Little Sammy dashed out of his catechism class full of enthusiasm. "Well, mum, that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was great!" "Yes? How did it go?", asked mum, just to keep the conversation going. "Well, amazing! The Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was getting closer and closer. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. Sure enough! They made it!" Obviously, mum was shocked, "Now! Is THAT the way they taught you the story?" "Well, no, not exactly," Sammy admitted, "but if I told you the way they told it to us, you'd never believe it!!!"
Just a joke. But in his innocence, Sammy has put his finger on the pulse of our sophisticated adult world where cool skepticism reigns supreme. Life is becoming more and more confined. No space for the miraculous, for diversity , for change.
Nothing ever changes. Everything was, is and will always be as it is. This marriage will always be like this. Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. My husband was, is and will always be mean. I was born with this character, I shall die with this character. I will always be defeated by the same old temptations.
This is life. Take gravity. Heavy objects fall toward the earth. Always and always. Count on it. Take chemistry. Mixing certain elements in precise proportions yields the same result. Today and tomorrow. Take astronomy. This evening the sun will get down and darkness will follow. Then tomorrow morning the sun will come up again. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...
We operate strictly on the basis of facts. Hard, immutable, stubborn facts. Absolute, unbending, undeniable.
This skepticism has only one problem. It kills faith. It kills hope. We go to Church but we know that things will always remain the same. We do our small little things of religion but we do not believe that things can possibly be different.
"Jesus, what do you mean, give them something to eat? We have only five small loaves of bread and two fish. Those are the facts. Five and two. No more, no less. Send the five thousand people home; we can't take care of them today."
They put this lion in a cage. Ten meters by ten. The animal passed all his life pacing from one side of the cage to the next. Ten meters by ten. For twelve years. One day they took away the cage. He kept pacing ten meters by ten. He was still in the cage. This time a mental cage.
This is us. Through continued failure we have become conditioned to confinement. We may yearn to use our lives creatively, but our invisible cage reminds us: "You can't do that. It isn't practical. You're not smart enough. It will cost too much. People will laugh at you. You're too young. You're too old. Your health won't allow it. Your parents won't allow it. It will take too long. You don't have the education."
But suppose we can remember that miracles do happen? Suppose we became aware that resentments, hurts, hates, grudges, illness, greed are cages which Jesus Christ can remove? Suppose we believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever and so what he did yesterday, He can do today.
You see, reality IS that Jesus did change people with his miracles. Jesus did change people with his compassion. Jesus did feed five thousand men, let alone women and children with five loaves and two fish. Was it possible? Apparently it was... by His power. When Jesus comes into our life, we end up with a lot more than we started with. That is multiplication. And that is one focus of God's program for our lives.
This miracle is so important that it made it into the four Gospels. Luke and John have one multiplication of loaves. Mark and Matthew even have two. One on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee - it speaks of twelve baskets, the number of the tribes of Israel and of the apostles. The second situates it on the Eastern shore of the lake and speaks of seven baskets, the number of gentile nations of Canaan and of the Hellenistic deacons. Both traditions depict the event in the light of the multiplication of oil and bread by Elisha (2 Kings 4) and the episode of manna and quails (Exodus 16). Jesus repeats these gifts of heavenly nourishment but with even greater power.
The reason of this miracle? "He had compassion on them," says Mark. He feels for us.
Betting on God
What are we expected to? Just follow His instructions. What did He tell them to do? He told them to sit down. Obviously, we read the story backwards, knowing how it turns out. That day however no one had a clue. Murmurs must have rustled through the group on the packed hillside. Sit down? Be passive? Expect Him to feed so many people? Ridiculous.
But this is the only thing He is asking of us. He is just asking us to let HIM do something. Imagine if this morning you receive a MEMO from God which reads something like this :
GOD'S INTER-OFFICE MEMOIf you receive that MEMO every day, what would you do?
It is that simple...
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.