Way back in 2002 (I think – it was somewhere in there), I volunteered to help out at St. James Long Branch with their annual Christmas Dinner, which fed several hundred of our underserved neighbors in the parish hall and delivered a couple hundred more meals to those who couldn’t attend. The fact that they held the dinner on Christmas Day itself made me really fall in love with the place, though the annual summertime Fish Fry didn’t hurt. Anyway, Fr. Doug asked me what special skills I could lend the effort, and I was truly stumped. I couldn’t speak Spanish (and still can’t), and that was a big deal for our expected guests. I shouldn’t be allowed to cook anything (thank God for Doan). I finally stammered something about being able to lift heavy things, which did come in handy considering the size and contents of the coolers coming in and going out of the kitchen. But otherwise, I felt like I really just didn’t have much to offer.
The disciples said to Jesus, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” That’s not much to offer to 5000 men, plus the women and children. None of the disciples had the number for any of the local catering companies, much less the funds to buy much food. Jesus and His disciples were off in a field by a lake, a good hike from the nearest village, and it seemed like they had almost nothing to offer, and they knew it.
But they had fallen victim to a classic blunder. We know that the most famous classic blunder is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” as well as the only slightly less well known “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line.” But even more important is to never forget who you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Jesus.
The disciples failed to take into account what could be called, perhaps, directional focus. They were busy looking at all these people, the harassed and the helpless, who were now, somehow, their problem. First they want Jesus to send them away, let them find their own food, their own comforts. Jesus tells the disciples essentially No, they followed us out here, now you get to feed them.
Where does the focus of the disciples rest next? On the five loaves and two fish, the generous offering of a boy, yet not sufficient for thousands of people.
The disciples got lost because they focused on what they thought was a problem and on the meager resources they had to solve it. They had forgotten who they were dealing with. They had lost their directional focus.
They didn’t need to bring food to the people. They needed to bring the people to Jesus.
Do we fall into the same trap? Of course we do. To return to the Christmas Dinner at St. James, Fr. Doug had me lift heavy things, but he also had me peel potatoes and garlic, take out the garbage, help get volunteers organized, and deliver meals in neighborhoods where other volunteers might have been less safe. Fr. Doug was focused on bringing the people to Jesus and Jesus to the people, not on me as a meager resource. I learned that when the focus is on Jesus and doing His work, talents are revealed, the worst tasks become true joys, and most importantly, even when we see insurmountable problems and meager resources, the people get fed. Loaves and fishes, as they say.
The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand was real; of course the Son of the Living God, He through whom all things were made, can take five loaves and two fish and multiply it to feed thousands. While I don’t expect any of us to do the exact same thing, we can expect miracles. When we keep our focus on Jesus, when we remember who we’re dealing with, anything is possible. Loaves and fishes, as they say.