God does a lot with a little
It was 1929.
The United States and much of the world
were sinking into the depths of the Great Depression.
Two Capuchin friars, Fr. Herman Buss and Fr. Solanus Casey,
collaborated with the lay men and women
who were members of what was then called the Third Order of St. Francis
to start the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
The ministry was their response to the growing number of people
coming to the door of St. Bonaventure Monastery seeking something to eat.
In those early years, the meals were very simple:
a hearty soup with bread.
The friars relied largely on donations to make the operation work.
One day, however, they faced a problem:
there was little bread and hundreds of hungry people stood in line!
The friars had neither the time nor the money to buy enough.
One of them ran to the Monastery to tell Fr. Solanus about the problem.
stepped out of his office,
made a sign of the cross in the direction of the Third Order Hall,
and assured the friar that God would provide.
A few minutes later, a truck filled with bread arrived!
Everyone had enough to eat.
Tomorrow we will celebrate
the Church’s first official memorial day for Blessed Solanus Casey,
who famously urged pilgrims and those pleading for divine favors
and even miracles to “thank God ahead of time.”
Perhaps by another act of divine providence,
our scriptures today feature two stories of multiplied bread
to remind us of the abundant love, grace and care of God
even in the face of apparent scarcity.
In our first reading a man brings to the prophet Elisha
a humble but substantial offering.
Barley loaves were the bread of the poor,
but the offering was of “the first fruits” of the harvest.
Before feeding himself or selling his grain,
the man makes sure to make an offering in thanksgiving to God
through God’s servant, Elisha.
The prophet, in turn,
instructs his servant to share the loaves with the people.
The servant is incredulous and embarrassed:
how can he set such a seemingly meager amount before so many people?
Elisha, however, encourages him to go ahead;
and everyone has more than enough to eat.
Our gospel reading follows a similar pattern,
though we might call it a story of last resorts rather than first fruits.
With the feast of Passover near,
Jesus tries to get away to a mountain with his disciples.
But they are pursued by a crowd of people
hungry to experience the grace and power of Jesus’ works and words.
Jesus begins to teach them,
and after some time he sees that they have grown physically hungry, too.
He commands his disciples to give them something to eat.
Like Elijah’s servant,
the disciples are astounded and frightened by this request.
They don’t have anything close to the money required
to buy the amount of food needed to feed the crowds.
In fact, they can barely scrounge together five loaves of bread and a couple of fish! Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, asks the obvious question:
“What good are these for so many?”
Like Elijah before him and Bl. Solanus after him,
Jesus accepts what he has,
thanks God for it,
and trusts in divine providence to do the rest.
We know how this story ends.
John’s gospel notes that the miracle of feeding the 5000+
happened near the time of Passover.
That is a significant detail.
Unlike the synoptic gospels,
John’s gospel doesn’t feature what we call an Institution Narrative,
that is Jesus offering bread and wine at Passover
as his Body and Blood.
John uses this story as the catalyst
for what has become known as the Bread of Life discourse,
an extended reflection that will encompass the rest of Chapter 6.
It is here, rather than at the Last Supper (where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet),
that Jesus invites those who would follow him
to eat his Body and drink his Blood.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion,
we say yes to that invitation,
we give thanks for what we have,
and we trust in God’s grace and goodness to supply what we need.
Writing to the early church in Ephesus,
St. Paul issues a further invitation:
“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”
What does that mean in practice?
Paul spells it out for us
with the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance,
and “striving for unity through the bond of peace.”
Given what we too often witness and experience
in our world, our nation, our church and even in families today,
what Paul describes here is truly “an alternative lifestyle!”
Could it make a difference?
Just ask St. Andrew about those five loaves and two fish,
or Elisha’s servant about those 20 barley loaves,
or Bl. Solanus about that bread truck.
God can always do a lot with what seems to be a little. +