July 31, 2011
There was a saying that became popular in the U.S. Army during the Second World War: What is difficult, we will do immediately. What is impossible will take a little bit more time.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to do the impossible. They are in a deserted place and, without resources or means, he asks them to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people. All they have is five loaves and two fish. This simply can’t be done. And yet, by the end of the story, all have eaten and are satisfied. Indeed, 12 baskets of fragments are left over. So how are we to understand this story of Jesus? Why does Jesus ask his disciples to do the impossible? And is he in some way asking us to do the same?
A popular Christian storyteller by the name of Bob Benson relates an incident from his own life that can help us answer this question. Bob was planning to go to his parish’s summer picnic but he was running late. By the time he was ready to go, he realized he didn’t have any food to bring. He looked in his refrigerator and all he could find was two slices of bread, one dried slice of baloney, and a little mustard in the bottom of the jar. It would have to do. He made himself a pathetic baloney sandwich, put it in a brown bag, and went to the picnic. He found a place in the pavilion next to a family that had brought a feast: fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, sliced tomatoes, olives, and four homemade chocolate pies. Bob opened his bag and began to eat his sandwich. One of the members of the family next to him saw this and came over and said: “Bob, I have a suggestion. Why don’t we put our food together? We have more than enough chicken, potato salad, and baked beans. Moreover, everybody in our family loves baloney sandwiches.” So that’s what they did. Bob ate like a king, although he came like a pauper.
Now, in effect, this same thing is what happens in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples: “Bring me what you have, the fives loaves and the two fish—whatever. Let’s put that together with what I have and then see what happens.” Jesus extends this same invitation to us. When we have to face something that seems to be impossible in our life, he invites us to join our resources. At times we have to face a new challenge in our work, at home, at our job, at school. We look at the challenge and say: “I don’t think that I have the wisdom or the skill to pull this off. Doing this seems impossible.” Jesus says: “Why don’t you take your skill and put it together with mine, and let’s see if we can do this together.”
When there is somebody we love who is in trouble because of sickness, a dysfunctional relationship, or an addiction to alcohol or drugs, we want with all our hearts to make that situation better for them. But we know it’s a decision they need to make for themselves. We cannot make it for them. Jesus says to us: “Why don’t you bring me your care and your love and we’ll put it together with my care and love. Then together let’s see if we can make a difference”.
When we lose someone that we love because of death, misunderstanding, or divorce, when we have to leave a situation that is comfortable and familiar and face something that is unknown to us, we can look at those situations and say: “I don’t have the strength to do this.” Jesus says to us: “Bring me the strength that you have and let’s put it together with my strength. Then together let’s face the future.”
Now, the invitation that Jesus gives us is quite specific. He doesn’t say to us: “Sit back and let me do everything.” He asks us to contribute what we have, no matter how small it might seem. He wants us to bring to him the little strength, wisdom, or hope that we have and put it together with his.
Of course, there is no guarantee that every time we try we will succeed and that all of our troubles will evaporate. But when you have to face the impossible, it is better not to face it alone. If something is difficult, do it immediately. But if something is impossible, it is better to join your forces with the Lord.