Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? (John 6:9)
Jesus must have been the most dynamic of preachers. Scripture says that people would follow him as he preached throughout the day and into early evening. Such is the case in this passage. The story of Jesus feeding the multitude who had been with him is related in all four gospels, but John adds an interesting detail. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the food that is multiplied belongs to the apostles. But in John, the apostles are like the crowd – they have nothing and are in need. However, Philip tells Jesus that there is a boy who has five barley loaves (the common food of the poor) and a couple of dried fish.
Whenever I read this, I wonder if the boy offered his meager meal or if it was “volunteered” for him. Since no fight or screaming match is mentioned, and I cannot picture Jesus stealing from a child, perhaps he did indeed offer what he had to the rabbi who had been feeding his heart and soul all day. Jesus takes the humble offering, gives thanks to his Father and distributes the food to the hungry multitude. When the leftovers are gathered, there is an overflow, enough to fill twelve baskets.
This revelation of who Jesus is would not have been possible without the generosity of this boy, a person easily overlooked by adults, easily disregarded by a society that values power and strength. Yet “it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs,” to the small, the little ones of this world. And it is in their want and vulnerability that God’s presence is often manifested.
This boy, this child, can be our teacher. Each of us has been given food to share with others: the food of learning, a wide variety of talents, wisdom, humor, compassion, justice, peacemaking, the list goes on and on. This food comes in unique wrappings, containers of various sizes, shapes and colors that can never, and will never, be duplicated in human history. No one sees the world exactly the way you do. No one can express love and understanding as you do. No one, in all human history, can reflect the healing, life-giving presence of Jesus Christ to the world in just the way you can. But this will only take place if you and I approach Jesus with humility and offer your very self to him for his use and in service to him.
You may be tempted to say that you have nothing to give, no talent to make your corner of the world a bit brighter, the burdens of others lighter. But you are wrong. All of us have been blessed from birth with at least one loaf of bread that can be shared among those who hunger. Perhaps you have not discovered it as yet. Then pray that the Spirit of the living God will enlighten you mind as to the gifts that have been poured out upon you. Approach Jesus, and offer yourself to him, to be used as he desires. Then, not only will you bring the reality of God’s presence to others, you yourself will be more than satisfied because of God’s goodness to you.
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.