GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT
A Reflection from the Christian Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
The readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time provide a remedy for any of us suffering from the viral infection known as “consumerism.” In this time of pandemic, we have been invited to live with a life-changing sense of simplicity. Many are in withdrawal from those unnecessary things we once held essential to our desires but unnecessary for our lives. We need to be patient with ourselves realizing that compassion for others is the antidote to what ails us. All of us are discovering anew how precious we are to one another as we long for the day when we can embrace our friends and hug our grandchildren. Suddenly, the question is not “what” is of value but “who” is precious to us.
The Jewish Tradition blesses us in the first reading from Isaiah 55: 1-3. The question is pointedly posed, “Why spend your wages on that which does not satisfy?” Why indeed? As a society, we are recovering from the dangerous subjectivism and greed implied in the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The question seems to suppose that being “better off” means have more things. The real question does not center around the investment portfolio but the generosity of one’s heart. “Are you a better person than you were just a while ago?” True happiness is found in the service of others. Anyone who has ever had a friend or a companion knows the joy of sharing bread with them even at your own expense. True satisfaction is found in self-giving. We need to take account of ourselves. What really satisfies is a life lived with integrity of heart, generosity of soul, and peace of mind.
Jesus challenges his disciples (and us) to be people of extraordinary self-giving. To give of ourselves even when we judge purse and pantry to be insufficient and scarce of necessary provisions. “You give the hungry something to eat!”, he exclaimed to his disciples who often feared the guests will outnumber the resources. They were looking for a store while Jesus was inviting them to search the abundance lurking in the depths of their hearts.
Finally, he took their not enough bread and too few fish and gave thanks. Are we not always stunned by people who live lives of gratitude? They are always finding abundance in the midst of scarcity. They have an uncommon courage. Astonishingly, there is more than enough when gratitude gives birth to generosity in the brokenness of the moment. As one man in the street said, “There is always a way to care for someone even if you don’t have what you need or want!” The man with nothing was satisfied, in ways many with abundance cannot understand or imagine.
Consider our present situation. We may be disappointed we cannot do what we would like to do. We cannot be with family and friends as we so desire. The feelings and reality of separation are actually our generous self-giving that others may be safe. Our sense of loneliness is born from our love and care for one another. Our desire to walk in the streets protesting injustice is the sign of our solidarity with all those witnessing to a new birth of what it means to be a people, a family, a neighborhood, a Nation, and a World. This is the abundance of love in the midst of heartbreak and uncertainty.
Blessings to you, Holy Ones, who in this moment of brokenness, dare to courageously share the bread of your self-giving with the broken-hearted of this World.