Sunday, July 25, 2021



There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?

John 6:1-13

What really happened that afternoon a long time ago when a young boy’s five loaves and two fish were shared with five thousand and all went home fed, with plenty left over? Something so wonderful happened that day that the story of it has come down to us in all four gospels. It is one of our most regular readings throughout the year. What really happened?

Maybe it was a literal miracle of multiplication. Maybe those five loaves and two fish were miraculously and instantly turned into hundreds of loaves and hundreds of fish by Jesus by simply waving his hands over them. That’s how many of us have always understood it.

Maybe it was just a spiritual miracle like we do every Sunday here in the Eucharist. Maybe everybody came forward to receive a crumb and a pinch from the five loaves and two fish from those in charge of its distribution (like you do from Eucharistic ministers) and everybody went home spiritually fed that day.

However, there is still another explanation, one that is a little less mysterious, another explanation that is a little more ordinary, but miraculous nonetheless. Let’s lay aside our traditional understanding and prejudices for a moment and take a closer look at the details of this story for a possible better understanding of what actually happened.

It is highly doubtful that a crowd that big would have left on a nine-mile hike without making preparation – a few maybe, but certainly not five thousand people.  There are two reasons I can think of that would have prevented them from not being prepared. (1) There were no stores and restaurants lining the roads back then like we have today. (2) Jews were very particular about their food. It had to be kosher. No Jew would think of leaving home without his bottle-shaped basket with its truss of hay for sleeping and its kosher food for eating.

Probably what happened was that people kept what they had hidden from such a hungry crowd, lest there not be enough for themselves. It was only when Jesus took the young boy’s five barley loaves and two sardines, blessed them and broke them and began to pass them around that a willingness to share was triggered in the crowd. When this example of sharing spread through the crowd, people pulled out what they had and began to share it. As a result, everybody had their fill and there was a lot left over. I favor this explanation for several reasons

First, we need to remember that one of the things that Jesus rejected when it was offered to him by the devil when he was in the desert discerning the direction of his ministry was magically producing bread to feed hungry people. The devil suggested that Jesus turn rocks into bread. Jesus could, not doubt, have done that but he rejected it. Rather, he knew that if people would just change their minds about shortages and share the resources of the world, there would be no need for such “rocks into bread” magic.

Second, if it were just about Jesus’ power to miraculously produce bread and fish from thin air, then we might be amazed and even admire the power that Jesus had, but we could not pull off such events ourselves. No, this is a miracle alright, but it is a miracle of sharing. It is something we can do even today. The best example I can think of is a church potluck dinner. I have seen this miracle take place hundreds of times at those potluck dinners. Families arrive, each with their bowl of beans or their basket of fried chicken or their carton of potato salad or their bag of buns or their lemon pie or their pot of green beans --- on and on! They put all those little bowls and baskets of food on a long table. The pastor says a blessing over all of it. People line up and fill their plates. When it is all over, everybody is stuffed and there is usually plenty left over to take to the shut-ins.

We are used to calling this miracle the “multiplication of the loaves” even though the story never mentions the word “multiplication” in referring to the loaves. I believe it should more accurately be called the “miracle of sharing.” If we do, we don’t have to stop at admiring it as a historical event from years ago, we can repeat it today!

This miracle actually goes on downstairs almost every day. Various businesses donate their surplus, left over, day old or slightly damaged food items to our kitchen – food that would otherwise be thrown away. A crew of volunteers take them and turn them into meals for hundreds of street people. If you have ever witnessed it up close, you realize that it is a little miracle being worked right in front of you.

At the risk of talking about it too much, many of you know that I had been volunteering down in the Caribbean missions in my retirement until COVID and a volcano eruption put a stop to me. I was seeing this miracle repeat itself right in front of my eyes. I witnessed how much good can come from people sharing “just five loaves and two fish.”

Over a five-year period, we sent down three 40’ shipping container of surplus medical supplies collected by a local organization of volunteers called S.O. S. – Supplies Over Seas. They came from our regional hospitals – items that would have gone into the landfill because of our laws and rules about expiration dates and cross contamination.  S.O.S. has tons of it in their warehouse over on Arlington Avenue near Saint Frances of Rome. They give it away for free, but charge processing costs and transportation by truck, train and ship to poor areas of the world. Typically, poor countries get close to a half-million dollars worth of perfectly usable medical supplies for a pittance. 

One of the other things I was doing was to try help the school children and orphans. In fact, we had computer camps for very poor kids for two summers. They were using the re-conditioned and used computers that we collected. A public school “kids’ computer teacher” from here in Louisville went down there both summers. That little country does not have a welfare system like ours so people either do without or depend on people willing to help them. I was also focused on two orphanages run by two aging Carmelite Sisters. Toward the end, I had expanded to help the kids in the Catholic schools on the main island.

One of the needs I discovered was a need for school supplies – even down to pencils and pens. Businesses down there do not give away free pens like they do here, so to have a pen they need to spend a couple of dollars. Even the Bishop’s Pastoral Centre always had a pen shortage when I was down there. One day, I noticed that I had used pens in almost every drawer in my house. I noticed that hundreds of them are left on the tables after the priest retreats I led across the US and Canada. I decided to clear out my own desk drawers, my kitchen drawers and my nightstands. I started gathering them up from the tables after my priest retreats. Then a couple of weeks later, I got the bright idea that I would announce a “used ball point pen drive” on my blog. The first responder was a woman in Elizabethtown who found 32 laying around her house. I got a box of used pens from North Carolina. A big box of them with business logos was sent from Florida. I got over 200 of them from a Cathedral attender and his sons. I would sometimes find a bag of them tied to my doorknob when I got home.  I witnessed a “used ball point pen” miracle. To us they pile up in our “junk drawers,” but to the school kids down in the islands, they became “miraculous school supplies” because a bunch of people came forward and offered their version of “just five loaves and two small fish.” 

As I read and re-read the story in today’s gospel, I hope and pray that this gospel comes alive for you, and you have your own experience of the “miracle” that comes from sharing “even a little bit.”  Miracles are not triggered by magic! They are triggered by noticing, caring and sharing!





1 comment:

  1. What a great read! We appreciate you Father Knott.