In today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds a large crowd with five barley loaves and two fish, made possible by the generosity of a little boy who chose to share his food. The miracle has a parallel in the First Reading where Elisha multiplies 20 loaves to feed 100 people. In both cases the loaves are brought to a prophet, many people are fed, there is an assistant who thinks it is not possible, and there are leftovers in the end.
Jesus gave thanks before offering the bread to the people, which foreshadows the Eucharist. The Eucharist is our communion with God and with one another, and through it, we become companions – literally ‘bread sharers’- from the Latin cum (together) and panis (bread). Today’s Gospel is rich with Old Testament symbolisms. The five loaves represent the five books of the Law (Torah); the two fish symbolize the Prophetic and Wisdom Books; the young boy represents the Jewish people, and crowds represent humanity. Accordingly, Jesus receives the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings and breaks open their deep spiritual meanings to refresh the whole of humanity.
Today’s event showcases the generosity of the little boy whose bread and fish provided enough refreshment for some five thousand people. It shows that with our generous co-operation, God can use our little contributions to do great things. Had the little boy thought his food insufficient and kept it to himself, the miracle would not have happened the way it did. He had the choice of hiding in a corner to consume his food perhaps with a few of his friends, or to make quick money by selling the items at a very high price or even taking his food back home, but he chose the path of generosity.
Jesus’ command to “pick the pieces left over, so that nothing is wasted” is a call for us to conserve our resources to reach out to those ravaged by poverty, ignorance, and disease all over the world. We are called to place our time, talents, and material goods at the service of the Lord and his Church. That way, nothing is lost, and nothing gets wasted. The early Christians took this message to heart and we are told that none of them “was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need” (Acts 4: 34, 35). Thankfully, we do not need to sell our real estate to be able to assist the others.
Jesus got his companions to hand over the little that they had, and he worked wonders with it. He asks the same of us today. We know that the mission to bring the light of Christ to the world is beyond our natural abilities. Only if we let Jesus use us, relying on him and not on ourselves, can we hope to fulfil our life mission and make a real difference in the world for the good of the Kingdom. What we could never achieve on our own, we can immeasurably surpass with God, for Scripture is very clear that for God “everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Many years ago, there was an old Chinese Christian man who worked in the rice fields and lived alone in poverty in a boat on the river. He came to a local missionary priest one day and said to him: “Father, wouldn’t it be good if we could have a real church instead of the wooden hut?” “Indeed, it would,” the priest answered, “but it will take us a long time to raise the money.” “Father,” said the man, “I would like to pay for the building of a new church.” “Well,” said Father, “I am sure you will be able to contribute your share when the time comes.” But the man insisted, “No – I mean, I want to pay for the whole thing myself.” The missionary explained that this would be impossible, as the cost would be close to the equivalent of$5,000. The rice farmer said he knew that, and then produced the actual amount of cash.
The priest was astounded, and the man had to explain. Years ago, when he was a young man just receiving his first instruction in the faith, he had heard a former missionary explaining the words, “Hallowed be Thy Name” – that the purpose of our life is to give glory to God. Hearing this, he conceived the desire to someday build a temple to God’s name. So, for forty years, living with no family and no house, eating only a little rice, he had managed to lay aside most of his scanty wages till he had the equivalent of US$5,000.
The priest was even more astounded, and objected to the plan, seeing that the man was old and would soon need the money to support himself when he could no longer work. The old man said that God would take care of him and begged the Father to grant this life-long desire. The priest consented. The church was built, and it was standing-room-only when the first Mass was celebrated there. All the Christians in the region were overjoyed to have a church of their own. After the Mass, the old man stayed back kneeling in the beautiful little church for a long time. That afternoon he was found lifeless, still kneeling – his heart broken with joy and gratitude. In a dream that night, the missionary saw Christ welcoming the old Chinese man into heaven, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Here was a man who understood the real value of offering our poor efforts to God.
Dear friends, as we receive Christ in Holy Communion today, let us pray for hearts of Eucharistic generosity, to let the Lord use our everyday talents to perfect his divine purposes. Amen!