In our gospel today we meditate on the awe-inspiring power of God to use littleness to achieve greatness.
So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick - When evening came, the disciples went to him.
There is a startling contrast here between the great size of the crowd and the small number of the Apostles, twelve men, and very ordinary men they were too by the world's standards – fishermen, tax-collectors - nothing much to work on there.
- The weak, impulsive, unfaithful Peter to make into ‘the Rock of the Church’.
- The sinful taxman Matthew to make into a model of honesty and reliability.
- The 'sons of thunder' James and John to make into meek and gentle martyrs.
- The doubting Thomas to make into a pillar of faith.
Five loaves and two fish really. How did he do it?
It makes me think of the situation here in this parish, in most parishes really. Many thousands of people living in the district and here we are, a small handful of Catholics called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world - five loaves and two fish.
And what about at home, in so many families, where everyone seems to have given up listening to God, given up coming to Mass on Sundays or going to meet him in Reconciliation, or receiving Holy Communion worthily or having any kind of prayer life at all? They don't care and they are constantly inviting the rest of the family not to care either.
What am I among so many? Just five loaves and two fish!
When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, "This a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food."
Five thousand people and Twelve Apostles - five thousand hungry stomachs and five loaves and two fish. The Apostles were not stupid. They knew how to divide, add and subtract - only Jesus knew how to multiply - and the figures were not promising. No wonder they told the Lord to send the crowd away. What could they do for them?
And no wonder, Lord, we Catholics give in so easily when it comes to taking our place in the world. What can we do about abortion, euthanasia, pornography, materialism, secularism, relativism, individualism? What can we do when there are so many today who have given up that they even make us wonder whether we are not simply being scrupulous, fanatical or worst of all, pre-Vatican II!
And no wonder so many catholic partners in a marriage give up trying to practise their faith or even hold on to it. No wonder so many of our parents give up trying to discipline their children, pray with their children, or even take an interest in their spiritual development, when they feel that the odds are so stacked against them. No wonder so many of our catholic youth give up trying to hang on to their jobs - or their virginity - when they see that just about everyone else seems to be having a 'good time' but them.
The forces of evil seem just too strong and we can easily develop a saviour complex - waiting for a knight in shining armour to come and solve our problems for us. What can we do? We are just five loaves and two fish.
Jesus replied: There is no need for them to go; give them something to eat yourselves.
The Apostles must have been shocked when Jesus said these words. They must have wondered at him and thought, ‘He can't be serious. He knows as well as we do that five loaves and two fish wouldn't even make an entrée. How can he expect US to do something for these people?’
That was the magic word, wasn't it? That's what frightened these followers of Jesus as they stood there before this gigantic problem, that he should dare suggest that they should, that they could, do something themselves.
Twelve men - five little loaves, two little fish.
So now we have been brought to the sharp point of this gospel - to the real point of what it means to be a Christian in today's world – to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus and rely totally on his power. He has brought his Apostles and all of us to the heart of the Christian challenge.
We have done our arithmetic - stated the problem - pointed out the difficulties - and now he raises his arm and points his finger at us and says, ‘Do something about it YOURSELVES.’
What a frightening word that is - that little word - ME!
My Lord, Jesus, how can I do anything about changing things?
- How can I go and see my member of parliament about this euthanasia business?
- How can I write to the principal about what they are teaching my kids at school?
- How can I do something active in the parish?
and lastly, Jesus,
- How can you expect ME to be a saint?
You obviously don't know how busy I am, how untalented I am, how nervous I get in public, how hard I find it to pray and to be good. You obviously don't know me at all. I am just five loaves and two little fish.
'Bring them here to me,' he said ...
Are you listening?
'Bring them here to me," he said - then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining, twelve baskets full.
They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining - twelve baskets full.