Matthew 14:13-21 (18th Sunday of Ordinary time, year a)
|Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons|
We are all probably familiar with the expressions “pass the buck” and “cop out”. If you are younger, you will know what it means when someone calls out “shotty not!” Situations regularly arise when we are aware that there is something we should do to help those who are in need. For example, we might hear of an opportunity to donate money or food to help the poor. Or we may know a friend or co-worker who is passing through a hard time and needs someone to talk to. Maybe we realize there are ways we can better support our parish. When we encounter these situations we sometimes choose not to help, knowing that we are able to. We can pass the buck to our neighbors, assuming someone else will take care of the situation. We can even pass the buck to God thinking something like “let Him take care of it, He’s God afterall!” Today’s Gospel makes it clear that if we are serious about following Christ, passing the buck in this way is not really an option.
From the miracle in which Jesus feeds the multitude we learn a fundamental lesson: Jesus helps the needy through the mediation of his followers. Jesus is aware of the needs of the people around Him and desires to help. Pay close attention to how Jesus works this miracle. He does not pull out bread and fish from His own bag, multiply it and then personally hand this out to the crowd. Jesus does say to the people - as in an episode of Oprah - “everyone look under your seats ... surprise, there is a meal there!” This miracle does not happen without the mediation of the disciples. The disciples are those who bring the needs of the people to Jesus’ attention. The disciples provide the five loaves and two fish which Jesus multiples. Finally, the disciples distribute the food to the hungry crowd. Jesus follows this same pattern today. Jesus has compassion on those in need - whether it is the materially poor or the spiritually poor - and helps these people through the mediation of those who follow Him. St. Theresa of Avila recognized this in her famous reflection:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
It is for our own good that Jesus allows us to be mediators in His work of compassion. We may wonder why Jesus does not simply help the needy directly. Why doesn't Jesus just snap His fingers and give food to all the hungry in the world and consolation to the sorrowing? Why must we be His hands? The truth is that Jesus does not need us to be His mediators, rather, we need to become His mediators so that we can grow as His disciples. The other day I was watching my sister and her young son interact as he was trying to put on his shoes. My nephew was struggling and soon became frustrated. He wanted his mom to simply put on the shoes for him. My sister wanted to make him do it on his own. It’s not that she didn't care that he was having trouble. Rather, she knows that if she always put on his shoes for him he would never learn to do it on his own. Parents often interact with their children in this way so that they can grow and develop. When it comes to helping the needy, Jesus does a similar thing with us. By letting the disciples play a role in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus gives them an opportunity to become more like Him by being generous, serving others and more attentive to the needs of others. We are all meant to become more like Jesus. If Jesus simply provided helped the needy directly, without our cooperation, then our growth as Christians would be forever stunted.
It is Imperative that we put our time, talents and treasure at the service of those in need, trusting that God will make our efforts fruitful. Sometimes we hold back from helping those in need because we feel we cannot make a difference. We feel like we wouldn't know what to say to console someone who is sorrowing. Maybe we think we lack the talents or time to get more involved in the parish. Perhaps we feel that the small amount of money that we could donate to some cause is too insignificant to matter. In the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, what the disciples give is so little: 2 fish and 5 loaves. What is this among thousands? Jesus, however, multiplies these gifts and feeds the crowd. If the disciples had not given anything, however, there would be nothing to multiply! With us too, when we give give of our time, talents and treasure to help those in need, we can be sure that Jesus will make our contributions fruitful. A recent example that comes to mind is the life of Mother Teresa. Physically she was so small. She did not posses any advanced degrees or training. She herself was aware of her own weakness. When she was convinced that God was asking her to begin serving the poorest of the poor, she often prayed that God would choose someone who was strong, more talented and better qualified. In the end, Mother Teresa was generous in helping those in need and God made her work extremely fruitful. The world would be a very different place for a great many people if Mother Teresa had not used used her gifts, trusting that God would make her efforts fruitful. Many thousands would have remained in their suffering. She herself would never have become such a remarkable saint.
Passing the buck, copping out or calling “shotty not” are not options if we are serious about following Jesus. Doing this has two negative results: 1) the suffering of the needy will not be alleviated and 2) we will not grow to become more like Jesus. When we are tempted not to help those in need, we would do well to remember a favorite saying of Mother Teresa: “be the one”. When you hear of a way you can help out in your parish think let me be the one. When you get a chance to listen to someone who needs comforting, be the one. When there is an opportunity to help out someone in your family or a coworker with some task be the one. If we desire to grow to become more like Jesus, each of us must want to be the one.