I’ve heard the story a hundred times I’m sure; maybe even more times than that. Jesus tries to slip away. People follow Him. They are hungry. The Apostles encourage Him to send them away. He tells the men to feed the people. T he Apostles inform Him they only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He prays over the food, performs a miracle, and feeds over 5000 people with 12 baskets of food left to spare. Raise your hand if you are also are familiar with Matthew’s story of the multiplication of loaves and fish.
As I sat reading this Gospel on Monday, I felt that God was encouraging me to hear the story in a different way. He wanted me to get something else from the story besides the miracle feeding of 5000. And so, I reread the words in my Bible.
A Story Retold
Maybe it’s because of my station in life right now, but I suddenly could relate to this story in a much different way. The passage opens with “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.” How many times have I wanted to withdraw and just be apart from everyone who needs me? How many times have I felt like I have given and given of myself and just want a break? How many times have I needed to be in a “lonely place” where I could rejuvenate and take a few minutes just for myself? I felt connected with Christ in that moment. He also needed a few moments to be alone.
While there are many times I wish to have a little time to myself, the next lines of the Gospel are also indicative of my life. The crowds followed Jesus. They saw where He went and followed Him. They begged Him to heal their sick. Oh, I know this feeling all too well! No matter where I go, I have others following me. No matter what I do, I am never alone. When someone asks me what I want (as a gift, out of life, or just in general), I often joke that I would love to just go to the bathroom alone and not have an entourage accompanying me. Like Jesus, it seems that there is always someone following me, needing me, at all hours of the day and night. It can be exhausting.
But as I continued reading, I began to understand the direction God was taking me. Upon seeing the crowd and their needs, Christ felt compassion for them. Putting His needs aside for the moment, He went to them and healed their sick. He tended to all their needs- spiritual and physical. He didn’t tell them to wait and He didn’t send them away. Instead, He took care of them. God was reminding me that to follow in Christ’s footsteps I will have to put my own needs aside at times to take care of those whom He has entrusted to my care, even when I am feeling touched-out or tired.
Night fell and the Apostles encouraged Christ to send the people on their way. He instead told the twelve to feed the people. Even though He was tired and had taken care of them all day, He continued to place the crowd’s needs first. When the Apostles couldn’t feed the people, Christ looked to heaven, prayed over the food, and fed the entire crowd.
How many times have I sent my children away or refused to help others because I was “just too tired” to serve anyone anymore? God was reminding me that in those moments I simply have to look to heaven and ask God to bless my gift of self to those I am tending. When I do, He will multiply the blessing that comes from my willingness to serve those He puts into my care.
I have always looked at the story of the loaves and fishes as a way to remember that when we put all that we have in God’s hands, He will multiply it and make it “enough”. I often equate that to our finances, our ability to feed our children, or any other number of material needs and goods. But there is more to this story.
A New Perspective
God is calling us to continue to put others first. We are to serve one another even when we are tired; even when we need a break; even when it would be easier to let someone else do the work. This is not to say that we are never to take time for ourselves. On the contrary! The next lines of Matthew’s Gospel tell us that when Christ was done feeding the five thousand, He sent the Apostles ahead of Him by boat and He went up the mountain to be alone and to pray. Christ took time, at the appropriate time, to take care of His own needs.
In our society, we are told to put ourselves first and to worry about the needs of others only when our own needs have been satisfied. But this is not how Christ lived. He took care of those around Him first and then God granted Him the time He needed for Himself. We have to realize that God will provide those times for us as well. Yes, we need to take care of our needs, but not at the expense of others.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Love ought to consist of deeds more than of words.” Christ modeled this for us when He healed and fed the crowd who followed Him. When we put others’ needs before our own, we too show them not only our love, but Christ’s love as well.
When we give the gift of ourselves to others, let us first offer our deeds to God. He will bless our gift and will multiply it making it more than enough for others and for ourselves. We will find that what is “left-over” is much more than we could ever make on our own.