Certain memorable events happen in all of our lives that shape and form us, especially our outlook on life.
I was fortunate that one of these events happened in 1970 when I was first ordained, just 26 years old. I was serving in a new parish in a northwest suburb of Chicago. Sr. JoAnn, our religious education coordinator, contracted a rare blood disease and desperately needed blood.
So every Saturday morning, station wagons (remember those?) full of parishioners traveled to Mercy Hospital, located in a poor section of Chicago, to give blood for Sr. JoAnn.
One Saturday morning we were filling out our application cards to give blood when an unshaven, young man walked up to the counter and presented his application card to donate blood. The receptionist looked at the card and said: “I see the recipient line on your card is blank. I assume you are here to give blood for Sr. JoAnn.”
The young man frowned and said, “I don’t know any Sr. JoAnn.”
The receptionist then sized up how he looked. His clothes were tattered and ragged. It looked like he may spent the night on the Lake Michigan beach. “Ok, you’re here for the $35.00,” she said.
The young man was becoming upset and he said, “I don’t know anything about any $35.00.”
“Well young man,” blurted the receptionist, “You’re not here for Sr. JoAnn and you’re not here for the $35.00, who should be give your blood to?”
Without skipping a beat he replied, “Give it to the person in the city who needs it the most!” A God Provide
Wow!! I was just 26 years old and I was learning firsthand what the Eucharist was all about. The young man was echoing the words of Jesus – to give his own blood and body to whomever needs it the most. His blood didn’t need a name tag.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:11-17) Jesus feeds the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Over the centuries there have been countless reflections and interpretations of this event, this miracle. It obviously was a foreshadowing of Jesus leaving himself with us physically and spiritually after his death and resurrection as he continues to feed us and strengthen us today.
One of my favorite interpretations is that this was a crowd of savvy Jewish people who had been following Jesus and were now tired and hungry. Jesus takes the 5 loaves and the 2 fish from the young boy, he gives thanks to the Father, blesses them and then shares them.
One interpretation is that Jesus invites the crowd to do the same, to take whatever food they had tucked into their tunics for the journey and to share it with others around them. Few of the people in the crowd would have made the journey following Jesus without tucking some food away in their tunic for themselves. Jesus calls upon them to take what they have for themselves and share with others around them who are hungry. And they did, to the point that there were 12 baskets of food left over.
For me this interpretation takes nothing away from Jesus working a miracle of multiplying loaves and fish. Getting people to share what is theirs is often the real miracle in life. To have Jesus and his disciples simply doling out free loaves and fish to the crowd, smacks a bit of a welfare system. There is a big difference in saying, “You’re on your own,” vs. “We’re in this together.”
This is the lesson the young man taught me at Mercy hospital when he was donating his blood to whomever in the city needed it the most: “We’re in this together.” A God Flash
This is the lesson Jesus teaches me every day when he feeds me with himself in the Eucharist: “We’re in this together, Laz!”