Filling the gap
Today’s readings: 2 kings 4, 42-44; Ephesians 4, 1-6; John 6, 1-15.
Sustainability is a buzz word today. It has been for quite some time now, particularly in the post-World War II times, when the issue of population growth and the limited resources of planet Earth were put together.
Since then, humanity has journeyed a long way. It has had its achievements undoubtedly, but poverty is still a major social issue even in the west.
The more we read the gospel of Jesus, the more we acknowledge that the major concern of Jesus, though he never ignored it, was not to mend the growing disparities between rich and poor. His concern was rather to fill not that gap, but the gap between the means we dispose of and our expectations.
We very often experience disproportion between our means and our aspirations. This is precisely what today’s Scriptures are highlighting.
In his letter to Ephesians, St Paul writes: “I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation”. When we lose touch with our inner selves, with who we really are and what our vocation is, when our aspirations transform themselves into greed and possession, we live disconnected lives. That causes disharmony.
For too long we’ve been led to dream that living beyond our means is not only possible but is also the pragmatic way forward. Now we are at a point in time when we seem to be past the times of dreaming a humanity without the poor and without poverty.
Dreaming in itself can be positive and at times healthy. But what today’s Scriptures are asking of us is not simply dreaming, but believing.
The symbolism of shortage, coupled paradoxically with leftovers both in the first reading and in the reading from John is very powerful in our struggle to read history from a faith perspective. The moment the people “were about to come and take him by force and make him king”, Jesus escaped to the hills by himself.
It is not from history that Jesus was escaping. He was escaping the vicious cycle of history because in its becoming, history can easily transform itself in a political struggle towards economic justice ignoring at the same time the profound dimensions of human living.
From the perspective of faith in God, that struggle does not exhaust what we should live for. Man cannot live by politics alone just as much as man cannot live by bread alone.
There is more to life than mere physical or economic well-being. The 20th century, with all its struggles and movements, but also with all the human tragedies of war and genocides, has given ample demonstration of this.
By now we are realising that talk about the poor and poverty has become cliché and we are at present experiencing the impotence of politics alone to resolve all humanity’s problems.
We are realising that we are stuck and that many of humanity’s dreams have been shattered. We know that, as Tony Judt says in his book Ill Fares the Land, “something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today”. The old political questions and answers cannot just be repeated and recycled. After 2008, we cannot just pick up the pieces and carry on as before.
Jesus in John’s gospel today, and every time in the gospels he fed the crowds, was not merely being compassionate with people who were hungry because they happened to be far from home. Jesus is pointing to something by far deeper and meaningful in everyday life.
That is what comes out clearly when today’s gospel is read in the context of what John is leading to, namely, the inner healing that occurs gradually and that is represented in concrete stories, starting from the Samaritan woman and ending up with Lazarus.