“Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, ‘I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.’” (Matthew 15:32)
When the Rabbi Jesus was up on the mountain near the sea of Galilee preaching to his followers, he had compassion on the crowd because the people were hungry. So he asked his disciples to gather up some loaves of bread and a smattering of fish.
Notice he didn’t say, “Call Caesar and tell him to send a caseworker out here – the government needs to step in and feed these people.”
No, he himself and his apostles provided food for the hungry women, men and children. Of course, it helped that Jesus had a few tricks up his sleeve to make the food supply more bountiful. But the bottom line is that the Teacher and his peeps solved the dilemma on their own without having to call out the National Guard.
There are several great lessons to be learned from this simple little story of the loaves and the fishes. We are taught about faith, sharing and being kind to one another.
We are also reminded that back in 30AD there were no government-sponsored bread-and-cheese handouts, no food stamps, no welfare checks. The folks gathered at this particular three-day campout provided for one another by sharing some challah and lox. Everyone was fed and no one had to hike back to town all crabby and hungry.
In a way, Jesus was teaching his followers about self-reliance and self-responsibility. Maybe he even muttered to himself, “Oy, why didn’t the women remember to pack lunches for their families?” Maybe he even said, “Okay, this time I’ll lend you a miracle, but next time, remember to take care of yourselves and bring your own food.”
If Jesus came back today and wandered into a DHS office, he might be a tad taken aback by all the lines of people queuing up to little glass windows to turn in massive amounts of paperwork. And then he’d be watching everyone walk out with a little plastic card.
“What the heck?” he might say. “That’s not food. Why are they getting that?”
And of course, Jesus would have no judgment about the people needing and seeking help to get food. But he might be surprised at how his original message from his days on the road had somehow been lost in the translation.
Before the government took over our lives to such an alarming degree, people used to be more inclined to help one another. Sometimes women left food out on the back porch for transients to pick-up on their way to hopping the next freight train. Other people gave money to charities that helped the down-and-out get back up on their feet.
Churches held rummage sales, kids sold lemonade for extra dollars, civic-minded groups had spaghetti feeds. Sometimes a person would actually just go knock on a neighbor’s door and ask for a cup of sugar.
Now, of course, a lot of these things are still done, but sometimes they go to opposite extremes of the charitable spectrum.
Jesus might be thrilled to walk into a church kitchen where volunteers feed homeless folks twice a week. But after a month or so, he’d probably notice that there are a LOT of repeat attendees – homeless peeps who come back week after week after week for free food. And Jesus might mutter to himself, “Oy, in addition to handing out food, why aren’t these meshuggah church people teaching people how to be responsible for themselves?”
Or maybe, unlike the current President of the United States, Jesus might go visit an area that has been struck by a disaster such as a tornado, hurricane or flood. He would no doubt be awestruck at how people were coming together to help one another dig out from the rubble, get food and water, provide shelter and rescue animals and hospital patients.
“Wow! This is cool!” he might exclaim. “Look at how everyone is helping out their neighbors just like I told them to do.”
And then he stops and wonders, “But why aren’t they helping each other all the time…not just when there’s a disaster?”
He stops a woman on the street and asks her what the dealio is.
“It’s a vicious circle,” she says. “The government robs Peter to pay Paul….”
“Peter and Paul??”
“It’s just an expression, kiddo. So people wind up unemployed and on the dole and the economy tanks because nobody can afford to buy anything. And Peter is being taxed to death to pay for Paul. Paul gets used to the handouts and there are no jobs anyway, so….”
“So the government kinda becomes ‘God’?”
“You got it, buster. Hey, you know, you look kind of familiar….”
Jesus walks away, muttering to himself again. “What a mishegoss this is…I may have to make a comeback! What were some of the things I used to say? ‘Love your neighbor.’ ‘Feed my sheep.’ I gotta look up those Beatitudes again. And the Corporal Works of Mercy…did I make those up or was it one of the Twelve?”
c. July 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver