Daunting command, that. We heard Jesus give this directive to his disciples in the Gospel passage from Sunday (cf. Matthew 14: 13-21). Thousands had gathered around Jesus, and the disciples encouraged him to send them away to buy food for themselves. Instead, he told them to give the people something to eat. They were astounded by such an order, since they had among them only five loaves and two fish. No matter. Jesus had them bring this paucity of resources to him and he effected his famous multiplication of the loaves and fish so that there was more than enough for all.
This episode challenges us today on a number of levels. First of all, the disciples were quite prepared to send the people away hungry, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. How often we do the same! Examples abound. Consider the issue of immigration. News reports bring to us chilling statistics pertaining to the number of unaccompanied minors striving to escape gangs, poverty and other hardship by making their way into North America. Children! On their own! Do we turn them away? Leave them to their own devices? Or do we strive to satisfy their hunger for new life by taking seriously their plight and doing what we can to welcome them? This particular challenge will only intensify as the ravages of war create ever more refugees. We need think only of what is currently happening throughout the Middle East. Closer to home, think of what often happens today in our families. Have you noticed how frequently in his writings and speeches the Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages parents to play with their children? Many of our young ones are hungry, starved, for attention, and the pressures of daily life and making ends meet often so consume and pressure our parents that work is allowed to come before family. We are called to give our children “something to eat”, by giving them the attention they crave and placing their needs first.
Second, we can be tempted to think that the little we have can make no difference, so what’s the point of trying? The Gospel narrative makes very clear that a scarcity of resource is no excuse. The little becomes plenty when we heed the command of Jesus “Bring them here to me.” When we entrust what we have to Jesus and offer it though him and in his name, he brings about the miracle and ensures it is enough.
Finally, all of this leads us to examine our life of discipleship. The follower of Jesus is one whose life is marked by compassion, not indifference; by self-sacrifice, not selfishness; by solidarity, not individualism, and by trust in God’s providence, not our own sufficiency. May the Lord in his mercy free us from egoism and attachments, so that we are truly free to give those who hunger in any way the food that is the love of Christ made tangible in acts of tenderness and compassion.