Dóte autoís humeís phageín.
I’ve been praying over this gospel all week long, and these words of Jesus continue to come back to me … and they challenge me.
Dóte autoís humeís phageín. Our translation of the gospel words that we hear today is “Give them [some food] yourselves.” It’s a correct translation. However, the Greek, as usual, carries a richer meaning. In telling the disciples to give them something themselves, Jesus is emphasizing the fact that He wants them to be the agents of this great gift. It may also be translated, “Give them of yourselves to eat.”
In other words, “what have you got, guys? Share that.”
That’s when the complaining begins. The disciples’ first response to Jesus’ command to them is a complaint – whining: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” There’s an apparent food shortage, and naïve Jesus cannot really hope that these few men can feed all those people, can He? They had already complained at seeing all the people in the first place. When Jesus’ heart is moved with pity, their response is “Send them away.”
The disciples are keenly aware of their shortcomings, and they don’t want them to affect their relationship with the crowd, so they simply want to send them away in the face of their lack. As your pastor, I understand this lack.
Tasked with the job of shepherding two parishes, I often look at my gifts and talents and see the same sort of shortage that the Apostles knew that day. I am not wise enough to make all the best decisions for you. I am not energetic enough to be as involved in everyone’s lives as I’d like. I am not talented enough to forge one community of faith out of two parishes.
But here’s where my prayer this week has borne tremendous fruit:
No pastor is.
No pastor is wise enough, smart enough, energetic enough, or talented enough! At least, none of us are on our own. And this is the danger of the loaves and fishes view that the disciples first take. When Jesus tells them to give them of themselves to eat, they automatically forget the One who feeds us all. They see their food shortage, and they fear and they complain.
However, Jesus continues to respond in love and generosity. Rather than saying, “Oh! I didn’t realize you only had that little bit!” Jesus simply tells them to bring those meager gifts to Him.
And He blesses, breaks, and shares the five loaves and two fish – first with the disciples, who in turn now share them with the crowd.
And they all ate and were satisfied. In fact, the word is really “super-satisfied” – they were filled to a point that they could’ve had more if they wanted – as evidenced by the twelve baskets full afterward. And here is the lesson of the loaves and fish for us. When we share what we have with Jesus, He blesses it, returns it to us, and bids us to share it with others.
Again, as pastor I am not the most gifted, most talented, or wisest part of our faith community. I do not have all the gifts necessary to make our parishes great. But the gifts are here! You have them too! When we look at what God calls us to do as a community, we should not start by complaining about our shortage of resources. Rather, we should remember that we are a community of faith gathered around Christ our Head, who asks us to give of ourselves to others so that they may also know His love and care.
On a social level, we see this opportunity amid the crisis of refugees on our southern border. While many call them “illegal immigrants,” they are also refugees, many of whom are children in need of love and simple food and housing. While they are among us, we have an opportunity to show the values that make us strong as a nation. This is not a political or a government thing, it is an American thing, it is a Christian thing, it is a human thing – the love and care of our brothers and sisters among us.
But we bring it back to our community. What are your loaves and fishes? What meager gifts to you possess that Jesus is calling you to share? To follow Him fully in this regard, it takes three things:
First, it takes awareness – awareness of what gifts we have (and what we do not have). When we know what we are working with, we can know what Jesus is calling us to share.
Second, it takes trust – trust that Jesus knows what He is doing and what He is asking us to do.
Finally, it takes generosity. The disciples could have said, “Well, we have fiv- four loaves. Yeah. And one fish.” And they could have held some back for themselves. But ultimately, the gift shared is always greater than that which is given. Remember this when we are serving our community!
So, "Dóte autoís humeís phageín" - Give to them of yourselves to eat. It’s a challenge – but it ultimately will become a great blessing.