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The Last Word - November 2014

More than Enough

This Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves is a very important Gospel story.  Why do I say that?  Well, a lot of reasons, but the simplest is this:  in the four Gospels, this story is told six times.  John and Luke each report it once, but Matthew and Mark each report it twice.  No other story, not even the resurrection, is reported six times in the four Gospels.  Furthermore, it is loaded with themes and images for Christian teaching and living.  So, I am not going to try to exhaust this miracle in one column.  I am simply going to choose one insight from the story, one appropriate for our consideration as we approach Thanksgiving, and focus in on that.

One of the things this story seems to be reflecting upon is the nature of the world we live in.  Do we live in a world of scarcity or a world of abundance?  And what does that mean for the way we relate to each other and to the world?

The disciples see scarcity.  "This is a deserted place," they say.  "We have nothing but a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Not nearly enough."  But Jesus does not see a scarcity at all but an abundance.  “There is no need for them to go away.  Give them some food yourselves."  They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over – “12 wicker baskets full.”

Now it makes a big difference whether you see the world as a place of scarcity or a place of abundance.  We come into this world with a sense of scarcity. This is original sin.  “I’ve got to grab, hoard, accumulate, pile up, and guard,” we say to ourselves.  The little child soon learns to say, “It’s mine and you can’t have it.”  And as we grow older, if we continue to see the world as a place of scarcity, we learn to say other things like: 

“We better not let in too many of those refugees, even children, from Latin America or Somalia or wherever; they will cost too much to care about them, and they will take American jobs.”

“Don’t give too much to folks on welfare; it might be a drain on the economy.” 

“Don’t raise the minimum wage too much; it might make my hamburger and fries cost more.” 

People who think this is a world of scarcity think that life is a zero sum game:  If I give to you, I am diminished.  The more you have, the less I have.  With such an image of the world, we tend to constantly feel poor, threatened, and insecure.  And the more we have, the more obsessed we become about not sharing with others. 

But Jesus just didn’t see the world that way.  There is not only enough, but there is more than enough to go around.  There are leftovers in abundance.  He teaches us to be effusive, generous, expansive, and gracious.  The more you give away, the more you have, odd as that may seem. 

It may defy common sense, but doesn't the Gospel always defy common sense?  I mean, that crucifix defies common sense.  But we are not a people of mere common sense.  We are people of the Gospel.  That's why we hang the crucifix up there in all our churches: to keep reminding ourselves of self-sacrifice and love of others. To remind ourselves that the more we give away, the more we have.  To remind ourselves that our world and our God provide us with more than we could ever want or need. 

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal