Loaves and Fish and Faith-Inspired Generosity
When I looked at the readings for this week my first thought was, “Oh, no. Not the loaves and fishes again.” It seems like this story comes up about once a month. Not really, but we’ve heard the story so many times, what can I say about it that you haven’t heard before?
Actually, this is Jesus’ only miracle, other than the Resurrection, that appears in all four Gospels. That’s why we hear it so often. But if you look at all four versions, each one is slightly different. In Luke and John’s telling of the story, there are FIVE loaves. Mark and Matthew say there were SEVEN.
In John’s Gospel there is a boy who has five loaves in two fish. In the other three versions, including Matthew’s, which we read today, the disciples come up with the food themselves. But the differences aren’t that important. It was a miracle, whether Jesus started with five loaves or seven and no matter where the bread and fish came from.
But there is a small difference in Matthew’s telling of the story which makes it unique. It’s only one sentence. But it is significant. When Jesus asks them for something to feed the people, the disciples say, “FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH ARE ALL WE HAVE.”
Think about that! Jesus isn’t asking them for SOME food, He’s asking them for ALL THAT THEY HAVE. They must have been thinking, “But, what will WE eat tomorrow?” Of course, we know the answer. After the multitude is fed, there are twelve wicker baskets of food left over. One for each of them! Clearly, there’s a message here for us. Mark, Luke, and John focus on the miracle itself. Matthew offers us a lesson on selfless giving.
You and I are always asked to give. Give to the Church. Give to the poor. Give to the hungry. Give to this special collection and that special collection. Give to the ACA. And, on and on and on. But how much are we supposed to give? Shouldn’t we take care of our own needs first?
The Old Testament tells us we should tithe. That’s ten percent. Or to put it another way, God has given us everything we have. As a kind and benevolent Father, He says we get to keep NINETY PERCENT. When you think about it, that’s pretty generous. So, why doesn’t He just give us ninety percent and keep the other ten for himself? Good question.
God wants to see how much we really love Him. By giving us all that we have and then letting us decide how much to give back, He puts the decision squarely on you and me. Do we return part of our time, talent, and treasure to Him, or would we rather keep all of it for ourselves?
A side note here: The Catholic Church teaches that our tithing includes all giving. If we give five percent to other good causes, then we’re only expected to give five percent to the Church. The TOTAL of our giving should be at least ten percent.
Some churches teach that the ten percent tithe applies only to them. Anything else you contribute is over and above. If you want to give money to secular charities, that’s great! But that comes out of YOUR ninety percent, not their ten. Some go so far as to demand that members turn in a copy of their W-2 forms so they can make sure you’re doing your part. The Catholic Church would never go to such extremes. What you give is between you and God.
The disciples in our Gospel gave Jesus all that they had. But at the end of the day, they got much more back. They had faith in Jesus and their faith was rewarded. My experience has always been that that’s the way things work out. My former pastor used to say, “God can never be outdone in generosity.” How true that is.
But, the disciples didn’t give all their food hoping to get something back. Thinking as human beings, they had no clue how Jesus was going to feed so many people with so little food. They didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. But their faith made them give.
Does your faith cause you to give?
I’m constantly getting things in the mail offering to increase what YOU give. “Do this and your collections will go up by 10%” “Buy this program and people will be breaking down your door to give you money.” I say, “NONSENSE”. I don’t think Jesus wants us to trick you into giving more to the Church. I believe that He wants us to teach you, by word and example, why you should be generous to our God.
In the first reading, Isaiah tells the people, “All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost.” In other words, if you have no money, God will provide. That’s the flip side of giving. If you’re broke, if you’re out of work, if you’re hungry, God will provide. Of course, what that really means is that you and I will provide on God’s behalf. This month, we’re collecting school supplies for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them.
With four grown kids, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on school supplies. Shouldn’t my crayon buying days be over? Well, no, they’re not. I know what it’s like to have to choose between buying something I want and buying spiral notebooks. Most of us do. But we sacrifice for our kids and now that most of our kids are grown, it’s our turn to help others. Besides, it’s kind of fun to see all the new things that they have for back-to-school. Even though I basically hated school, it was always exciting to start back with a brand new box of 64 Crayolas, all with sharp points. A small blessing, but still a blessing. And, I didn’t even go to CATHOLIC school.
Who knows? The kid who gets the supplies that I contribute may grow up and find the cure for cancer. That may sound farfetched, but is it more outrageous than Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes? Not really.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to guilt anybody into buying a backpack and a box of pencils. It’s not about guilt and it’s not about pencils. It’s about loving God and giving back what’s rightfully His to begin with. There’s an old saying, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s true. Like the story of the widow who gives her last penny, God will bless those of us who give when it’s sacrificial.
Isn’t it hypocritical for us to get down on our knees and thank God for all that He’s given us, then to ask Him for more, then to throw five bucks in the collection basket when we know we could do more?
Our minds aren’t even capable of understanding all that God has done for us. We have roofs over our heads and food on the table. But that’s small change. You and I live in the greatest country on earth, even though we do have our problems. The big news right now is how thousands of people are trying to come to America. Very few Americans are trying to get out. That’s a gift from God. Our very lives are a gift. No matter how smart or how talented we think we are, none of that is a result of anything we did. God gives us everything and He asks for very little in return.