There is a story of a kindergarten religion teacher and her students. One day she got a new student, Timmy, a boy who had only one hand. The teacher was so cautious that neither she nor anyone in the class made the boy feel bad. Everything went well in the class. Towards the end of the class, the teacher taught them a rhyme, acting it out with her hands. "Here is the church; here is the steeple; open the doors; there's all the people." Then she said, "boys and girls, now will you put your both hands together, and repeat after me; "Here is the church; here is the steeple..." Suddenly she realized that she herself put Timmy in an awkward and embarrassing situation. She felt terribly bad and looked at the boy. To her surprise, she saw, just in time, a little girl sitting near to him holding her hand and telling him, "Here, Timmy, we'll make the church together." So she put her hand to his, and together they just did that. Together, they made the church.
This story, my dear friends, is a wonderful statement about the Church, about us. Individually we are all incomplete and imperfect, but together, we make the Church, by coming to the aid of one another.
The gospel passage of multiplication of loaves is about the miracle of this making of the Church. It is not the story of the miracle of multiplication of loaves; but, it is the story of the miracle of sharing. Many people concentrate on the power of God in multiplying the bread to feed all the people. I do not think this is the message we get from this story. If it is, we do not have to work for food; We can sit and relax, and God will provide us with everything. But we do not see this miracle in our lives. We see people who are hungry; who die because of hunger. Why this happens if God is working miracles?
I see this story as a miracle of sharing. Many of the Bible scholars agree on what might have actually happened in this story. According to them, the people of that time and culture took bread in their belt bags whenever they went out for a journey. Only the people who were poor could not do it. When people crowded around Jesus in the mountain to listen to him, many had bread in their bags. However, they could not eat, because it was not convenient for them to eat; also, how could they eat when many poor people were around? People were all hungry. Probably Jesus knew this situation, and he wanted to teach them a lesson of sharing. (In St. John's Gospel we see Jesus testing Philip asking him where to get food for all these people.) The disciples of Jesus asked him to disperse the crowd so that the people could go to nearby towns to get something to eat. They acted as they were so compassionate towards the people. Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." This is the central point of this story. They said, "We have only five loaves and two fish." They wanted it for themselves; they were not ready to share. "What could we do for a large crowd like this" - this was their mentality. Jesus asked them to bring what they had. He asked the people to sit down to eat. He blessed the food and gave them. People who had the bread in their bags got a chance to take them out and eat. Automatically, they were compelled from within to share with those who did not have. So the miracle happens - miracle of sharing. They could even collect leftovers, twelve baskets full.
The Church is the community, the "common union" of people for one purpose. We have to come out of our selfishness to extend our hands to others. Jesus is teaching, in this passage, about the need of the extending of hands to the others. In our world we have resources to feed everyone. People misuse the resources; they try to amass wealth and to posses what belongs even to others. They are not ready to share. So there is so much imbalance in our society. This is the primary cause of many of the crimes in our society. The solution is: come to the aid of our neighbor.
We have people in need. This need is not just a need for food or clothing, but the need for love, need for affection, need for acceptance, need for forgiveness, need for belongingness.
Turn to your family. Look at your wife or husband, look at your children, look at your parents, and ask yourself whether anyone of them is rejected of your love and affection, acceptance and recognition, forgiveness and understanding, and the feeling of belongingness.
We may be white or black or brown in our skin, but we all need each other. We may be rich or poor, male or female, saints or sinners, but we all belong to each other. We cannot excommunicate or segregate one another. We cannot close our eyes to the needs of the other.
The word "religion" originates from the Latin word "re-ligare" which means "to build again". The purpose of religion is to build up relationship, to build up community, and not to segregate or excommunicate. We all come to the church every Sunday to enrich this family feeling. We come here not as separate individuals to make a crowd of people, to practice our own personal devotions, but we come here as a family, as a community, to celebrate our unity. If we do not have this feeling of oneness in the Mass, there is no meaning to the liturgy. The Communion we receive at the Holy Mass is the experience of our "common union" in Christ.