On Faith: It’s not about the loaves

Saint James the Greater Catholic Church. Photo: By Nheyob / Wikimedia Commons

By Rev. Traci D. Blackmon

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”— John 6:9

Hunger is an uncomfortable subject for well-fed people.

In the U.S., where hunger is most often a description of the painful sensation caused by needing food that is available yet not accessible, we alleviated some of that discomfort by shifting our language in 2006 to rename references to hunger as “food insecurity.”

As people of faith, we must note the shift.

With the stroke of the pen, we shifted the narrative from our shoulders to the shoulders of the illusive, yet ever-present “other.”

Hunger holds us accountable for the nourishment of the 795 million people among us who live, daily, with that painful sensation caused by the need for food. Hunger implies a lack of compassion. Food scarcity implies a lack of resources.

No matter how you name it, the reality remains the same. We live in a world of abundance, a world that produces enough food to feed everyone, and yet we live among multitudes of hungry people, most of whom are children.

Our faithful response is to feed them. But how?

As individuals, our resources seem as meager as those of the young boy who shared his lunch with Jesus on the side of a mountain one day. The disciples made the same observation as us. There just isn’t enough. Two fish and five loaves of bread could not possibly feed 5,000 men and their families.

How did Jesus do it?

How did Jesus feed so many with so little?

Often we locate this miracle in Jesus blessing the bread. But what if the miracle is not about how Jesus blessed bread but rather about how the generosity of one little boy broke open hearts?

It is comfortable to wait on God to feed the hungry. 

Jesus blessing the bread allows us to wait. Jesus feeding the hungry lets us off the hook. But what if the real miracle that day happened in the selfish hearts of 5,000 men?

What if when those 5,000 men saw the example of the little boy giving Jesus his five loaves of bread and two fish, those men were inspired to look inside their coats and share the food that they brought with them, food they had been hiding and hoarding because of their own fears of not having enough?

Perhaps the real transformation was not of the loaves, but of the 5,000 selfish hearts.

Most of us would prefer to focus on the loaves.

The magic of multiplying loaves is more comfortable than the miracle of changing of hearts.

Perhaps this story is recorded in all four Gospels for precisely this reason. To remind us that the eradication of hunger does not begin with breaking bread. It begins with breaking open hearts.

If our hearts were changed, as a nation, we could feed the whole world. 

Are you willing to be broken?

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon is acting executive minister of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries.

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