My dear people of God, there is a phrase I keep hearing a lot these days. And if I really thought about it, I’d have to admit that I’ve probably been hearing it for a very long time, maybe for the entirety of my adult life. This phrase usually is spoken by individuals whenever someone brings up current events – things we see and hear about going on all over the world. And the phrase is this:
I don’t watch the news anymore. It’s too depressing.”
I know you’ve heard that before and may be you’ve even spoken those words from time to time. And of course, what’s usually meant by those words is that the speaker is overwhelmed by the seemingly endless stream of stories about bad things, sad and painful things. I could list some of them here, but I don’t think that’s actually necessary.
It’s hard not to feel that way. All of us want the world to be a better place to live. All of us wish that these things didn’t happen. All of us wish that we had the solution to what ails people and communities and societies and nations. The world can be, at times, a cold and cruel and unforgiving place. But this, of course, is not new. We see so much more of it because we have the technology to do so. Most things that happen on this earth are quickly known by nearly the whole world. And it can feel more than a little overwhelming.
Is the world truly a depressing place? Is what we see and hear the reality? Are the shortcomings and failures and sins of the human heart winning? Sometimes it feels like they are.
“So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.”
This story about the loaves and the fishes has always grabbed the imagination of the faithful. It’s one of those miracles that sticks with us, one that is impossible to forget or resist. Somehow Jesus feeds more than it seems possible with what is at hand. The story we heard in our First Reading is less familiar to most of us, but it is actually quite similar. Elisha also somehow feeds more than what seems possible with what is at hand.
As a child, the story we just heard in the Gospel came across to me as being some kind of divine “magic trick”. I guess I thought it was pretty “cool” or “impressive” or “awesome” or whatever other adjective you want to use. It made me think that Jesus must have been a pretty great person. After all, who else could do what he did? Nobody.
And sometimes it tells me that as adults, we often simply stick with that sort of understanding of this story. We get “stuck” in being amazed by what Jesus did, and somehow never ask the follow-up questions:
What could this story possibly mean for me?
How am I supposed to understand it?
Is it just a story about Jesus, or is it also a story about us, his followers?
Or is it just a “cool” thing that Jesus did?
How we answer those questions matters. You see, if this story is only about Jesus – well, then we can just be impressed from a distance, admire what Jesus was able to do. But what if this story is a kind of template – a representation of what each of us is called to do? Wouldn’t that make all the difference in the world?
Jesus took what seemed like not enough, and somehow had some left over.
Elisha took what seemed like not enough, and somehow had some left over.
We look at the world, we look within ourselves, and what do we see? Sadly, we often see not enough. But with God, there is no such thing. God wastes nothing. He uses anything and everything to bring about an abundance. And these things of God never run out. There is always more. Always some left over to be used to bring about some good and holy and beautiful thing. And again, there is some left over. And that cycle never ends.
As Christians, we must resist the temptation to look at the world and give in to fear. Or worries. Or negativity. Or cynicism. Or despair. God calls us to resist these things – resist the knee-jerk reaction of simply seeing the worst in ourselves and the worst in others. But that takes real faith. Deep faith. The kind of faith that allows us to hold on to hope and possibility despite the challenges of this life. The bad things we see happening in our lives and in our communities and across the globe are not the things that get the last say. God does. God is who will take the things at hand – you and me – and feed the world. And we never have to worry if there will be enough, if we will have enough, if we will BE enough.
Enough kindness. Enough generosity. Enough mercy. Enough love.
These things, my dear people of God, can never run out. And God provides them to every person with an open heart, every person open to grace, every person committed to doing what he or she can do to make the world a better place. Today, I’m inviting you to take another look at the world. And you’ll see all kinds of possibilities.