By Canon Gerry Conroy
Although it’s a generalization and not true of everybody, the vast majority of us seem to have a tendency to focus on the difficulties we face; on the obstacles that come between us and our hopes and dreams. Perhaps that is why so many people do not get beyond dreaming or wishing. We do not seem to have the confidence or the drive to complete things. I was struck by that defeatist attitude in the readings this Sunday. Elisha tells his servant to give to the people to eat and the servant replies, ‘How can I serve this to a hundred men?’ Jesus asks Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ And Philip’s reply is ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ He can only see the problem. Andrew is little better: he says, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ This disbelief, this lack of self-belief is paralyzing. The obstacles we face can seem overwhelming, they can seem too much for us to cope with.
I suppose in these examples in the readings we are also dealing with the added problem that five barley loaves and two fish wouldn’t feed a crowd of over 5,000. And 200 denarii, which was about a labourer’s wages for just over half a year, was an amount of money they simply didn’t have. Still, it reminds me of another passage where the disciples who are in despair at the demands Jesus seems to be making on people in his teaching, ask, ‘Who can be saved?’ Christ’s response is, ‘For men it is impossible, but not for God, for God everything is possible.’ The lesson Jesus wants to teach his disciples in this great miracle we hear of today is not to think in terms of what they can and can’t do, but to think in terms of what God, who can do everything, is doing.
This miracle is the prelude to John’s Gospel telling us about the Eucharist. The next few Sundays, the Gospel is going to take us deeper into what Christ has left us in this great Sacrament and he begins with this lesson, ‘don’t limit your understanding of it to human realities, here there is something greater, something of the dimension of God and to grasp what it is you have to open your minds and hearts to the possibilities that God alone can offer.
That is something that faith alone can give us. Faith in the person of God. It comes back to that struggle within us between our hopes and our dreams and our lack of belief or confidence. We can live out our lives not lifting our heads too high because we think there’s no point in dreaming, or we can have hope in the impossible. Faith wants to give us that hope in the impossible, it wants us to believe in something better, because we have encountered God. It wants us to know the blessings and joys of this life, and finally it wants us to know the life that is eternal, the life that death cannot touch, the life that is a share in Christ’s life. Faith wants us to know the unity of hope and love that St Paul spoke of in that second reading, the unity of life that in Christ is eternal.
That is what God gives us in the Eucharist.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton