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By Mar Muñoz-Visoso
John 6:1-15 tells the story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed thousands of people. After seeing Jesus’ powerful deeds, the crowds followed him across the Sea of Galilee. Looking at the multitude, Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” The disciple seemed totally dumbfounded. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” Philip replied.
Phillip’s response teaches us something important. Clearly, he was not expecting the Master’s request. Often, we don’t expect it as well. Imagining the logistical nightmare, Philip probably thought How is this our responsibility? They were following us. They should provide for themselves—or should have brought provisions for the journey.
That would have described my first reaction to Jesus’ testing question. Yet as the Gospel story continues, another disciple, Andrew, was undaunted by the question. He got busy, seeing what could be gathered from people nearby. That is when the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish became the Lord’s instrument to perform the amazing miracle of the multiplication, teaching us a powerful lesson with it.
In the story of Elisha and the 20 loaves of barley (2 Kings 4:42-44) as well, faith in God was needed to accomplish the apparently impossible. But also as necessary was the generosity of those who offered from what they had, and the guidance of those who, called to ministry, realized they had to bring the offering to God and ask God to multiply it, not for themselves but for the good of others in need.
Barley bread was not a luxury item in biblical times. So we can reasonably assume that many people who followed Jesus to the other shore did not have much. They followed Jesus seeking healing and hope. Yet Jesus didn’t ignore their most basic physical needs, and he challenged his disciples not to ignore them either.
Moreover, when Jesus asked everyone to “sit down” and eat, he didn’t follow class protocols of the time. The poor did not eat with the rich, and certainly servants did not recline at table with the master’s family. Yet the Lord invites everyone to the banquet. He doesn’t ask whether they deserve it or not. Neither does he hesitate to challenge unjust or unhelpful structures that oppress the poor and have no place in the community of believers.
It is also highly improbable that the boy was the only person in the crowd who had packed provisions for the day. In other words, the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish wasn’t the only one that happened that day. Most likely, in receiving a filling meal from the Lord, those gathered around were faced with the reality that they too had something to share.
Thus, the Lord challenges us to both take personal and social responsibility for eliminating hunger and to learn something from people who are poor at the same time.
Mar Muñoz-Visoso is executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
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