Father Nicholas Lang
The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
“They need not go away. You give them something to eat.”
+ In the name of God of the feast of life. Amen.
When I was serving a church in Danbury some forty years ago, I knew a wonderful Italian woman named Ann Troccola who loved to cook and cooked in abundance. Her family took advantage of this and were forever inviting friends to the supper table. I must admit that I enjoyed the benefit of many such dinner invitations
Two things struck me about Ann. Never did she look around at what could be as many as a half dozen unexpected mouths at the table and say, “Ok kids, Ok husband, you invited them—you feed them!” And never was there anything but lots of good food in her kitchen—with some to spare. That she would joyfully set those extra places and serve up huge portions of pasta fagioli (fazool) or cavetelli (gavadeels) with broccoli rape and sausage was amazing to me. She even taught me how to make sauce!
Sometimes for miracles to occur, somebody has to do some work. At the end of a long day, after much teaching and healing, the disciples realize that the huge crowd that had gathered is starving and they come up with what they thought was a very simple solution: send them on their way and let them go find food for themselves. They assume that the marketplace in the little villages will be able to feed a crowd of five thousand. And remember that this number only counted the men. Women and children were not regarded.
Jesus takes them by surprise: “They need not go away. You give them something to eat.” Biblical scholars have offered a number of explanations for what happens next. “All we have is five loaves and two fish,” the disciples tell Jesus and he asks them to bring them to him. In actions that remind us of another meal—the Last Supper—Jesus takes the food, blesses it, breaks the bread and gives it to them to distribute. All are fed and filled and there are twelve baskets of leftovers.
The important thing to claim from this story is that Jesus was not trying to razzle-dazzle the crowds by a spectacular miracle. I think Jesus is telling us that being his follower, his disciple, means more than just being a learner. It also means being a worker. Sometimes for miracles to occur, somebody has to do some work.
I wonder if in response to our prayers for the hungry, God isn’t saying to us, “I’ve provided you with food. Distribute it. I’ve provided you with money. Donate some. I’ve provided you with time. Volunteer yourself.” In other words, you give them something to eat! And here’s the miracle: when we come forward and offer whatever we have, Jesus will multiply it.
The good news Jesus feeds us with today is that there is a much bigger and broader story. Jesus gives us an example of God’s extravagance and abundance. It’s not the only one. When the bar runs dry at a wedding feast, one hundred eighty gallons of the best-tasting wine is provided. The fatted calf is prepared for a banquet given by the father of the Prodigal Child. A Samaritan picks up a wounded man on the road and leaves an innkeeper a blank check to take care of all his needs.
Jesus told many stories of God’s abundance and extravagance, not only to remind us of how much for which we should be thankful, but so that we will know the larger story—that we are called to be God’s agents of compassion and generosity wherever we are able to do that.
Some people are hungry for bread, others are hungry for love, companionship, a listening heart, peace, healing, or justice. Whatever the need, God has called us as the Body of Christ to help create the miracle of satisfying people’s deepest needs.
Jesus chose a young boy and a puny amount of bread and fish to feed the crowd. Remember that women and children were considered second class citizens and were not even counted as part of the multitude. Jesus chooses a little kid to do God’s work that day. I wonder if this story have less to do with the power Jesus has to create an abundance of food out of little more than scraps and more to do with the reality that God can take the most insignificant things we may have and use them for the good of others; that when we think we have almost nothing to give, God sees things differently and creates what we may even suspect is a miracle.