04 January 2011

SEND THEM AWAY?

Tuesday After Epiphany
Mk 6:34-44

In a season that overflows with food, we have a gospel today (Mk 6:34-44) that talks about the lack of it. Well, at least, it begins that way.

A large crowd followed Jesus. They were like sheep without a shepherd that is why Jesus took pity on them, said the gospel-writer. A sheep without a shepherd connotes vulnerability. For the shepherd is supposed to provide protection and care to the sheep, to his sheep most especially. The crowd that followed Jesus was vulnerable.

But following Jesus seemed to have heightened their vulnerability. They were in a “lonely place” and it was getting very late already, and not one of them, including the apostles, were sure about the food supply. The only thing that the Twelve were certain was that their food provision would not suffice to feed them plus the crowd. Hence, their unsolicited advice to Jesus: Send the people away.

Jesus knew better: He kept the crowd just where it was (interestingly, at the height of their vulnerability!). And to His disciples He also made clear their own vulnerability. Instead of sending the people away to buy food for themselves, Jesus sent His disciples to examine their supply: “Give them something to eat yourselves,” He commanded them. How could He be so sure that the disciples had something? He even asked them how many loaves they have. Then, He commanded them again: “Go and see.” When the disciples return to Him with a reply, they could not be more honest: they volunteered more information about their provision. They had not only five loaves of bread but also two fish! And we all know the rest of this miraculous story. All – that means the crowd as well as the disciples – ate as much as they wanted. Twelve baskets of scraps of bread and pieces of fish were even collected after dinner! And how many dined by the way? A mere five thousand men!

Where then is the vulnerability in this story?

Hunger makes us all vulnerable, does it not? Some people do extreme measures if only to satisfy their hunger or their loved one’s hunger. In world history, wars were fought because of the scarcity of food. If indeed, as an old saying says, the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then an empty stomach renders a person not necessarily unlovable but certainly unloving. And when hunger strikes, man is at his weakest. His vulnerability is at its strongest.

But Jesus showed in the gospel today that such should not be the case. Vulnerability can make people unite to address and resolve a crisis. Sending people away the first instance that the crisis manifests itself is always the easy way but never the best solution. The crisis remains and may even worsen. The best way to resolve a given crisis is for people to unite together, bring out whatever each has, and dare share even the little there is. Running away, indeed, as always, never solves anything.

The people who gathered and followed Jesus had their own vulnerability. Some of them were sick, some possessed, and still others were searching for something that would give meaning to their lives. In fact, even before the crowd in the gospel today gathered and followed Jesus, the apostles were the first to have gathered and followed Jesus with their own vulnerabilities. The crowd and the disciples – all were weak, vulnerable, hungry for something…for something more than food itself. Jesus showed them how to satisfy their hunger, to conquer their vulnerabilities, to face their weaknesses. Jesus taught them love.  He taught them love by loving them.

Sending people away – especially when they are hungry, when they are in need – is not love. Love gathers and unites even in the worst of situations, in fact, especially in the worst situations. Not bringing out what one has for fear of losing everything kept for the self is not love. Love is dying to one’s self. Love gathers, not disperses. Love shares, not hides. Love is the answer to hunger – gastronomical or spiritual – as love alone conquers all kinds of vulnerability.

In a season that overflows with food, we have a gospel today that talks about the lack of it. It begins that way, but it does not end that way however. The story closes with the hungry fed and a super abundant surplus collected. How about your story this season – how will it end? As always it is, the choice is yours!

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