I was recently reading Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary with my children. A classic from a generation ago, it features a five-year-old Ramona and the trials and tribulations of Kindergarten. One chapter features a battle between her and her neighbor and fellow classmate Howie. She and Howie are really not friends, but their mothers are. Therefore, they end up spending a great deal of time together. In this particular scene they are fighting over a red ribbon. They both have what they perceive to be a rightful claim of ownership to the ribbon. As mothers are prone to doing, one of them tells the two children to share the ribbon. She even suggests that they can cut it in half, thereby solving the problem. About the only thing that Ramona and Howie can agree on is that this is a bad idea! They do not want to share.
As parents, we spend a lot of our time telling our children to share. Sharing does not appear to be an inborn trait. We humans like to own things and keep them for ourselves. Even as adults, sharing is not always easy. This week’s Gospel (Lk 9:11b-17) features that very problem. Jesus and the disciples have 5,000 hungry people on their hands. The disciples want to dismiss them so that they can go find food for themselves. Jesus in turn tells them to feed them. They counter with the fact that they only have 5 loaves and two fishes available. Yet, somehow, once that choice is made to share, there is plenty for everyone.
Over the years, I’ve heard different explanations for this. The most obvious one is that Jesus performed a miracle and multiplied the food that was available. Another explanation is that once the disciples started sharing, the people in the crowd started sharing as well. Everybody shared what they had with their neighbor and then there was plenty. I wasn’t there and I don’t know what happened, but, if that was the scenario, then I would say that was a miracle unto itself.
Sr. Kathryn James Hermes reflects on this Gospel in “Living Faith.” She writes that the disciples in wanting to send the people away were guilty of “stingy thinking.” Some of the time, maybe even most of the time, each one of us is guilty of that mindset. We worry that if we share, we won’t have enough for ourselves, instead of trusting that God will multiply our gift freely given and return it to us. If we share, we will always have enough. That’s a tough lesson for both children and adults to comprehend and accept. I am as guilty of it as the next person. When money is tight, there is always that temptation to cut back on charitable giving. What I have found is that those are the times I actually need to increase it. When I finally make the decision to be brave and trust that God will provide, the financial pressures ease a bit. Learning to share is one of those things that takes a lifetime to master.