A couple of weeks ago, at about nine o’clock in the evening, my doorbell rang. A man in his mid-twenties was looking for help to get back home by bus to somewhere down in Fife. He said he was stuck in Buckie after the friends he came to visit had departed before his arrival. He needed twenty-odd pounds for bus tickets. To cut a long story short, I offered to buy him a ticket to Aberdeen and – as there was no direct bus at that time – I threw in the offer of a lift to catch the No. 10 bus from Fochabers at 22:10. He rather reluctantly agreed. Five minutes later when I got to the front of St Peter’s, all ready to go to Fochabers in my car, there wasn’t a living soul to be seen. This was the outcome that – sad to say – I predicted…

A string of situations like this can eventually damage our willingness and our ability to offer help to other people, among them those in genuine need. A stream of chancers, trying to make a living out of someone else’s generosity or feeding their addictions in this way, can wear out even the most benevolent of people. I have to admit that, after so many similar encounters, it is quite an effort for me not to assume that someone seeking help is yet another crook, and to remain open-minded and willing to give a hand. It so easy to become cynical or judgmental…

The scene of the miraculous multiplication of food and the feeding of hungry masses, as described in today’s gospel, would be the way of solving global hunger and malnutrition if this could be repeated on a regular basis and in many places. As it happened only a couple of times, in the distant past and in the backwaters of the society of those days, this way remains only a fantasy or a daydream. Sometimes this scene is used to take the Mickey out of our faith, as we ourselves seem to be unable to perform these kinds of miracles.

One of the interpretations of that scene is that actually what took place was no miracle, in the common, supernatural meaning of the word. The people who had gathered to listen to Jesus and to find healing for their illnesses had some food on them, but had kept it to themselves, concerned for their own wellbeing. Moved deeply by Jesus’ teaching and by his willingness to share the little food he had at his disposal, they summoned up the courage to reach out beyond their natural selfishness to share what they had with others. I love this interpretation, because it makes us able to perform similar miracles, even if the scale is smaller and doesn’t attract similar publicity.

Another aspect of the scene in today’s gospel is that Jesus follows up his talk with action; it isn’t just an exercise in talking. By definition, sharing is an active-passive action on our part. We have to be open to other people, to listen to them and to watch them in order to appreciate their needs and expectations. If we fail to do so, our goodwill might be misdirected and actually do more harm than good. The sharing of our material or immaterial goods is first and foremost about meeting other people and building a relationship with them, even if that relationship is short-lived. Without that, it’s not sharing. It’s more about us trying to salve our conscience or simply fobbing off an inconvenience.

In the gospel, the people impressed by Jesus’ performance wanted to proclaim him king. It’s a dream come true for many public figures, regardless of their political affiliation. Populism can quickly buy support, and it’s relatively easy to set in motion. Retaining such support is much more difficult, as people get used to having comforts and they develop feelings of entitlement. When the increasing demands of people are not met, their support can either disappear like morning mist or they can turn nasty. We will observe such a process in the readings for the next few Sundays, culminating in that of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time when all the enthusiastic crowds will turn their backs on Jesus. Only his Apostles will remain faithful. So, sharing is not about your gains but about those with whom you share. Your personal satisfaction is only a by-product of sharing, not its primary goal. Sharing is all about mutual love.