A Test of Faith
“Christ sent out the apostles as the ministers of his divine will. They were to proclaim that spiritual gospel which runs above natural law and written codes, and to call men to himself.” – St. Procopius of Gaza
Luke 9:1-17: He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere. Meanwhile Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was going on; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see him.
On their return the apostles gave him an account of all they had done. Then he took them with him and withdrew to a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves. But the crowds got to know and they went after him. He made them welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing. It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, ‘Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.’ They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.
Christ the Lord Imagine the apostles’ impression as Jesus sent them out on their first missionary journey. He hands them over a share of his own divine power, instructing them to cast out demons, perform miracles, and preach to the crowds. Which of the Twelve was naturally qualified for that kind of an assignment? And just to make sure they don’t get cocky, Jesus tells them to travel without supplies – they are to depend entirely on God’s providence. You can picture them furrowing their brows in consternation as they set out, eager but nervous. Even bold Peter must have been shaking a little bit the first time he took on a demon all by himself. But the apostles obey and trust, and the results are substantial – even King Herod hears about their goings on.
Then, imagine the apostles’ reaction when Jesus commanded them to feed dinner to those thousands of people. They utter a whimpering protest, pointing out that they don’t have nearly enough food for that many people. But when Jesus tells them to have the crowds sit down in groups, they do it. What must have been going through their minds? Jesus just keeps stretching their faith. And then he takes their loaves and fish and miraculously multiplies them.
More than our brilliant minds, rich personalities, and fabulous organizational skills, God needs us to give him our trust and our faith. With those, he can expand our small efforts and ideas into miraculous proportions, extending his Kingdom to thousands of souls – many more than we could have reached by trusting merely in our paltry human qualities. He is the Lord; we are only his ambassadors.
Christ the Teacher Sometimes we are afraid of giving ourselves completely to God because we think we won’t have anything left for ourselves. When he asks us to give up the things that we think make us the happiest, we hesitate. Jesus knows that we struggle with this. In the multiplication of the loaves, he teaches us a lesson to allay those fears.
The apostles were no doubt hungry after a long day of ministry. They had little enough food for themselves (five large loaves and two fish would hardly satisfy a dozen brawny men). Jesus asks them to give it all away. They probably handed them over reluctantly, mouths watering. But Jesus took the food, blessed it, broke it, and gave it back to the disciples to distribute to the crowds (the same four verbs used in the consecration of the bread during the Mass). And at the end, each disciple had an entire basket full of food for his own little feast.
Christ will never, never be outdone in generosity. The more we give to him, the more we will receive. As St Luke put it in another passage of his Gospel, Jesus said: “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back” (Luke 6:38). When God asks us to empty ourselves, it’s only so he can have room to fill us up with something better.
Christ the Friend When Jesus walked the dusty trails of Palestine, he did so for the sake of the people who lived there. He “talked to them about the kingdom,” he “healed those who needed to be cured,” and he fed them when they were hungry. His whole life was for others. The mere fact that he came to earth at all tells us that much. The fact that he has remained with us not only in the Holy Scriptures, not only in the living Church, not only in the examples of the saints, but even under the humble and silent appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist, only makes it that much clearer. Christ came for us! He lived for us, died for us, and rose for us, and he is still here with us, for our sakes. He has not changed since the day he multiplied the loaves for the hungry crowds. He has not all of a sudden become selfish, harsh, and unforgiving. And yet, we often act as if he had. We keep ourselves at a distance; we let doubts and hesitations mar our friendship with him; we leave him alone in the Tabernacle, not even dropping by to say hello. What more could he have done for us to declare his love?
Christ in My Life I wonder how many times my small-mindedness has inhibited your action in and through my life. I get tangled up in complicated considerations and excuses that simply don’t take into account the primacy of your grace. Lift me out of the swamp of foolish self-sufficiency! You are the general; I am just a soldier on the battlefield. Teach me to trust, obey, and give my all…
I want to be generous with you, Lord. Most of the time, when I’m honest with myself, I know what you are asking of me. But many times I am simply afraid to make the sacrifice. I keep thinking that the result will be boring, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. But would you ever ask of me something that wasn’t best for me? Jesus, I trust in you…
You are always thinking of me. Teach me to think of you more often. Teach me to live life deeply and wisely, in constant contact with you, talking things over with you, keeping close to you. Lord Jesus, be my refuge and my strength…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Saint Anthony Catholic Church (Temperance, MI) – loaves and fish mural, Nheyob, own work, 12 August 2013, CCA-SA, Wikipedia Commons.