing such a miracle, but I wonder if there was more to it. What else might have been going on? Were there other forces at work in the midst of the 5,000 that day?
For example, if I were a part of the crowd, and was asked to find a seat in the clearing, what would I have experienced?
I waited patiently to see how in the world they planned to feed all of us. There were people as far as I could see in every direction. I heard a couple of the disciples talking. All they had come up with was a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Word began to spread through the crowd – food was scarce. I was near the front of the crowd where they began to pass the food. I broke off a good size chunk of the bread and some of the fish. Then I broke off another piece of the bread to stick in my pocket for later – who knew how much longer we were going to be out here?
But after I passed the food on, I looked up and saw Jesus and He locked eyes with me. I looked around and saw people who were likely much hungrier and more frail than I – women and small children, elderly folks. I probably didn’t need that piece of bread I put in my pocket. So I broke it up and passed it behind me to others, who smiled and nodded at me. Come to think of it, I was not a big fan of fish anyway, so I broke my fish into pieces and passed it to the people in front of me. You know, it hasn’t been that long since I ate, I would probably be fine if I didn’t eat right now. I took the bread I still had and took it to the people near the back of the crowd. I broke up my remaining bread and passed it out – again, smiles and nods. Then I walked through the crowd, calling out to people, “If you can do without eating, please do…pass it along to someone who needs it.” I saw many people do just as I had asked.
Maybe this was not a loaves and fishes story at all, but people recognizing the need to look out for one another.
There are other possibilities. For example, the disciples went through the crowd, calling out and asking if anyone had any food to share. They got no response so they tried again and again. Finally, they heard the voice of the little boy with the bread and fish. He offers the food graciously, without reservation. Upon seeing the charitable spirit of the young boy, some of the adults in the crowd open up bags and remove food they had with them, and begin sharing it with others.
Maybe this was not a loaves and fishes story at all, but people seeing the value of a charitable spirit.
So what do we walk away with today? The incredible power of Jesus is on display but I believe it goes beyond the miracle – the act of multiplying the loaves and fishes. People are hungry. They seek nourishment. They seek healing and consolation, forgiveness and understanding. They are hungry for the Word. They are starved for compassion and long for a charitable spirit.
Jesus tells us “Don’t send them away. You feed them.” Maybe we are the loaves of bread in the story. The bread that is being broken and passed among those who are hungry. The bread that provides nourishment to so many.
In the liturgical song Christ, Be Our Light, verse three reads: “Longing for food, many are hungry. Longing for water, many still thirst. Make us your bread, broken for others, shared until all are fed.”
Could it be that today’s Gospel is not a miracle story at all, but rather a job description for being a member of the Body of Christ?
We must feed others. In so doing, we serve as both Eucharist and Church.