The readings for this Sunday are about miraculous meals that God provides for his people — first through the prophet Elisha, “the man of God,” and then through the actions of Jesus himself, the Son of God.
However, notice what happens first in both stories. In the Second Book of Kings, a man donates 20 barley loaves to Elisha. In John’s Gospel, a boy donates five barley loaves and two fish to the apostles.
This is the season of church picnics. In summer, and all throughout the year, parishes have potlucks and bake sales, fish fries and donut Sundays. Lots of people donate food to all these events. They don’t, each one, bring enough to feed everyone there; but they all bring something. They give it to God, by giving to the church, because they know the food is needed. And they trust that God can take their donations and, through the church’s work, use them as needed.
Doesn’t it always seem that there is plenty of food left over at a potluck? And where do those leftovers end up? Notice how Jesus’ disciples carefully gather up the leftovers. Maybe they saved them for later; or maybe they gave them to poor people along their next day’s route.
Today, parish leftovers might go to parish shut-ins. Maybe some of the volunteers, who would never ask for anything, can be persuaded to take home a few cookies or some extra bars. It’s just a little way to say thanks for all their efforts — and makes them feel valued and loved. (And perhaps the pastor or parish leader gets an extra meal, too.)
If there is a lot of food left over, many parishes donate it to the local food pantry or a warming shelter.
Somehow, there’s always enough food, even if it doesn’t seem like there will be when things first start. No doubt there are times when parish staff and volunteers feel like the apostles did: “Where are we going to get enough money (food, volunteers) for this?” Elisha’s servant faced 100 hungry people. For the apostles, there were thousands.
Of course, God worked miracles both times. But think about how those miracles started. In each case, God knew about the need, but let everyday people make the first move. A little boy. A man with some extra bread.
Also, did you notice that — in both instances — these donations were anonymous? No one knows the boy’s name. Or that of the man who approached Elisha. Their identities weren’t important to the Scripture writers. But, rest assured, their identities were known by and important to God.
So when you next get asked to bring something for the potluck, bake for a sale, or donate cash for donut Sunday, remember those humble barley loaves in both readings this Sunday. Make the first move, and God will do the rest. Including, remember your name.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of two books: “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” and “Making Sense of Saints.”