Loaves & Fishes
by Paul Canavese
The Loaves and Fishes stories are so important that they appear in all four gospels, and twice in Mark and Matthew! Six times in four gospels. Why is this story so important? What’s the big deal?
The disciples say, Tell the people to go into town so they can buy their own dinner. Everyone can take care of themselves.
But Jesus does not work in a market economy. In a market economy: we take care of ourselves, we save up out of fear that there won’t be enough, we protect what we have from others. Jesus offers an economy of grace: God provides enough for everyone, we take care of each other, and we all share at One Table. There wasn’t a physical table out in the wilderness, but Jesus replaces all the separate tables in town with one meal, shared together.
So Jesus tells the disciples to "Give them some food yourselves." Is Jesus just telling us here to give away more to the poor? We talk about giving food through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and all the other ways you can give to the poor. That’s a great start. But One Table is something different.
One Table is about sharing, not just giving. One Table is about both giving and receiving.
Finding the Stories in the Bible
The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle (aside from the Resurrection) that appears in all four Gospels:
The similar feeding of the 4,000 appears in two of the gospels:
The first step when coming to the One Table is to Let Go. Those who gave the loaves and fishes had to first let go of them. They were hungry, too, and they probably didn’t think they would get any back. When we share at the One Table, we should give the best we have, not just our leftovers.
When I was a kid, I remember choosing cans of food from our cupboard to bring to Mass during the holiday season for the poor. So I would look for the lima beans and the beets and anything else I didn’t want to see on my plate that night. Until my mom reminded me that this was a gift.
Jesus invites us to put everything on the table. If we don’t have to trust in God or each other, something is missing. This is so hard to do, because we are in a society that is based on fear and protecting ourselves. I was raised to be responsible with my money and to save it up, since there wasn’t all that much with four kids and my dad’s teacher salary. It's not easy to give it away.
But Jesus is talking about freedom here: Don’t worry about it...you’ll be taken care of. Don’t focus on getting, focus on sharing. Don’t live paralyzed by what you could lose. Jesus wants to free us from having to be our own Savior.
In order to Share at the One Table, we first need to Let Go.
Connecting With Others
One Table is also about Connecting with others. For families, it can be hard to get everyone at one table at the same time. But we lose something when we don’t eat together. In our neighborhoods and apartments, we may never share a meal with our closest neighbors. In apartment buildings, it may be hard for us to even meet our neighbors.
The disciples said everyone should eat separately, but Jesus says they should eat together. With total strangers… the rich and the poor.
A few months ago, I heard a Protestant minister talk about his encounters with the homeless. He’s in his late 30s, is married, and has a couple young children. He lives in what we might consider a bad part of San Francisco. He was often asked for money by panhandlers, and he would tell them that he wasn’t comfortable giving them money, but he would buy them a meal. But then he would eat with them, ask about their story, tell his story, and pray with them.
After a while, these individuals who he had gotten to know started to invite him out to eat. That’s real Connection at One Table.
That story is a challenge to me and the way I give. Sending money off to a cause or putting it in a basket is good, but I hear Jesus say we should also show up at the table. If I think that giving to the poor is so important, why don’t I know any of them?
Jesus showed us how to live a One Table lifestyle. He shared meals with the poor...and the rich. He shared meals with social outcasts he wasn’t supposed to eat with. This is how he taught us to live.
When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.
At the One Table we also need to Receive. Food at the One Table is always served Family Style: It’s not a box lunch, where we each get our own individually wrapped items, but more a big table with a Lazy Susan in the center holding many dishes. We all eat the same food. Everyone who listened to Jesus that day had bread and fish.
For me, it’s much easier to give than to receive. I don’t want to owe other people. I want to take care of myself. Take garden tools: Everyone with a house has their own lawn mower, even though we have these tiny lawns that take us 15 minutes to cut. I have all these excuses why I don’t just borrow one from my neighbor next door: it’s an inconvenience, and I’d have to talk to him, and I’d feel like I’m imposing on him. There’s something about the way we live...and spend... that cuts us off from each other. And that’s just with our closest neighbors.
When we give, we are in control. To receive, we have to be humble.
Would we have a hard time having a poor person buy us lunch? It’s easy to think that because someone is poor or needy in some way that they have nothing to share with us. And it’s most humbling if they share out of their poverty, since it’s easy for me to share out of my wealth.
When is the last time you received from a poor person? Can we accept that a poor person may have something we need.
Setting the Table
Jesus invites us to the One Table to Let Go... Connect with others...and Receive. So where do we start?
I have a million reasons why I don’t do these kinds of things enough. The easy thing to do is just go into town and buy my own dinner. But Jesus invites us to live with One Table values.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the newly born Church took the One Table challenge very seriously. They broke bread together, and they shared their money. Acts of the Apostles tells us, "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need."
One Table. Even one bank account. Enough for everyone.
Before his death, Jesus said to remember him when we share this One Table. Our Christian faith puts this One Table—and what happens at it—in the center of what we believe and do.
We are connected today to the Christians all over the world gathered around this table. In the U.S., Guatemala, Nigeria, England, the Philippines. With the rich and the poor. We pray together with all of them: "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. through your goodness we have these gifts to offer." Food—money—ourselves.
May we extend this table, not only in word, but also in action.