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 Loaves and Fishes

Sunday’s Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish has long been one of my favourites. And the reason I like it is because of what it tells us about the real hero of the story. We are all familiar with the wonderful “miracle” of the feeding of so many people with so little food by Jesus the miracle worker.

Someone has said that the real “miracle” of the story is that the people, when they were given the food, decided to share it among themselves. There’s also a sense that the invitation to share gives the lie to the modern economic myth which would have us believe that there is not enough of everything to go around so that the rich just continue to get richer while the poor stay where they are. Jesus’ action demonstrates that there is more than enough of everything in the world for everyone if only we would share.

Well, we can all have our different takes on the story. For me, the real point of the story isn’t so much the miracle of multiplication as the miracle of generosity performed by the little boy who gave all he had.  Just think for a moment about the details of the story. Who’s bread did Jesus multiply and who’s fish did he divide? There was a large crowd, five thousand men we’re told and, most probably, double that number of women and children.

It is Jesus who asks the question: what are we going to do to feed all these people? Philip says that they must buy some food but then adds that one piece of bread would not be enough for each one there. Andrew asks the crowd if anyone has any food with them. There is a hush and a great silence. People look at one another. There must have been some people in that crowd who had food with them; people who had brought a picnic for a day out to observe the wonder-worker from Galilee. But if so, they kept whatever provisions they had brought with them to themselves. Nobody admitted to having anything with them. They were too afraid of losing it.

And then there was that small boy. He had been looking at Jesus with an open mouth and a wet nose. He searched his pockets, felt under his shirt, and shouted: ”Yes, over here”. Out of the crowd he came with his five slices of bread and two fish, probably small ones, the sort small boys catch. The crowd laughed but Jesus didn’t. He took the slices of bread and the two fish and told the people to sit down.

There was a great deal of noise as all the people sat down. Only that small boy was still standing there, looking with eyes full of wonder at what was happening to his bread and fish. Jesus gave the bread and fish to those big disciples of his and said: “Divide it among them”. They said: “Divide what”? But they started and began to break and break and break the bread and divide the fish until everyone had had enough, indeed more than enough. So much so that they still had pieces in their hands when their stomachs were full.

Then Jesus asked them to collect the leftovers and they filled twelve baskets. Did you ever wonder what happened to those baskets? I like to think that Jesus gave them to that small boy. After all, it was his bread and his fish. The people praised Jesus. They even wanted to make him king. I think Jesus praised the small boy who had given all he had.

The scriptures tell us that those who give in life will receive and will receive in abundance. So, maybe, when you are asked again for something you think you are unable to give, think of that small boy and his story, and think of the twelve baskets full of food given back to him because he gave all he had.

Fr. Gerry McFlynn

Author Fr. Gerry McFlynn

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