29 Jul 2012
“‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?’” (John 6:9) In the name …
The Summer Olympics have started. I’m not much of a fan. There’s a very good possibility I won’t be watching any of it, but even I know that gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the athletes. That’s a bit different from a lot of other competitions. When a baseball game is played, you don’t get any credit for coming in second – and that’s too bad because the Red Sox are really good at coming in second this year. Either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will be coming in second in the November elections, but there’s no spare room at the White House for the one who comes in second place. My daughter Amanda is playing in a basketball tournament this weekend. It doesn’t matter if you lose by a basket or by 20 baskets. Close games and blow-outs are all recorded as either a win or a loss, with nothing in between. But the Olympics honour the top three athletes in each event. Maybe they don’t get to hear their own national anthem, but they still get to stand on the winner’s podium by coming in second or third. When you have the best of the best athletes in the world competing against each other, the least the Olympics can do is offer medals to the top three athletes.
The Olympics give us the chance to teach the lesson that there is reward in doing the best we can even if we are not the best. Gold, silver and bronze are all great honours, but the most-watched Olympic events are the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The world seems to enjoy all of these athletes who compete, not just the athletes who win. Walt Disney made a lot of money telling us the story of the Jamaican bobsled team. They weren’t going to win the gold, but the world respected their efforts, that they did the best they could. At the 1968 Olympics the marathon runner from Tanzania injured himself not even half way through the 26 mile race. One hour after the race had finished he came limping into the stadium. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq3rOMnLGBk Everyone there stood and cheered. It wasn’t as important that he came in last as it was that he finished the race. He did his best. I was 8 at the time and I still remember that story. I’ll bet a lot more people today remember his last place finish even more than whoever took first place. And it is an extra blessing when your best efforts also let you win the gold. I’ll never forget coming out of church at Brandeis and going back to the dorm to watch the Americans beat the Soviet Union in hockey. But the Olympics help us to teach the lesson that winning is not always the most important goal, that there is a great deal of dignity in doing our best.
That lesson is also found in today’s Gospel reading. A large crowd has gathered around Jesus. They soon discover, however, that there is not enough food to feed all these people. “‘Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,’” says the Philip the disciple. Philip sees the magnitude of the problem and is overwhelmed by it. Andrew comes forward with a boy who has but five loaves of bread and two fish, and he too says, “‘But what good are these for so many?’” Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, where did that young boy come from? How did Andrew know that he had food, and how did the boy know that it was needed? Before we get to the climax of the story’s predicament, that there are all these people and no way to feed them, there must have been whispered inquiries floating around the crowd that are not here recorded for us. The disciples and the people in the crowd must have started to notice that they are far away from their homes and that they are getting hungry. The natural reaction would be to hide and protect whatever you had. Your little food could maybe feed your family, but like the disciples already said, what good would that be among so many. But this young boy isn’t yet that practical. Maybe his parents were aghast, but he tells Andrew, “We’ve got some bread and fish.”
The child is brought to Jesus and Jesus very publicly accepts this small offering and offers thanks to God for this gift. Now everyone knows about the child’s generosity and everyone sees how Jesus graciously accepts it and gives thanks to God for it. It doesn’t seem so small any longer. Now one of two things happens. What is offered, even though woefully inadequate to feed everyone, is miraculously multiplied and everyone is fed. Or, the other miracle is that the people in the crowd see this little act of generosity and they act in kind, they share whatever they have so that everyone can eat. Either way the miracle occurs. No one person donates a year’s wages to feed everyone. Instead, the miracle is possible because of either one child’s kindness or because many small donors did whatever they could.
I think sometimes we refrain from doing the good that is possible because we don’t think it is enough. The extent of the problems can sometimes overwhelm us. It’s either win or lose, feed everyone or feed no one, but as we’ve seen these are not the only two options. When we trust our efforts to Jesus, when we do what we can with Jesus, miracles are always possible. Jesus isn’t asking us to do it all; He’s asking us to do what we can. Look at how basic this can be when we hear today from Ephesians: “Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received [as Christians], with all humility and gentleness, with patience, [and] bearing with one another in love …” (4:1-2) If we start with something as basis as this, the church will grow. Others will see that faith makes a difference in who we are and how we live. Once the church grows then the combination of all our efforts will have a greater and greater effect. We don’t have to do it all, but when we do what we can all kinds of things become possible. When you’re watching the Olympics over these next two weeks, think about this message of not necessarily having to win to be successful. Let us pray to take seriously the message of doing what we can and entrusting those efforts to Jesus, and for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo