Feeding the Multitudes
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Summer is here at last and a friend of mine is inviting me to go camping. The first time I ever went camping (and the last time!) was when I was thirteen years old. I was a Boy Scout. I remember getting up very early in the morning on the day I was to leave for camp, but my mom was already up a few hours before I did. She was busy preparing food for my journey to a wilderness camp, to some deserted place far away from the security and comfort of home. It was my first time to be away from home, and my first time to be away from mom. Because I was my mother’s favorite child, indeed a “mama’s boy”, my mom was a bit anxious of my going away and she wanted to make sure I had enough to eat and drink for the few days I was to be away from her. Besides packing my knapsack with all sorts of goodies, and cooking me a hearty breakfast that morning, she also packed my lunch which seemed enough to feed a battalion. I can’t eat all that I told her but she insisted I bring this huge lunch. When my fellow scouts saw me with a huge picnic basket, they laughed at me all the way to the campground, and teased me- calling me a spoiled mama’s boy. I felt so embarrassed. When we got to the campground after hours of hiking, we were all so tired and so hungry. I opened my picnic basket, and all these boys who were so mean to me suddenly have this sad and begging puppy eyes. Our team leader came over and asked me to share whatever I got. Frankly, I did not want to not only because they were so mean to me, but because I went on a scarcity mode. Though my mind told me there was certainly enough food to go around, my fearful and closed heart told me that there wouldn’t be enough so that if I shared what I got, nothing would be left for me to eat. Yet, after much pleading, I was finally convinced to give in, and it turned out that I was wrong, that I had nothing to fear. I had plenty to eat and everyone else had plenty enough to eat.
Today in the Gospel of Mark, we have this beautiful story of Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand people. This story is so important to the early church that it is one of the very few stories that is told by all four Gospels. In fact, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark the story of the feeding occurs twice. The question that comes to mind is how could Jesus have fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish? I used to think that Jesus was able to perform such miracle because he was like some magician who could pull not one but many bunnies out of a hat. Since Jesus is God, surely he could pull of such a trick. That’s one way to interpret the miracle story. But I think there is another alternative way to read this story, something less magical but miraculous nonetheless, and the key is to look at the version of the same story told in the Gospel of John
The story of the feeding in the Gospel of Mark we hear today differs from the story in John’s Gospel in at least one yet very important detail. In the Gospel of Mark, we don’t know how Jesus got the five loaves and two fish. In the Gospel of John, a little boy came forward to Jesus and offered his five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the hungry crowd. A little boy came forward to share what little he had to feed others. The emphasis of John’s story is not on the miraculous multiplication of the bread. The emphasis is on the act of sharing. Jesus made an example of the generosity of that kid. If the kid can share what little he got, then all others in the crowd who brought food with them can also share with those who have little or none to eat. It would have been unlikely that that many people would have left their home for a day’s journey into some deserted place without food. I mean just think about it. If you are going away on a journey to a rather isolated place where there is no store around, won’t you pack a basket of food? But the people who followed Jesus in the wilderness probably kept the food they brought for themselves, without necessary intending to share them with anyone else. They were probably on scarcity mode, fearful that by sharing with others, they won’t have anything left for themselves. But something touched them when they saw that little boy ran up to Jesus and offered what little he had for the hungering crowd. What happened in that deserted wilderness was not so much about the miraculous multiplication of bread and fish as much as the miraculous transformation of people’s hearts. The example of the little boy touched the hearts of people so much so that the closed hearts of the people were opened to see, to feel, and share in the suffering of those around them who were hungry but had none to eat. This compassion allowed them to share what they had so that all had plenty enough to eat.
News bombard daily that we are facing harsh economic times. The jury is still out whether the economy is improving or not. Most of us probably are anxious about this (I know I am) and it would be easy to go into scarcity mode. The Gospel today however challenges us to resist thinking and feeling that there is not enough for us to share with others, closing our hearts to those who are truly in need. The Gospel today challenges us to respond by sharing what we have to those who have little or nothing.
Here, at the Lord’s Table, as the Bread is offered to God and blessed, Christ breaks the Bread of his own Body, and shares and gives himself to us, feeding, and nourishing us with his life. Likewise, we become the Bread we receive here: we are blessed, then broken, shared and given. We are blessed with hearts that can be touched and broken by the suffering of others. This brokenness of hearts allows us then to share ourselves with people in need.
When I was a young boy, I saw this Spanish movie, The Miracle of Marcelino, about a young orphan boy, Marcelino, who grew up in a monastery with monks who adopted him. Marcelino was rather a mischievous young boy. One day, when he did something he was not supposed to do, he was punished by having him eat his dinner alone in the attic of the monastery where there was a large crucifix. The image of Christ on the cross came alive who asked for food to eat. Marcelino, who did not recognize who it was, offered his bread to the Christ. I was touched by the story that I, a naïve boy, got some pieces of bread, and I secretly snuck into my grandmother’s room and attempted to feed the Christ on the crucifix hanging above my grandmother’s bed. My grandma was just befuddled as to how the crumbs got on her bed! Like Marcelino we are to feed and nourish the crucified Lord whom we meet whenever we come across a brother or sister who is hungry. For the Lord said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” (Mt. 25:40)
©2018 Noel E. Bordador
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