Sunday, June 19, 2022


St. Leonard Church and St. Frances of Rome Church
Louisville, KY

The Twelve approached Jesus and said, "Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place
here." Jesus said to them, "Give them some food yourselves."
They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.
Now the men there numbered about five thousand."
Luke 9:11b-17

What really happened that afternoon a long time ago when five loaves and two fish were shared with more than five thousand people 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, but 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. That's how many still explain it. However, I want to point our that the word multiplication is not mentioned in this story. 

Maybe it was just a spiritual miracle like we do every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist. Maybe everybody came forward to receive a pinch from the five loaves and two fish from those in charge of its distribution (much like you do from our 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 new understanding of what actually happened.

It is highly doubtful that a crowd of Jews that big would have left on a nine-mile hike without making preparation – a few maybe, but certainly not more than five thousand people.  There are two reasons I can think of that would have prevented them from not being prepared. (1) There were no big 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 for such a long hike without his bottle-shaped basket with its kosher food for eating. 

Probably what happened was that people were hiding what they had brought from such a hungry crowd, lest there not be enough for themselves. It was only when Jesus took the five barley loaves and two sardines from the Twelve, blessed them, broke them and began passing 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. Remember, the word multiplication is not mentioned in this story. As a result of this sharing, everybody had their fill and there was a lot left over. You can believe it was a literal multiplication if you like, but I personally 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 that solution to hunger. 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 at the power that Jesus had, but we could not pull off such an event ourselves. No, this is a miracle alright, but I personally believe that it is a miracle of sharing, not some miraculous multiplication. I believe that what happened is something that we, working together, can do even today. It's a miracle we, working together, can perform. The most obvious example I can think of is a church pot luck dinner. I have seen this miracle take place hundreds of times at such pot luck 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 texts never mentions the word “multiplication.” That word has merely been assigned to the text. I believe it should more accurately be called the “miracle of sharing.” If we call it that, we don’t have to stop at admiring it as a historical event that Jesus performed many years ago, we can repeat it today! Let me share a couple of other ways we can, together, repeat what happened. 

As many of you know, before COVID and a volcanic eruption, I had been volunteering down in the Caribbean missions in my retirement. While working down there, I saw this miracle repeat itself right in front of my eyes. I witnessed how much good can come from the experience of people sharing versions of “just five loaves and two fish.”

Three times, we sent down a 40’ shipping container of surplus medical supplies collected by a local organization of volunteers called S.O. S. – Supplies Over Seas. These left-overs come from out of 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 not far from Saint Francis of Rome. They give it away for free, while charging only processing costs and shipping 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.

I made 12 trips down there altogether. When I was down there on my tenth trip, I toured their new hospital in the very north end of the main island. It was built by an international charity. As we went from room to room, there they were, the medical supplies that we had loaded into one of those 40’ shipping container here in Louisville the year before! They considered it a miracle and so did I. It made me proud, but I was also blown away by the fact there is so much waste in our country and so much need in others. The volunteers at S.O.S. are working miracles every month, right here is Louisville, by sharing our unused medical supplies with those who are more than overjoyed to use it. 

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 up here, so to own a pen or two they would need to spend a couple of Caribbean dollars. Even the Bishop’s Pastoral Centre always had a pen shortage when I was down there. Back home, one day I noticed that I had used pens in almost every drawer in my house. I had also noticed that hundreds of them were being left on the tables after the priest retreats I had been leading across the US and Canada. I decided to clear out my desk draw, my kitchen drawers and my night stands. I even started gathering them up from the tables after my priest retreats - hundreds of them that the hotels could no re-use. As time went by, 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 came from Florida. I got over 200 of them from a former Cathedral parishioner. I ended up in the middle of a “used ball point pen miracle.” I gathered several thousand used pens. To us, used pens pile up in our “junk drawers,” but to the poor school kids down in the islands, they became  “miraculous school supplies” simply because a bunch of good people came forward and offered their version of “just five loaves and two small fish.”

I have moved on to a more local ministry down in my home parish in Meade County after COVID and the volcano eruption so I no longer volunteer in the Caribbean missions or collect stuff to send down there, but as I read and re-read the story in today’s gospel, I hope and pray that this gospel comes alive for you so that you can have your own experience of the “miracle” that comes from sharing “even a little bit.”






1 comment:

  1. Thank you Fr Ron for sharing that innovative viewpoint on today’s gospel. I am taken with your interpretation which is not only imaginative but credible. Of course when it comes to the topic of sharing, you are a master-hand at understanding and appreciating what lies at its heart and how it can radically and profoundly impact on our lives. In the words of Zain Hashmi “Happiness comes from helping others, by being with others, and by sharing, even if its only a smile”