FEEDING OF THE 5,000 WITH 5 LOAVES
By Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
A Sermon delivered on 13 August, 1989
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We read the Gospel from year to year, and from generation to generation in new contexts, in the face of new situations, whether they are historical or personal. And every time, a passage or another may strike us in a new way.
Today we have read the passage about the feeding of the multitude by Christ. And more often than not I have read in the Fathers and in the spiritual writers their sense of wonder at the mercy of God and of the power of God Who could feed so many with so little, Who could indeed, work miracles within a world so much estranged from Him, when just a glimpse of faith, a crack in our armor of faithlessness allowed Him to act.
And reading today this passage of the Gospel I was struck anew with words of Christ. The disciples call upon Him to send away the multitudes, because the day is spent, distance from the place where they are to the neighboring villages is great, tiredness will overcome them, and darkness, if they stay longer. And yet, they have not eaten a whole day, listening to the life-giving word of Christ.
And Christ says to the disciples: No, they need not depart; you give them to eat... How can they feed a multitude of that kind? A thousand men, women, children, and all they have is five loaves of bread and two fishes? And here is a challenge of Christ to them, and of Christ to us. Yes — in a way, God alone can perform this miracle; but not if we do not contribute with openness of heart, and with an open hand. He did not say to His disciples: Keep as much as you need for yourselves, and give the rest, your left-over to others. He says to them: Take all you have, and give it all...
Isn't it something which the Lord says to us now, in a very special way, in days where we are so secure, so rich, so opulent, and when we hear day after day of the hunger, the misery, the death indeed from starvation of thousands and thousands of people. And what the Lord says to us is simply: Give what you have and let Me act afterwards; do not ask Me to work a miracle where you could do the thing yourselves...
The Apostles could do little; they could share only five loaves and two fishes; but we can share so much! If our hearts were open, and from hearts of stone God had made hearts of flesh within us, if we had learned anything of generosity and of mutual responsibility, if we had learned a little, oh, so little! — about loving our neighbor actively, there would be no hunger in the world.
And what this Gospel says to us today, is, ‘look round’; look round at every person who is hungry, every person who is homeless, every person who is in need, and remember that each of these persons is your own responsibility, that all their hunger, all their homelessness, all their misery is ultimately the result of your opulence, your comfort, your richness and your refusal to share, to give. Not to give beyond your means — just to give.
If we only remembered, as one Saint, whose name I can't recall now, says in one of his writings, that whenever he eats a morsel which is not a necessity, whenever he acquires or possesses anything beyond his strict needs, he has stolen it from the hungry, stolen it from the homeless, stolen it from the one who has no clothes — he is a thief.
Isn’t that addressed to us much more sharply than to this ascetic?
We must reflect on this, because we are behaving like bad, unworthy stewards; there is such a thing as stewardship of wealth — intellectual, emotional, moral and material. You remember probably the story of the unworthy, the unfaithful steward who had cheated his master, stolen from him, and when he was to be dismissed by his master who had discovered his dishonesty, he called the people who owed money to his master, and reduced their debt. This is something which we could learn. He turned to people, and gave whatever help he could; we do not. Let us reflect on these words of Christ: They need not depart from My presence to order to eat; you give them what they need... And if we looked round us, not far beyond but just round us at the needs of people who are hungry, who are homeless, who are deprived of rights, or simply our neighbors who are at times so lonely, need a word of comfort, need friendship, solidarity, we would begin to fulfil this commandment of Christ.
But let us not deceive ourselves; it is not by words of consolation, by kind gestures that we will have fulfilled it. Christ said: Give all you have... and to us perhaps, taking into account the little faith which we have, and the narrowness and hardness of our heart, He will say: Give what is superfluous in your life — but give true thought to what is superfluous, to what you spend on yourself unnecessarily, without even deriving true joy and pleasure, an advantage from it — give it, and then, leave it to God to fulfil the gift, to do the rest.
This is the judgement of God upon me; it is also the call of God addressed to each of you. Amen!