It certainly is a Gospel story that feeds the hungry who follow him, sort of like the daily feeding of the hungry they provide at the now famous St. John’s Soup Kitchen, or even on a smaller scale like our own food pantry here at our Church. It’s also a Gospel story of not wasting the precious commodity of food, being commanded by Christ to gather up not only the bread and fish left over, but also find enough wicker baskets to place the food in. Wicker baskets don’t fall out of the sky, do they? It’s also a Gospel story that tells us of the power of Jesus’ words, his teachings, how they speak to the human heart in ways that touch us deeply if we so open ourselves to his verbal power. The proof being the number of people who follow him, leaving behind their homes and daytime jobs to allow his heavenly persuasion to form and shape them into persons they previously were not. We do well to do likewise.
There are many angles to this Gospel story of a large, hungry crowd following Jesus to an out-of-the-way deserted place where there are no grocery stores to purchase enough food to satisfy their hunger. They’ve backed themselves into a hunger corner. But the angle at the heart of this rich story is that of Divine Concern.
Jesus tests Philip, asking, “Where can we buy enough food for all of them?” Poor Philip is dumbfounded. He’s at a loss, where we sometimes are. While Philip is at a loss, Christ is confident that this hunger problem will be solved; that this puzzle will be put together. But not in the normal way of putting a puzzle together. Divine Concern is not your normal, average human form of concern for the basic needs of others or us. It would be nice if we could say that our concern for the hungry, the sick, or whoever is in need is just as powerful and solves problems as well as Divine Concern does. But that wouldn’t be accurate.
We can say that our concern for others is an extension of God’s concern for us. But on our own we cannot match the love and concern of God’s generosity. What human being could feed 5000 men, thousands more women and children, with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish? And then have 12 wicker baskets left over when there was only one basket to begin with carried by a young boy? Beware of those who either promise you things they cannot deliver on, or those who think they can irrationally fill the shoes of God without God’s partnership.
Without Christ, first of all, there would not be a crowd in this Gospel. Without Christ, the stadium would be empty, including this one here on the hill. The crowd gathers because he speaks God’s truth with authority and love. They hunger for more of his word, just like we do. And, like the crowd that day in the Gospel, this is a good place to be.
Without Christ, the crowd would starve and steal from the boy carrying the loaves and fish. Things would get very ugly, like a Red Sox-Yankees brawl. The Apostle Philip talks money – 200 days wages are not enough to feed such a vast crowd – and, Andrew talks about a boy with a few fish and bread. Both Apostles show genuine concern for the hungry crowd; Philip with his lack of money, Andrew with his lack of food. But their concern hits a stone wall when it comes to the big job of feeding everyone there. That’s one form of physical and spiritual surgery they cannot perform. This is why we don’t place our faith in human beings alone, especially for the big stuff. We place our faith in human beings who are open to the presence of God in their lives. Which Philip, Andrew, and the rest of the Apostles are. Probably even Judas was open at this early stage before Satan sifts him like wheat.
The crowd is fed and satisfied because of Divine Concern, which translates into human beings working in union with the power of God. This is a very good place for our faith to be when addressing the needs of others and ourselves. Not only is the food abundant to satisfy their hunger, but his grace is abundant to satisfy the more serious needs of death, suffering, addiction, labor issues, and all that causes concern to body, mind, and soul.
Whatever our concerns, we don’t need to go it alone. We can make some headway if we try to, like 5 loaves and 2 fish worth of headway. But that won’t satisfy the crowd within us. If we want wicker baskets left over, for future use, then invite Christ, invite Divine Concern into your world. Go to your inner room, and invite Divine Concern into your life.
12 wicker baskets left over: what’s in each one, besides bread and fish? The 1st basket; love. 2nd basket; mercy. 3rd basket; generosity. 4th basket; concern. 5th basket; grace. 6th basket; power. 7th basket; assistance. 8th basket; peace. 9th basket; faith. 10th basket; goodness. 11th basket; rescue. 12th basket; life. None of which we can give to ourselves or to others on our own. All of which we can offer and experience with Christ alongside.