There is much hunger in the world today. Millions of people go to sleep with empty stomachs. Children are bloated from malnutrition. Wars are fought over food, and people starve as a consequence of war. Where are such needy people to turn for help? The Gospels for the next five Sundays contain teaching about the “bread of life.” The specific focus this Sunday is on the generous power of God that mysteriously meets basic human needs.
In the readings from 2 Kings and the Gospel of John, crowds of people are in need. Not only are they hungry; the food supply is limited, and there does not appear to be enough to satisfy the hunger of all. Obviously, some will be sent away with little or nothing. Those responsible for controlling the crowds wonder how this precious food should be distributed. Then, in the midst of this need, something extraordinary happens. Not only is food provided, but more is available than is required. How did this happen? What are we to make of it?
Again and again through the psalm response, we answer our own questions: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; God answers all our needs.” Acting through the prophet Elisha, God fed about 100 people with 20 barley loaves. The miracle described in the Gospel was even more spectacular. Five thousand were fed with five barley loaves and two fish. In each case, the people were satisfied, and food was left over.
We may not be able to explain the miracles, but we cannot overlook one very important element in each story—God works marvels through ordinary people. Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples distributed the bread. Though the miracles did not take place through their power, in a sense these events did unfold through the working of their hands. In other words, God meets the needs of people through the services provided by members of the community.
Paul sketches the profile of such a caring community. The members are humble and gentle and patient; they belong to the one body and share the same Spirit; they are children of the one God who is over all, and in all, and works through all. We are the community that he describes. We are the ones called to feed the hungry today. We cannot allow empty stomachs to cry out in hunger, or children to be bloated. We can no longer fight over food or allow the war-torn to starve. As members of the body of Christ, we are diminished whenever another goes hungry. But miracles can unfold through the workings of our own hands, when we distribute the food destined for all by our generous God.