57- FIVE LOAVES OF BREAD AND TWO FISH

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When King Herod killed the prophet John in Machaerus, the people were filled with rage and fear. We were then in Jerusalem. After knowing what had happened, we hurriedly returned to Galilee by way of the mountains…

Nathanael: Ay, Philip, I can’t stand it anymore… my feet are swollen!

Philip: Stop complaining, Nat. It won’t take much longer.

Nathanael: What’dya mean it won’t take long? We haven’t reached Magdala yet…

Philip: Man, I mean, it won’t take long for us to be beheaded like John the Baptist. By then, we won’t feel the pain anymore. Not even the corns on our feet!

Nathanael: If that’s meant to be a joke, it’s not funny.

Finally, after several hours on the road….

John: Hey, fellows, I can see Capernaum! Look over there!

Peter: Long live our Lake of Galilee!

Philip: And long live these thirteen crazy men who will dip themselves into it again!

After three days of walking on the road, we returned home. We were happy, in spite of the long journey. As always, Peter and I started to run the last mile, to see who arrived first…..

John: Damn you, stone thrower, you won’t be first this time…!

When we got to Jerusalem, Peter’s family, ours and half of the barrio folks were all out to receive us and to find out how things were in Jerusalem…

A Neighbor: Hey Peter, is it true what they say, that Pontius Pilate stole the temple’s money again for his damned aqueduct?

Peter: Not only that! All the prisons are overcrowded. From the temple’s atrium, you could hear the shouts of the tormentors in the Antonia Tower.

Another Neighbor: Swine!

John: Before we left, they crucified ten more Zealots. These were ten young men who were full of life and were ready to fight!

Zebedee: Yeah. They even took Linus and Manasses prisoners, including the son of old Sixto.

Salome: They were after the husband of your friend Chloe, and he had to hide in the lepers’ caves. Gideon, the Sadducee, reported him.

John: What a traitor!

A Neighbor: A group of ironsmiths protested against the latest tax imposed on bronze, and presto!… all of them ended up in jail.

Salome: And were all beaten!

Zebedee: It’s been six days now, but they haven’t been released yet.

Jesus: What about their families?

Zebedee: As you might expect, Jesus. They’re all suffering from hunger. What else can they do? Before, it was the beggars and the farmers who lost their harvest. Now it’s the prisoners’ children. This leaves Capernaum in a pitiful state.

John: We’ve got to do something, Jesus. We can’t just take it sitting down.

Philip: That’s exactly my point. We went to Jerusalem, and now, we’re back from Jerusalem. Now, what?

Peter: Since all thirteen of us are here, we can plan something.

Salome: Don’t make trouble, Peter, if you want your head spared. Herod’s policemen saw four men in the inn, and accusing them of conspiracy, arrested them.

Jesus: Let’s stay outside the city, so as not to arouse suspicion. Yeah, tomorrow we can go and look for a quiet place where we can discuss this… Do you all agree?

Nathanael: Right, tomorrow morning will be fine. But if it’s in the afternoon, better. I’m too dead tired to go even one more step. My kidneys are killing me!

The next day – in the afternoon – James asked old Gaspar to lend us his big boat. All thirteen rode toward the direction of Bethsaida. It was spring and the lakeshore was teeming with flowers and the grass was very green….

John: Hey, you Peter! Did you bring along some olives to fill up our bellies?

Peter: Here, grab them… olives and bread!

Philip: Why are those men along the coast? Could anything be the matter?…

John: They’re probably drowning. The water is rough along those bends…

Man: Hey, you on the boat, come over here! C’mon!

Nathanael: I guess we’re gonna be the ones to drown. Look, Peter, these men making signs at us, aren’t they the twins from the big house?

Peter: Exactly… How come they’re here?

John: Gaspar must have told them we’re coming this way… so they came ahead of us…

A Woman: Peter!… Isn’t Jesus coming with you?!

Peter: Yeah, is there anything wrong with him?

A Man: With him and with all of you!… Things are bad in Capernaum. Haven’t they told you about it yet?

A Woman: We’re starving here!… Our husbands were taken prisoner and we have nothing to feed our children!

A Man: We who are free can’t find work and can’t even earn a single, lousy dinar.

Peter: Well, what can we do, we’re even worse off than you.

Another Man: C’mon, c’mon, why don’t you fasten your boat here!… C’mon!

John: Say, Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to proceed to the other side?… There are just too many people here!

Jesus: The people are desperate, John. They don’t know what to do, nor where to go. They’re like a flock without a shepherd.

There were several people waiting on the shore. Some came from Bethsaida. Others, from the hamlet of Dalmanutha. There were also a number coming from Capernaum…

A Man: You always claim that things are getting better, that we shall finally lift our heads… but look what happened, when the prophet John raised his head, they cut it off!

A Woman: Now we have no one to vouch for us. What hope is left for us, huh?… We’re doomed!

Jesus: Please don’t say that, Mam Ana. God won’t abandon us. If we ask, God will give it to us. If we look for a way out, we’ll find it. Didn’t you know what Bartholomew did the other day, when some relatives of his came to visit him at midnight?…

A Man: Bartholomew? Who’s Bartholomew?

Jesus: Hey, don’t you remember that man who was shouting at the synagogue?

A Woman: Oh yeah, and what happened to that rascal?

Jesus: Well, he kept on asking, in order to feed his visitors. Poor man, he had no other choice.

Jesus, as always, ended up telling stories to be understood better. We all sat down, one by one. It was green all over the place…

Jesus: Well, the other night Bartholomew was visited by his relatives. He had nothing in the pot to offer to them, so he went to his neighbor: “Neighbor, open the door!… Do you have leftover bread from dinner?” …But this neighbor was already snoring, deep asleep. He went to another neighbor: “Neighbor, please!” Another neighbor shouted from his bed: “Will you leave me in peace! Can’t you see we’re all in bed now?” …But Bartholomew continued knocking at every neighbor’s door until finally, a neighbor relented, stood up and gave him pieces of bread, just to get rid of him.

A Woman: And so?

Jesus: God’s like that. If we knock at God’s door, God will open it for us and help us out of our difficulties at that moment. Don’t you think so?

When Jesus finished his story, a thin woman carrying a basket of figs on her head and wearing a soiled apron, came near us…

Melanie: Please pardon my boldness, rashness, but… I don’t know, I think sometimes, things happen the other way around. Many times, it’s God who knocks at our door. We’re the ones sleeping very soundly. God comes and bangs on our door so that we can share our extra bread with those who have nothing.

Melanie’s words, the fig vendor, surprised us all.

Melanie: Isn’t it true what I’m saying, countrymen? Yeah, it’s good to be asking the Lord, but as far as I know, no manna comes from heaven anymore. It used to, before, when our ancestors were walking through that desert. But now, miracles no longer happen…

Jesus: This woman’s right. Listen, my friends: The situation is bad. There are several families suffering from hunger in Capernaum, in Bethsaida and in all of Galilee. But if we had unity, if we put together the little we have, then things would go better, don’t you agree?

John: I agree with you, Jesus, but it’s just too late. Let’s stop this and let’s all go. Yeah, fellows, it’s quite late, don’t you see? Let’s go back to Capernaum…

A Man: No, no, you can’t leave now. We’ve got to settle the matter of the prisoners’ wives and how the jobless are going to eat.

Peter: We’ll talk about it some other time. It’s getting dark… and frankly…

A Woman: And so you must. Good Lord, if we leave now, we’ll surely pass out along the way!

Jesus: Hey, Philip, isn’t there any place here where we can buy something?

Philip: We can buy a few pieces of bread at Dalmanutha, but we would need two hundred dinars to feed so many people!

Jesus: This is how it is, friends. You’re hungry, and so are we. We brought along some olives, but they’re not enough for everyone. Maybe some of you don’t want to share the bread that you have under your tunic, so you can’t bring it out!

John: Right on, Jesus, and look, here’s a boy who has brought along some food.

Jesus: What’ve you got there, little boy?

Boy: Five loaves of barley bread and two fish.

Jesus: Listen, neighbors, why don’t we do as Melanie said a while ago…? Let’s all think as one family and share what we have with everyone? Perhaps there’ll be enough for all…

Man: Very well then. Hey, little boy, bring your five loaves of bread over here! I’ve got two or three more!

Jesus: Peter, take out your olives and put them here in the middle for everyone… Has anybody got anything else?

Another Man: We have a few pieces of salmon over here! Two from this little boy here, and probably a few more from others…

Melanie: Here’s my basket of figs, countrymen. Whoever is hungry may eat them free of charge…

It was so simple. Those who brought bread shared it with everyone. Cheese and dates were likewise distributed to all. The women improvised a few bonfires and cooked fish… And so that night everyone ate, by the shore of Lake Tiberias….

A Woman: Hey, if anyone cares for some more fish or bread, we still have some here… How about you, Peter?

Peter: No, I’ve eaten a lot. I’m more bloated than a hippopotamus!

Another Woman: Little boy, go and collect all the pieces of leftover bread. We can still make use of them!

John: And now fellows, everyone to the boat! We’ve got to go home!

A Man: Just a minute, guys, don’t leave yet… We haven’t settled the problem of the prisoners’ wives yet… oh, well, of course, I understand. All that we have to do is…

Melanie: Share what you have.

Jesus: Right. You share today and tomorrow too. In this way, there’ll be food for everyone.

All thirteen of us got into Gaspar’s boat and paddled our way to Capernaum in the middle of the night… While crossing the lake, I had been thinking that a miracle, a great miracle had taken place right before our eyes that afternoon.

*Comments*
About three kilometers from Capernaum, very near the Lake of Galilee, is Tabgha, where, according to ancient tradition, Jesus ate bread and fish together with a multitude of his countrymen. Tabgha is the Arabic contraction of the Greek name “Heptapegon,” which means “Seven Fountains.” The church that is presently visited in Tabgha is built on the one that used to exist there one thousand four hundred years ago. The Mosaic tiles on the floor of the so-called “church of multiplication” belong to the ancient temple. They are of great artistic and archaeological value. One of these very ancient tiles represents a basket with five loaves of bread with two fish on the sides. Since ancient times, the bread and fish have been a Eucharistic symbol, in reference to the text in the gospel where what is essential in our celebration of the Eucharist takes place: a community sharing their faith, their hope and their bread in the presence of Jesus.

In the episode, Jesus tells his countrymen the parable of a friend who asks for help in the middle of the night (Lk 11:5-8). Jesus wants to point out the trust we ought to have in the Lord, because He listens to the voice calling out to Him for help. Sooner or later, he will open the door for us. On the other hand, Jesus presents to us a humorous story with a practical lesson. This tenacity in asking, that stubbornness, that oriental perseverance in knowing how to insist, that astuteness of one who has nothing in getting what he wants, all these are values one must understand, in building the Kingdom of Justice.

Bread was the staple food in Jesus’ times. It had been so until lately for the majority of countries in the world. Some uprisings and revolutions were caused by a lack of it or by its increase in price, making it unaffordable for the poor. Lack of bread – which is tantamount to saying hunger – has, on many occasions, sparked rebellion among the poor. Through the writings of the period, we can more or less approximate the price of bread in Jesus’ time. A daily consumption for one person was equivalent to 1/12 of a dinar, that is, 1/12 of the daily wage. For the majority of jobs, it was common to earn one dinar a day. Bread was eaten in the form of flattened rolls, buns, a little thick perhaps, like what continues to be eaten in oriental countries. An adult consumed at least three of these torts for a meal.

God does not feed people directly. The most palpable proof of this is the prevailing hunger all over the world and experienced by the majority of humankind, a hunger not willed by God. The hungry need not wait for the solution of their misery from heaven. The gospel gives us an alternative: by sharing. It is not necessary to “buy” – as the disciples proposed. It is enough to “give,” share in common what each has. Thus, there will be enough for everyone. This would be the greatest of all miracles. If everything is shared, “everyone will be satisfied” and there might even be an excess.

The mission of the Christian community in a world dominated by injustice and where the rule of money and accumulation of wealth prevails, will always be love. It is not love expressed in words, in beautiful speeches, but in the act of sharing. God is generous and wants everyone to eat, live and be happy. This desire of God can only be a reality through the generosity of the community. And this is the message that the community conveys and celebrates when they get together in the Eucharistic sharing of the Bread.

(Mt 14:13-21 and 15:32-39; Mk 6:30-44 and 8:1-10; Lk 10-17; Jn 6:1-14)

57- FIVE LOAVES OF BREAD AND TWO FISH

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