We have nothing – Monday,18th week in ordinary time – Matthew 14:13-21
This by far has been one of my favourite narratives in the Bible. It was the first homily I ever preached. I was a seminarian when I was asked to share my thoughts on this passage at St Theresa’s Church in Bandra. I was all of 22 years then. But for me, this is not merely a sentimental passage from scripture but one that teaches me never to tell the Lord, “we have nothing.” (Verse 17)
Our fascination for the spectacular miracle of the loaves and the fish overshadows the reality in which this miracle narrative is set in. Our Lord has just been told that his cousin, the first prophet in four hundred years had been brutally beheaded. His murderer (notice i call him that) King Herod, was concerned for his good name before men; in doing that he lost his soul before God. Our foolish desire to please men, while on earth we live, will be the reason why we loose our place in heaven.
In his moment of grief, Our Lord desired to be alone but the more he sought solitude the more the crowds sought him. Clearly, these were people hungering for a loving shepherd and no matter where he went they followed. They did not ask for an air conditioned room and comfortable seating. They longed for the comfort of the words that came from his lips and the healing touch that brought them back to life.
The Gospel tells us that it was evening. The disciples seeing the administrative challenge of handling such a large crowd found the easiest solution; “send them away.” Notice how this continues to be the response of much of the Church today (Both laity and clergy). Washing our hands has become second nature to us. We justify our response by thinking that this is not our responsibility, not the scope and the nature of the work of the Church. It is easy to find comfort in a pew, praying fervently for the poor, than to put an apron around our waist and feed the poor.
Christ was driven by his compassion for his people.(verse14) He knows that darkness will soon fall and he is concerned not just for their spiritual well being but also their physical needs. The disciples on the other hand see the crowds as a problem and the usual reaction to a problem is to ignore it entirely or deal with it swiftly before it becomes a greater challenge. The response of Jesus is marked by compassion; he wants to get involved and wants us to be involved. “They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”
It is not that we do not have anything to give; we have sadly become a people that have learnt to primarily receive. Christ did not ask that we give a great thirteen course meal to the hungry. He simply asked us to give “something” and there is no one who does not have a little something to give. The disciples response betrays the selfishness of humanity; “we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
Five loaves and two fish may seem insignificant compared to the five thousand that needed to be fed. Christ will take what ever we have, provided we are willing to offer what we have. I am not sure if the disciples were really offering the five loaves and the two fish or protesting that they would have to share it. But Christ took it anyway.
It would be short sighted on our part to settle on the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the fish; even though it is a narrative with a great and positive ending. While this miracle should not be diminished to some naturalistic explanation, there by diminishing the power of Our Lord, it also calls us to respond to the ‘miracle’ that caring and kindness can bring about in our society.
My dear friend, guide and mentor, Bishop Agnelo Gracias, once shared with me, that ever so often, he goes through the things that he possesses. If it was just lying in his cupboard unused for more than three months then it was clear that he did not need it and at once he would give it away. I have used this principle ever so often in my life. The moment of giving is really hard but once it is gone you know that someone more deserving of it was blessed. Today, would be a good day to begin.