Laetare Sunday

“There is a boy here who has five barley-loaves, and two fishes.”

Given the size of the crowd Jesus had attracted, this did not look good. The Apostle Philip, who seems to have been the accountant of His outfit — this true proto-Church — estimated their requirements. For five thousand people, give or take, two hundred pennyworth of bread — as an absolute minimum, “that everyone may take a bit.” (About $325 by silver weight in pre-inflated Roman denarii, or rather more if we compare daily wages.) And that’s if you can find a bakery, on the far side of Galilee, with Passover approaching.

There are passages in the Gospels which I believe to be droll. This would be one of them. As I read it, Jesus is winking at Philip, who is doing the math. For really, the math doesn’t matter, in the circumstances on that hill.

Andrew, brother to Simon Peter, then chimes in, with his helpful note about the little boy, whose picnic supplies are sufficient, perhaps, for the apostles themselves. Someone, at least, was thinking ahead.

Nobody invited these five thousand people, by the way. They just came. News of Jesus’ miracles was spreading, and in particular, rumours that he could cure people of various incurable diseases: even first-hand testimonies. Then as now, inquiring minds wanted to know.

Our Lord had “gone up the mountain” (actually, a grassy hill) with his disciples: for what I’d guess was a quick, proto-Ignatian retreat. That was where you went to get some privacy, in those days: out of the village and over the hill. From the account in Saint John we get the flavour: they were actually trying to get away from the crowds. But you know how it is with “the people.” The crowds found them. Sometimes you can’t shake people off.

Cum sublevasset ergo oculos Jesus: that’s how the dialogue began. “When Jesus therefore had lifted his eyes,” — from prayer I would assume — he saw them coming. The crowds. There is drollery even in this, according to me. And it is a profound drollery. For we have reached a certain point in Christ’s ministry on Earth: the point at which the end is near; as the end of our Lenten Fast is also nearing. We are half-way there.

Laetare, Jerusalem! … “Rejoice!”

It is because Jesus has attracted so many, that trouble is coming His way. He is beginning to disturb the order of old Roman Palestine. This, to those who made themselves responsible for its order, was not “good news.” If, as the politically correct of that day must have said (shrugging knowingly to each other; rolling their eyeballs as they do) — if He’d just kept His doctrine to Himself, none of this would have to happen.

Or even if He had disciples, that would have been okay: so long as they practised their religion in the privacy of their own homes.

“It’s a free country,” after all. Everyone has the right to his opinions, so long as he keeps them to himself; so long as, when they are in public, they bow before the public gods (Caesar, say; or, Same Sex Equality). If only Jesus had been discreet, if only He could have watched His language, it wouldn’t have had to end like this. Instead, He just had to preach. And perform miracles: that was utterly over the top.

But it was worse than that, from the point of view of Palestine’s progressive elites. People were listening to Jesus. Something would have to be done.

And being the Christ, He knows that. He knows it, when He looks up, and sees the approach of the crowd. He has taken the road of no return, — the Via Dolorosa, — the road that leads only to the Cross. They will hail Him today; they will nail Him tomorrow. This were a dark “irony”; and who could appreciate it better than Jesus himself?

But let us get back to the story.

“Five barley-loaves and two fishes.” This has got to be a joke. I daresay Andrew himself, as the future patron of Scotland, was smiling when he said it. (I imagine him in Palestinian qumbaz, which can look a little like a kilt.)

Then Jesus said: “Make everyone sit down.” Which is as much as to say: “So, let’s eat!” (I can almost hear the apostles giggling.) Jesus thus began the distribution of the bread and fish; but first He said grace to the Father. Or more correctly, the apostles, being clergy, distributed after Jesus blessed.

Gentle reader is, I sure hope, familiar with the rest of this story. The leftovers filled twelve baskets. And as Saint Andrew could tell you, God does not like waste. It was Jesus who told them to gather all the fragments:

Waste not, want not.

Repent, while you still can.

And, rejoice! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.