It was the end of a long day when our coach broke down in the middle of nowhere.
The driver couldn’t restart it. Another coach was promised in 3 hours.
I was in charge of 33 lively eleven year olds who wanted to know what I was going to do. They were hungry and tired. So was I. With 2 assistants I’d been with the children for 12 hours. After my silent prayer - “help” - these words came to mind: “you give them something to eat".
When the Lord tells me to do something, then like Jesus' disciples faced with the impossible task of feeding 5000 men (besides women and children), I tend to respond by telling Him why I can't. We had no food left, minimum emergency cash and no credit card. The shops were closed. How could we feed the children and ourselves? A miraculous free delivery of pizza? Someone to take away the children while I slept? Not a hope! (This was before mobile phones.) What happened? I’ll tell you later.
When Jesus needed to be alone to grieve after hearing that King Herod had beheaded his cousin, a crowd followed him to a deserted place. Jesus reacted with “compassion”, a gut-wrenching reaction. Jesus felt with the people in the core of his being. When they became hungry the disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away, but Jesus said, “you give them something to eat!” The disciples didn’t have a clue what to do. What they had was far too little! “We have nothing here but 5 loaves and 2 fish”. They only saw the great need and how little they could offer. It’s a normal response, "I wish I could help, but I can't. The problem's too big, what use is my contribution?" Is that how you feel about the devastating famine in East Africa? Or any of the other huge problems facing the world just now?
"5 loaves and 2 fish" seemed nothing among so many hungry people. Jesus took the bread and fish, "blessed and broke the loaves”. Then He gave the food back to the disciples and they fed the people as he had told them to do. It was very little. But little is much in Jesus' hands. Our generous Lord multiplies what is offered to Him. We never know where it will end. All "ate and were filled". Nothing was wasted as they gathered up 12 baskets of leftovers! We can feel helpless in face of all the pain and suffering in the world. We think, “I’m just 1 person. What can I do?” God can take our ‘not enough’ and turn it into ‘more than enough’. Jesus shows us we only need to use what we have. We ask, "what use is our little bit?" But Jesus' answer is always the same: about the cup of cold water offered to a child, about the widow's mite, about the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The answer Jesus gives is, "Let's see what good we can do together with this."
What about the 33 hungry 11 year olds? Did we find food? We didn't find 5 loaves and 2 fish. We did find a tiny cheap cafe, run by a generous couple, who instead of closing for the night, agreed to fry 33 meals of egg and chips for the small amount of cash we could muster between us. It was to their loss. But they saw our need and had compassion for us. It was greasy and basic, but all the children agreed it was the best meal they'd had for ages. A real feast!
The people we meet this week are the ones Jesus asks me to feed. “You give them something to eat.” With what? With the sensitivity, the compassion, the care and love of Christ. How? He will show us, if we ask Him. It may just be a smile that we offer, or a listening ear, a small gift of time, a tiny practical task. But in the hands of Jesus, who knows how much that will mean? Are we willing to give out of what God has given to us? Jesus encourages us, saying, "give your 5 loaves and 2 fish to me, and see what I will do".
For another reflection by me on this miracle, see here.
Or for a short sermon on today's gospel reading (Matthew 14: 13-21) see Good in Parts post of yesterday. Thank you Kathryn.
Photo by 'mira66' of a sculpture by John Skelton and Helen Mary Skelton, set into the wall of Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, Brighton, Sussex, England, unveiled 1987.