Recent weeks in particular have shown us how short the media’s attention span is. Any time a new story has appeared, the previous one has been virtually abandoned. The war in Syria, that once dominated the TV screens and front pages, was replaced by the turmoil in Ukraine, which was then replaced by the takeover of swathes of Iraq by the Islamists, but this was quickly forgotten when the Malaysian aircraft was shot down; and now the media interest concentrates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In all of these conflicts, and in many others that go unreported, those most affected are ordinary people, deprived of food, clean water, and shelter, displaced and filling refugee camps, or looking for aid. Many charitable organisations try to help, and their volunteers make attempts to reach people in need even when armed groups make that a near impossible task. Some of those charities have religious origins – Christian or Muslim – and some of them don’t. All of them work to bring help and relief to people in need. For centuries practical charity was in the domain of people who were religiously inspired. Helping others was part of their wider missionary work. But some time ago the churches lost their monopoly on charitable work. People motivated by human sympathy took over the initiatives, and quite often they are equipped to offer better services.
We shouldn’t complain about this development. When we look carefully at the principal reasons behind establishing the Church by Jesus, we can see that charitable giving was not one of them. The mission of the Church is to lead people to knowing the true God, renewing our likeness to Him and worshipping Him. This is why the Church has been equipped with the sacraments. As we know, there’s just one sacrament concerning love as its subject: marriage. The rest of them help to establish or to renew a personal relationship with God within the community of the Church.
People in today’s gospel followed Jesus because they had been amazed by his teachings. In his words they had been finding new hope, a sense of life and comfort. They had not been expecting free meals. Apparently Jesus’ disciples started worrying about the empty stomachs of the followers when night was approaching. They also have a ready solution: ‘send the people away and let them look after themselves’. Yet Jesus had a different idea. He decided to give out five loaves carried by the disciples, although it was hardly enough even for them. But first he asked the crowd to sit down on the patches of grass. As a result the people had to move closer. Once I read that Jesus did not multiply the bread miraculously: the real miracle happened in the people. Following Jesus’ example they started sharing their own provisions previously hidden in their bags anxious about having too little. I’d say Jesus changed the hearts and minds of those people; he freed them from selfishness and from excessive fear about living. It turned out there was enough to feed everyone and collect quite a lot of scraps.
When Jesus was fasting before the beginning of his public ministry, he was tempted by Satan to turn stones into loaves of bread to satisfy his hunger. In response he said that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Miraculous multiplication of food isn’t the kind of miracle we need; it seems that on global scale enough food is produced to feed everyone. Shamefully, a lot of it is wasted or over-consumed in the rich countries, while the poorer ones suffer. The only miracle we need is a change of heart, turning from selfishness and greed on a global scale. This miraculous process begins nowhere other than in your heart; you are the miracle that God has made to change the world.