Seventeenth Sunday 2006, B
It’s probably easy for us to sympathize with the frustration we hear in Andrew’s words as he tries to figure out how in the world the disciples will manage to feed all the people who’ve turned up to see Jesus. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew is looking out at a vast crowd of people whose hunger to be with Jesus has carried them away from their homes to a grassy mountainside, and now the disciples need to find some way to feed them. In a situation like this, Andrew’s question makes perfect sense: What good are five barley loaves and two fish in the face of such great need? The disciples simply can’t imagine that they have enough money or resources to satisfy the hunger that they see; they can’t imagine how they can possibly do what Jesus expects from them. Aware of their own limited resources, facing such overwhelming need, they seem almost paralyzed.
I suspect that many of us can feel a similar sort of paralysis when we look at the world around us with all of its needs and hungers. When we look at the front page of the newspaper, especially these last couple of weeks, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the seemingly intractable problems and conflicts that our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world hunger to see resolved. And there are persistent hungers closer to home, too. We are aware of hungers in our own city, our own church, our own families, our own hearts, and all of them seem to cry out for our attention. We might hear ourselves speaking words like those of Andrew: what good are my limited resources, my limited talents, my limited in time, when there is so much to be done?
The answer to that question lies in the way Jesus responds to Andrew. Jesus takes the five loaves that the disciples have, he gives thanks for that bit of bread, and then he proceeds to share it with all the hungry people reclining on the mountainside. All of them had their fill. And when they could eat no more, the disciples gathered up the remaining fragments and filled twelve wicker baskets with them. Nothing of what seemed so insignificant was wasted. Amazingly, the resources the disciples thought were totally inadequate in the face of such great need turned out to be more than enough to satisfy the hunger of every person gathered there that day.
We have all gathered here today because we are hungry. We hunger for many things, but most fundamentally we hunger for fullness of life. We know that in a world that claims to satisfy that hunger in many different sorts of ways, it is only Jesus who can really satisfy the hunger for fullness of life that rises up in our hearts. So what do we do? We bring together a bit of bread and a little wine, we give thanks for these gifts, and Jesus feeds us with the only food that truly satisfies our deepest longings. Jesus satisfies the deepest hungers our hearts by sharing all of himself with us in love.
And as Jesus feeds us today, he changes us. As we bring our bread and wine to the table today, Jesus is gathering up the fragments of our own lives. He hears us asking the question that Andrew asked him – what good are our limited resources and our fragmented abilities to respond to all the needs and hungers that call out to us in our lives? And Jesus responds to that question here today in the same way he responded to Andrew in today’s Gospel. He takes the gifts of our limited resources and fragmented lives, and he gathers them into his hands. He gives thanks to the Father for all the goodness that he sees, and he makes us holy by uniting himself to us in love. He shares all of himself with us in his body broken and his blood poured out for us. And nourished by this food, Jesus empowers us to share his life with the world.
We have gathered here today to be fed by Jesus, to be transformed, empowered, and enlivened by Jesus. Nourished with his life, the gifts of our lives can share his love with a world that is hungering for his presence. As we bring our lives to the altar today, Jesus assures us that he can do more through the gifts of our lives than we can possibly imagine. Nothing will be wasted.