Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Our Littleness

Today’s Gospel further develops the Epiphany’s manifestation of Jesus as merciful Lord of Glory. It presents Jesus as the ever-watchful Shepherd who is full of compassion for the people and who sates their hunger: first, of the Word of Truth by his teaching, and then with the Bread of Life—himself. He has the people “recline on green pastures” just as the Good Shepherd does in Psalm 22. The people then form groups of 100 and of 50, which recalls Israel’s trek through the desert wilderness in Exodus 18. The apostles receive the task of distributing the bread, just as Moses delegated some of his work to the judges in that same chapter. In all of this, Mark is portraying Jesus as the new and ultimate Moses, who rules the people of God and cares for them with both strength and tenderness. Jesus divides the people into distinct “communities”, to which he assigns the twelve apostles, who are to dispense the Bread of Life through word and sacrament.

Crucial to the text is the fact that the multitude is successfully nourished—both spiritually and physically—as a result of the synergy between Jesus and the apostles. He provides the power of the Resurrection and his command; they provide their ready faith and obedience: a miracle of collaboration between God and man then occurs.

But, to accomplish such an alchemy of love, human hearts first have to be converted away from narrow habits of empirical quantification (“Are we to buy 200 days’ wages worth of food?”) to God’s way of seeing and doing things—against all logical evidence: ‘Give them food yourselves! Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! Don’t you realize that “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, [into your hearts and hands,] so that [all] might have life through him?” Is this not enough?’

Yes, God has the power to transmute the little we can offer so that it becomes sheer overabundance. The one prerequisite, however, is that we take the radical step of truly offering up, to his blessing, everything we have and are, no matter how paltry and insignificant it seems to us. God treasures our littleness, while we either wallow in self-disdain or lust for super-achievements…. How beautiful, by contrast, the mystery revealed to Georges Bernanos’ country priest, after he had undergone much heartache: “O sweet miracle of our empty hands! To be able to give to others what we ourselves do not possess!”

Vintage photograph of the monastery cobbler from Our Lady of the Valley, our first house in the US. Meditation by Father Simeon.