There can never really be nothing to give. Perhaps what we mean is there is nothing in our surplus bag to give, which still indicates that we have something. The disciples have hit the panic button for Jesus has withdrawn by boat to a deserted place followed by large crowds and the sun was dipping its head over another Galilean horizon.
Jesus was in mourning; He had just lost his cousin, John the Baptist, in a grisly death as a ‘pleasure prize’ at Herod’s birthday party. Jesus perhaps longed to be by himself but the crowds followed Him incessantly. His teaching of the Sermon on the Mount had made a deep impact on them. Jesus suspends His own need to grieve because He grieves over the situation His people are. Scripture tells us that He is moved by compassion and spends the entire day curing the sick.
While scripture also tells us that there were five thousand men that day, scholars tell us that this number added to women and children would have brought the head count to a whopping twenty thousand. It is understandable why the disciples panicked. This was after all a deserted place and food by itself was a scarce commodity under Roman rule. The people of the land could barely eke out a living, perhaps prompting Jesus to pray for ‘our daily bread.’
What the disciples had truly forgotten was the power of God in a deserted place (to say the least). The Greek word for ‘deserted’ (eremos) is the same used in the Bible for the ‘wildernesses’. By now the light of faith should have begun to flicker in the minds of the disciples. Surely they should have recalled the compassion of God who in the wilderness had provided manna for his people. Or the feeding of widow of Zarephath by Elijah or Elisha who fed one hundred people. But they did not; they simply panicked like most of us in a difficult situation.
Jesus wanted to teach his disciples to show initiative and exude self-confidence and so asks the disciple to do something. Their response was, “We have nothing but…” The ‘but’ is the dead give-away, for in reality there was something to give even though it was meagre. The rest of the story, as they say, was history.
There is always something that we have to share; ‘our meagreness’ that we take to the Lord who does the rest. The parish of St Jude’s in which I had the privilege to minister to (for in reality they minister to me) raised about two hundred thousand rupee in just five days for a congregant with cancer. This, from a congregation of eight hundred souls, many of whom live on less than five thousand Indian rupees a month (100 dollars). It was their ‘meagreness’, their ‘five loaves and two fish’ that they offered to the Lord and boy, was the Lord pleased!
I was not present 2000 years ago when Jesus multiplied this fish and the loaves but I was blessed to be a part of it 2000 years later in a small parish tucked away in the suburbs of Mumbai.
Fr Warner D’Souza
Dedicated with great love for the healing of Joseph and the love of his family of eight hundred.