Mother Teresa told how she once came across a Hindu family that hadn’t eaten for days. She took a small quantity of rice and gave it to the family. What happened next surprised her. Without a moment’s hesitation the mother of the family divided up the rice into two. Then she took one half of it to the family next-door. Seeing this Mother Teresa said to her, “How much will you have left over? Aren’t there enough of yourselves?” “But they haven’t eaten for days either,” the woman replied. Generosity such as that makes us humble.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes could be called a miracle of generosity. First of all there is the marvelous generosity of the boy, who, with his gift of five loaves and two fish, made the miracle possible. It was a small thing in itself, but for the little boy it was a big thing because it was all he had. It’s easy to give something that we won’t really miss. But when the gift is as desperately needed by the giver as by the receiver, that is true giving. That is a sacrifice.
Then there was the marvelous generosity of Jesus. To appreciate this we need to consider the circumstances of the miracle. It’s easy to reach out to others when it doesn’t cause us much inconvenience. Not so easy when it is sprung on us at an awkward moment. Here a real sacrifice is involved. We have to set aside our plans, and forget about ourselves. So it was with Jesus. He had just learned that his cousin, John, had been murdered. He needed peace and quiet. That is why he and the apostles crossed to the far side of the lake. But when he stepped out of the boat he found a crowd of people waiting for him. He might have got angry and sent them away. Instead he had compassion on them and gave himself completely to them.
Then there was the sheer generosity of his response to the hunger of the people. Not only did he feed them, but he saw to it that each got as much as he wanted, and even so there were twelve full baskets left over.
You can see then why this could be called a miracle of generosity. Generosity is not always about giving things. More often it is about giving of ourselves, of our time, our gifts. Giving things can be easy, but giving of oneself is never easy. Before giving himself as food and drink in the Eucharist, Jesus gave of himself to people in so many other ways.
The story of the feeding of the multitude was treasured by the early Christians. The miracle recalled the Old Testament story of manna in the desert. For them Jesus was the new Moses who feeds his people in the desert. Then they saw in this feeding an anticipation of the Eucharist. It was at the table of the Eucharist that Jesus nourished them.
And it is here that Jesus nourishes us now. Only at God’s table can we get the nourishment our hearts are longing for. In the Eucharist we are nourished with the Word of God and the Bread of Life. And having invited us to partake of the banquet of life on earth, God has invited us to partake of the banquet of eternal life in heaven.
As the people went back to their homes at the end of that day they knew that they had experienced the goodness and love of God – that love Paul talks about, a love from which nothing can separate us.
In the Eucharist we taste the love of God. The proof that we have experienced that love will be our willingness to love others. We may be able to give only in small ways and in small amounts. However, from the little boy in the Gospel we see that a small amount can become a big amount when placed in the hands of the Lord.