6 January 2009. Tuesday after the Epiphany
1 John 4, 7-10; Psalm 72; Mark 6, 34-44
In the Gospel today, the Lord trusts in our capacity to help. He fed their spiritual thirst with His teaching; and their physical hunger with the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The feeding of the five thousand begins with Jesus being moved with pity for the vast crowd who followed Him. So when the disciples aired their concern to Jesus, He said, “Give them some food yourselves.”
This is surprising. For the disciples, to feed 5,000 was an impossibility: they were in a deserted place, it was getting dark, and if they were to feed them it would need a large sum of money (200-days’ worth of wages). In other words, only a miracle can feed them. But, Jesus said that they --- not Him --- should feed them instead.
Physical hunger, in today’s reading, is an important need. Thus, faith does not concern itself with just ‘spiritual matters’ but aims to bring food to the hungry. Let us put the reading in our present context. In countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, around 500 million people are living in “absolute poverty” (World Bank), and every year 15 million children die of hunger. And an estimate of 800 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Our faith should be able to bring food to their mouths.
The Gospel remains clear. Jesus challenged them to exhaust all means. Did you use all means? What do you have? And they answered, “five loaves and two fish.” And Jesus worked His miracle with “what they’ve got”. We know the rest of the story: they were able to feed the people --- and with baskets of leftovers.
In many ways, we are like the disciples. First, we automatically think when certain conditions are not met, we need a miracle --- even if there are other things we can do. When we do not have money, we say we can’t celebrate Christmas or whatever special event we’re supposed to celebrate. Maybe with the economic crunch, we can have an alternative but meaningful celebration. When we deal with national issues such as graft and corruption, peace and order, or poverty, we tend to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge, that we easily say that we can’t do anything about it considering our lone voice.
Second, many people complain or blame God about many things. Why does God allow suffering in the world? Or, why did God allow this thing to happen to my life? Some have blamed God for their expulsion from the universities. I hear this from many of the learned, from students and scholars, from skilled and the talented, from those who are financially stable and those whose careers are flourishing. Ironically, they are the ones who have more loaves and basketfuls of fish. Meaning, we, who can contribute to the alleviation of poverty do not see that we can help, and so we don’t. It is more convenient to point our finger at someone else than to claim personal responsibility. There is a chapel in Europe where the cross has Christ’s body, but without His arms. The arms were destroyed during the war. The people did not restore the arms, but in its place is engraved that we are now Christ’s arms in the world today.
We may not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but we can contribute with whatever we’ve got. Malcolm Gladwell used the image of a virus in his bestselling book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. He said that a single sick person can start a flu epidemic. Thus, a small and single idea can spread like wildfire and cause a fashion trend, or the popularity of a new item. A loaf and a fish can feed millions. A melodic line can make up the peak in a pop song. A marketing strategy can popularize a clothing apparel. If you’ve got an idea, such as a creative way to raise awareness about an issue, then go for it. Let it spread like wildfire.
We should never underestimate the power of a single idea.