What Good Are 5 Loaves & 2 Fish?

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Whenever young dreamy-eyed couples set out on the road to marriage and the start of a new family, they are always so full of hope and promise. And that is as it should be. They get this look about them confidently proclaiming that essentially they can face any obstacle or challenge just as long as they stick together. They may have no clue what they need to do—where they’d live, how they’d pay the bills, how they’d pay down their college loans, how they’d afford children ever—while they face a multitude of real but yet unknown challenges. They may be inwardly terrified but they don’t let it show. They have big dreams but often few resources. … They will charge full speed ahead without really knowing what awaits them, and without the necessary provisions that most veteran couples would deem essential. But you were there once yourselves, so we cut them some slack. All they know to count on are their smarts, their devotion to each other, and their faith in God (who is probably chewing his fingernails trying to figure out how it’s all going to come together). But they have hope and promise and optimism and good will in abundance, and faith and enthusiasm and energy and love beyond measure. … With such an uncertain future facing many young couples starting out, it seems cruel to not warn them of the hidden dangers, or to not stop them for their own good. … All they have are five loaves and two fish, maybe not even that.

When Jesus saw the crowd on the mountainside awaiting to hear him speak that bright sunny day, he saw disaster looming on the horizon. But he also knew what he would have to do. Still he turned to his disciples and asked where they would buy enough food to feed the crowd. He wanted to test their resourcefulness and their enthusiasm for his life’s work, the mission he would one day entrust to them. He wanted to test their faith, although he was prepared to catch them if they should fall. He was God after all; he could have fed the multitude himself without any help from anyone. He could have satisfied every hungry mouth on the mountainside that day. Instead, he turned to his disciples and asked them what they would do.

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In every challenge we face each day, we come across various forms of hunger. The easiest hunger to identify is physical hunger which is a natural consequence of being alive. Our bodies require adequate nourishment and drink to survive. You can only go so long without food. As your physical strength declines due to hunger, other faculties will begin to decline as well. You know it is difficult to function mentally when you miss either lunch or dinner (very few people cannot live without breakfast). So when your stomach is empty and making embarrassing noises, it is also difficult to read, to study, or to pray. Yet few of us have known true physical hunger, … the kind many experience where often there is also war and famine and disease. And Jesus asks us today as he asked his disciples then, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Sometimes we only have five loaves and two fish, but what good are five loaves and two fish?

There are other hungers we may experience in the world, some deeper and more devastating than physical hunger. Hungers of the spirit are not easily detected. There are few visible physical symptoms. And when this hunger is most acute, the one who suffers is often the last to know it. For the ultimate consequence of spiritual hunger is … spiritual harm. Such a hunger can have many manifestations, [like] a persistent cynicism or negativism that is unable to recognize goodness and beauty, [or] a crushing loss of hope that is unable to welcome a new invitation to trust, [or] the inflexibility of religious intolerance and fundamentalism, [and] the indifference of atheism and unbelief. Often we have only five loaves and two fish, only a genuine joy that is the fruit of an authentic faith in God, only a sense of hope in God despite life’s difficulties, only a courageous presence fueled by the fire of God’s love. Often we have only five loaves and two fish, but what good are five loaves and two fish?

5 loaves 2 fish

When Jesus asked his disciples if they knew where to find food for the hungry crowd, he himself already had a plan. But he wanted them to participate in the work of feeding the hungry. His disciples had nothing to give. But a young boy had five loaves and two fish, carefully packed for him by his mother for what she knew would be a long day. And with what this young boy was willing to share, Jesus fed the hungry crowd. They all ate until they were satisfied, and with what was left over they filled twelve baskets. Why do we fear the hungers that plague the world when we have five loaves and two fish? Now if it were all up to us, our five loaves and two fish would accomplish little. But if we hand over to Jesus what we have, we can believe he has power to feed the multitude.

We are a small parish in a quiet corner of the country, each of us insignificant ordinary Christians who only want to mind our own business. Jesus asks us if we have anything to feed the hungry crowd. Are we more concerned that we only have five loaves and two fish, or that we do not have enough faith?

When we enter the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bread and wine are brought up to the altar. In our day and age, we have increasingly become detached from these gifts, which in the prayers over them are called “fruit of the earth and work of our hands.” But when was the last time we harvested wheat or pressed grapes? But we should be offering ourselves along with the bread and wine, which will be blessed and consecrated, and given back to us. So when we return to our lives and to the world, we will have something to bring to those who hunger. Many people hunger for meaning, and hunger for God. If we leave from this place still hungry, how are we going to feed them? If we leave from here still hungry, then we’ve missed the point entirely.

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Rolo B Castillo © 2015