Scripture Readings for January 5, 2022:
Our first reading from John’s letter is so strong we can hardly ignore its call for love. I suspect most people accept the idea that love is synonymous with God. It’s also important to remember that we know this because of Jesus, who we believe was the actual expression of God in human life. I also like that John wants to draw a real connection between being a loving person and knowing God. The idea is that we should act as God acts and when we do there is a connection between us and God. John puts it this way: “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” This is an example of how physical life and spiritual life are one thing and not separated. Today, however, I am thinking more about what it means to love.
Often when we think about God’s loving we can cast it in big dramatic terms like today’s Psalm: “Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.” These are descriptions of what Messianic times will bring. This is a description of heaven, if you will, wherever you want to situate “heaven.” If you have read even a few of my blogs you know I think heaven is something that is more available to us now than we might normally suspect. So for me the key to what it means to love is not so much the ultimate peace of all humankind, the big dramatic events, but what is part of our lives right now. We can find that in today’s Gospel from Mark.
It may seem ironic that having just written off “big dramatic” events I’m turning to the feeding of 5,000 as a means for examining the idea of love. Let me explain. Too often the feeding of 5,000 gets bogged down in “did this really happen” questions? I think we need to remember it’s a story meant to carry a message of meaning for human life. What we have is a group of people that Jesus describes as “like sheep without a shepherd.” These people are lost, not geographically, but emotionally, maybe socially. These are people who are searching. They are looking to be “fed.” So this is about everyone who is trying to sort things out.
The disciples want to send them off to solve their own problems. Surely there are bigger, better resources in the towns and villages around than we have right here. Jesus, however, will not send them away. He says, “Give them some food yourselves.” And when the disciples object because doing something themselves will obviously cost them too much. Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see?” His disciples are forced to take an inventory of what they actually have to give. What they have doesn’t look like much. The story says, “Five loaves and two fish.” Anyone would know that isn’t enough to feed this huge crowd. Still, Jesus opens himself and the situation to the promise of the heavenly banquet and the disciples simply give what they have to the people. The result, “They all ate and were satisfied.” These 5,000 men not only found the nourishment they needed but had 12 baskets of leftovers as well.
I think a group of disciples gave of themselves to more people than they could have imagined and those people not only found what they needed but then had more to give as well. That’s what God does in this world. God loves and enables us by saying we have something to give. When we can open ourselves and pass it on by loving one another, there is abundance. So maybe even small efforts of love are big dramatic events after all.