In times of personal, family, community or even global crisis as we are now, basic science calls on us to retreat from whatever we are doing and reset our present and future. It can be rather hard to retreat from duty when you are in a leadership role and so much of the business, company or governing depends on you. This dependence is sometimes born of people’s expectation that our leader is a ‘strong man’ or ‘strong woman’. Strong people; especially leaders are not expected to breakdown. They are expected to solve every problem and provide direction for everyone else. Sadly, many leaders fall for this expectation and that has more than often proved to be catastrophic in some cases. I would like to centre this reflection around the theme of ‘self-awareness and care’ a matter that is consistently evading this our ever-competitive world.
In today’s gospel, our Lord has just received the sad news about His cousin’s death. As a human, this breaks Him and all He can do is to withdraw to a lonely place and perhaps ‘cry or mourn’ His cousin Saint John the Baptist. You would think that the crowd will give Him and His disciples that space, right? Not a chance! They all already rush to the place on foot and as Jesus and His disciples arrive, they find this crowd in the desert waiting for Him. As God, He takes pity on them; forgetting His own loss and begin to teach them till it is rather late. This presents its own crisis for the disciples: what will the people eat? So, they go to the man who can ‘fix it all’ and ask Him to send the people away. This man Jesus will not do that. He turns it on the disciples and asks them to provide food for the people.
There is a challenge I would like to highlight here. The disciples do not just quite understand who it is that they are following. Jesus’ desire is for all people to gather around Him, be healed and converted. …this is the will of him who sent me; that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me… (John 6:39). It is absurd to note that His disciples want the crowd gone. Shamefully, this is the sort of experience some of us endure when we seek help from some authority in the Church, the community or from those who govern us in the wider society. Some junior staff who should be assisting their superiors in reaching out to individuals or the community can sometimes block that line of communication because it is not convenient for them. Sadly, ramifications of such actions usually put the leader in poor standing with the community; even when the fault is squarely not theirs. As Christians; more so baptised and confirmed Catholics, it is our responsibility to guide our brothers and sisters to Jesus. There should be nothing in our way of life that prohibit others from knowing and being around Jesus.
No matter what crisis we find ourselves in, God certainly intervenes even if He appears to be ‘delaying’ to do so. For the disciples, the crisis was how they were possibly going to feed such a huge crowd in the desert. For the crowd, it was hunger, thirst and darkness that was soon covering the desert coupled with the sickness they had brought to Jesus for healing. What Jesus requires of us is our trust and cooperation. The disciples are being realistic and logical when they say to Jesus, all we have here are five loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many? What the author of this Gospel, Saint Mathew does for us is to present Jesus to us as the new Moses who fed the Israelites on manna in the desert but also allow us to see Jesus as the Bread of life as presented to us in the Gospel of Saint John. But that is not all, when Jesus asks His disciple who people said or thought He was, they said some thought He is a prophet. There is a clear parallel drawn for us here about what the prophets Elijah and Elisha did in the Old Testament and what Jesus is now doing in this Gospel account. In so doing, Jesus becomes as it were the fulfilment of God’s promises through the prophets.
Jesus having ordered the crowds to be seated, he takes the loaves, raises His eyes to heaven, blesses the loaves and hands them to His disciples to be distribute to the crowd. He does the same with the fish. We are told, they all ate as much as they wanted and scraps were collected; twelve baskets full. The words and actions of Jesus point to the last supper when He instituted the Eucharist and they are words we hear over and over whenever we attend Mass. Jesus will or rather has become the Bread of life as acclaimed in the Gospel of Saint John. The idea that twelve baskets full of scraps are collected of the remains is quite telling for us. Israel was made up of twelve tribes represented by the twelve apostles. The most logical interpretation of this gospel element is that our good Lord provides sustenance for all His people. There is enough in the world for all people to live a comfortable life. We must then ask ourselves why there are thirsty and hungry people in a world full of food that sometimes ends up in landfill bins. We are called to value food, be generous to those who do not have enough to eat and shun greed. We are called to take care of each other as a faith and Eucharistic community.
Fr Cyprian Shikokoti, Parish Priest