My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the incredible power of the Holy Spirit. I keep reflecting on how wonderful it was to gather a few short weeks ago for Fr. Hertges going away party. On the one hand, it was very edifying to see some of you see coworkers and friends that you may have not even known were Catholic. But, as it was a potluck, it was also incredible to look at all the food and realize that I was going to have a lot of difficulty fitting a sample of everything on one plate. And, as always, there was more food there than there was people.
When I went to Loras College, I heard a lot of great homilies from great priests. But, I once heard a priest preach on this gospel in a way that was very enlightening. To sum up, he said that we tend to emphasize the miraculous nature of this story. But, in truth, this is a morality tale, a story meant to impart a moral message on the listeners. He said that what really happened was that the people listening to Jesus message were hoarding all their food. But eventually a little boy came forward and gave his meager supplies, five loaves and two fish, which made everyone else so guilty that they all started giving their hoarded food to the disciples until there was enough to feed everyone with some left over. Of course, the point of the story according to this priest was the importance of charity and making sure that everyone has some before worrying about storing up for later. That’s a good Christian message. However, as I discovered later, it has NOTHING to do with this gospel passage and putting forward that message misses the point entirely.
Jesus has just heard that his cousin and his role model has just been put to death by the government. So, he goes off to mourn. But, he looks out at all the people who have come from far away and realizes that they are there because they are mourning too. These are the sick, the possessed, the poor, and the outcasts. So, he begins to heal the sick, to minister to them. But, when evening comes, his apostles tell him that he should dismiss them so they can go to the local villages and get food. Bear in mind that there’s probably somewhere between twelve and fifteen thousand people out there and they have just enough food for the apostles and Jesus, five loaves and two fish. But Jesus has a larger purpose there. He takes those five loaves and two fish and breaks them until everyone is fed. It wasn’t magic. He didn’t put it in a basket filled with food and just keep pulling out more and more of it. He just keeps breaking it and there’s always more. It’s not magic. It’s a miracle.
I believe that, oftentimes, when we ask God for something, we tend to be too small. We pray for something and, when God doesn’t answer our prayer, we ask for something smaller. In fact, one of the things that really annoys me about some of our evangelical brothers and sisters is listening to their prayer. They say something like, “Lord, I just want you to…” and “I just…” But God is not the God who gives us just what we need. God is the God of superabundance. We ask him to take away our sins and he takes away the sins of the world for all time. We ask him to save us from death and he prepares a place for us. We ask for a dollar and he gives us a million. We shouldn’t put limits on our expectations of God. It doesn’t mean that he’ll give it to us. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a miracle when he does. But, he definitely won’t give it to us if we don’t ask.