“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.”
July is normally a typhoon month for the country, with an average of 5 of this kind of damaging wet weather. We got overloaded this July with 9 according to PAGASA. The consequences to human lives, communities and properties are tremendously burdensome – city and rural areas flooding, streets covered with mud or even lahar; people drowned in rivers or buried alive by landslides; houses gobbled up by the sudden monstrous rise of water; ricefields and fish farms devastated. Just when residents were about to finish fixing their houses, another storm would turn their effort into futility. How painful! How frustrating could it further get! The sense of devastation and loss are marked up in people’s faces like ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday; they are drawn in their wearied faces.
Pinoys are no strangers to storm-induced suffering. We are quite familiar with it. Or over-familiar with it enough to numb the human capacity for compassionate action.
That over-familiarity could also become an inhuman habit is something not unfamiliar – souring relationships, unfinished meal at fastfood restaurants, boredom over repetitive Sunday gospel readings or “old” laptops. It’s a creeping disease even in social networking like Facebook where people are over-familiar with each other with all the photographic evidence and details but fail to connect more deeply like two friends engaged and interested in each other in an other-centered conversation, hearts out the way compassion is other-centered by nature. I wonder if with over-familiarity, the choices are reduced to two – relational depth or simplistic connection? Compassionate, heartfelt connection, or the shallow self-gratification by way of information?
But then, the gospel injunction to become “true neighbors” in the parable of the good Samaritan is by way of mercy, through the networking of compassion rather than the gathering of information that the priest and the Levite had cognitively modelled in the parable.
Once again, I heard the same timeless call for compassion in the story of the feeding of the more than five thousand. I imagine the Son of Man traversing the dusty roads from Galilee to Jerusalem, passing by familiar faces of people in pain. Anytime, the Son of Man could have fallen into the trap of over-familiarity to become heedless to every Bartimaeus or women hemorrhaging more than a dozen years. Anytime, the Son of Man could have excused himself using our modern phrase of “compassion fatigue” (a symptom of our lack of courage to pursue solitude, the source of compassion). Yet, one more time, I heard the Son of Man, likely to have wept in silence, coming out from a painful solitude occasioned by the beheading of someone he looked up to – John the Baptist – sharing compassion to the hungry crowd and the sick. Scholars may explain to us the meaning of “miracle” in this passage from a scientific sociological perspective of the crowd bringing their own provision. But the scientific information is not the spiritual bread in this passage. It was the Son of Man’s compassion born out of his sorrowful solitude, set in a secluded place conducive for silence – a case of solitude chased by the desire for him. It was the Son of Man’s compassion likely unleashing what was in the heart of every wounded member of the crowd. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every Eucharist is a celebration of compassion – the Holy extending mercy, cajoling every attendee to stay and need not go somewhere, to simply sit in the open field of divine generosity to be joyfully satisfied. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every time I honestly admit before the Holy, alone or with others, offering my wounds or lack: “I have here five loaves of bread and two fish,” I am already sitting in the field of the Eucharist for every Eucharist is but the begging of the Holy’s mercy, the encounter of God’s tireless compassion with the human need for it. Eucharist is not so much the rubrics nor the repetitions but the meeting of two desires. Exodus of solitudes. Communion. The meeting of two loves until a “good measure, pressed down,shaken together, running over, is poured out into one’s garment.”
“…and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.”
In every storm that left people in pain, I am invited to become eucharistic. It can begin with the honest admission of the figurative “five loaves and two fish” I have and done as an act of oblation. The rest is for Him to multiply, His mercy to fill, and purify my complacency born out of over-familiarity. Amen.