All of us have found ourselves in situations which seems beyond our abilities to deal with. The gap between the resources we have at our disposal and the issue that is crying out to be dealt with seems too great. We feel a sense of helplessness which drains us of the energy to tackle the problem. The challenge seems too great, in comparison to the resources we have at our disposal. We have all been there, in one way or another, at some point in our lives. With some, it was dramatic and life affecting; with others, it was a momentary adversity that was overcome.
In this gospel we have an example of that kind of powerlessness before a daunting task. Jesus and the disciples are faced with a very large crowd of hungry people in a deserted place. They need to be fed and the resources to feed them don’t appear to be there. The sense of being overwhelmed by the task that needs doing is audible in the comments that Jesus’ disciples make. Philip states, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ Andrew comments that there is a small boy present with five barley loaves and two fish, but he asks rather despairingly, ‘What is that between so many?’ I am sure that people who work for all the aid agencies in the world like Catholic Charities, The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and others often found themselves in a similar situation in those parts of the world ravaged by conflict and famine. Those aid workers brave enough to work in Syria and Iraq face it every day. The huge need outstrips the available resources. Yet, in that situation such workers always do whatever they can with whatever resources they have at their disposal. They don’t despair; they tackle the situation as best as they can and often their solutions are both ingenious and life threatening. But they see the need and know it must be addressed.
In the gospel, Jesus was just as aware as his disciples of the enormity of the task and the apparent lack of resources. However, he did not share their sense of defeatism. He saw that in some way the small boy with the five barley loaves and two fish was the key to feeding the vast crowd. There was only enough food there for a simple meal for a poor family. Yet, that little boy was willing to part with his barley loaves and fish; he handed them over to Jesus and, in some mysterious way, Jesus was able to work with the young boy’s generous gift to feed everyone. One generous boy was the beginning of the feeding of the multitude. That generosity gave Jesus the opening that he needed. In and through this small boy’s simple gift, Jesus worked powerfully.
Did you know that this is one of the very few stories about Jesus that is to be found in all four gospels. It clearly spoke very powerfully to the early church. Perhaps in and through this story the early believers came to appreciate that the Lord can use our tiniest efforts to perform his greatest works. As Paul declared in his letter to the church in Corinth that God’s power is often made perfect in our weakness. The Lord can work powerfully in and through the very little that we possess, if we are generous with that little. The small boy is our teacher in that regard. He gave over his few barley loaves and fish, and the Lord did the rest. So often the spontaneous generosity of children can have a great deal to teach us. In giving away the little we have to give we sometimes leave ourselves very vulnerable. Yet, the gospel suggests that the Lord can work powerfully in and through that very vulnerability which is the fruit of our generosity. The Lord needs us to be generous with what we have, even though it can seem inadequate in our eyes compared to the cause it is given.
You see folks, The Lord does not work in a vacuum; he needs us to create an opening for him to work. Without the presence of Jesus, the crowd would not have been fed. Without the presence of the small boy and his few resources the crowd would not have been fed either. The gospel this morning teaches us never to underestimate the significance of even the tiniest efforts we make to be generous with the resources we have at our disposal, whether it is resources of money, or time or some ability or other.
But the Gospel this morning also suggests that it is the tiny moments in our lives where God looks for openings. It can be those moments when you step forward to participate in a project for the marginalized; it can be that moment when you put your life on hold to help another; it can be that moment when you give, even though it truly is a sacrifice to an already limited budget.
And God seizes those events, and for a few moments opens fully the doors to his heart. It is during those moments that Christ surrounds you with his love for you imitation of him. It is for those moments that God waits. He waits to see if it will be the first of many. Because God, so much, wants you to imitate His Son. He so much wants you not only imitate His Son .
The problem sadly is that too many of us do not open the door or, if they do, it closes ever so quickly. Too often, too many, get so caught up in the activities of life that they don’t stop and say: ‘What can I do?” Can I help the handicapped, can I help the poor, can I do something so simple as help a young Panamanian child learn to read or perhaps to speak English. Others open the door but fatigue quickly. They work on a project, they help on an event and then its “ That’s it. I did my part.”
That’s it. I did my part. Did you ever read anywhere in the Gospel that Jesus said that? That’s it. I did my part. Even on those moments on the cross, when the skin had been flayed from his body, when the crown of thorns had pierced his skin so that the blood streamed down his face, when the agony of the weight of his body hanging on the cross caused unspeakable pain on those muscles and nerves which were pierced by spikes that held him to the wood of the cross, even then, he did not say: “ That’s it. I did my part.” There is no sculptor in the world that could portray the gruesome nature of Christ’s body as it hung on the cross. And if one did, no one of us could look at it. But even in those moments of agony and unspeakable pain, what was his reaction. It surely was not “ That’s it.” No, instead, his love still prevailed as he prayed aloud to His Father, “ Father, forgive them for they know what they do.”
The love of God which is endless can be a constant stream in our lives. When that happens, our lives change. Do you want to know the perfect peace, the perfect love, the constant companionship of Christ? Then give of your selves to Him. Give again and again. Give until you’re fatigued. Give until you feel as if you cannot give much longer. Give until you feel you can’t anymore and then stop and wait for a moment. The encouragement of Christ, the love of Christ, the peace of Christ will fill you. You will feel the presence of Christ in you because you have been Christ to another.
To be Christ to another is the sum and substance of all that Jesus lived for. Lived for, suffered for and died for. The question is whether we are willing to be Christ?