From yesterday’s gospel:
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
From next to nothing came a great abundance. There were even fragments left over. In some sense fragments were all they had–a little boy’s lunch and nothing else. Some say it was the generosity of the little boy that moves the crowd, that his act opens the hearts of others. Perhaps a plausible situation and perhaps it’s why Jesus asks the disciples what they should do to feed the crowd knowing full well what was ahead.
It’s the fragments that are left over though that we should pay attention to because fragments are often useless things. How often to we refer to a break up or a death as “leaving one’s life in fragments?” Often there doesn’t seem like anything could restore us.
And therein lies the heart of this story. It seems hopeless. People will go hungry if they don’t come up with a solution. And the little boy provides and obvious one: Share what little you have and what do you know they ended up with 12 baskets left over.
When our lives end up being fragmented what do we do with what’s left over? Do we wallow in self-pity? Do we fall into desolation and stay there hoping that our misery loves company? Or do we look to what might be consoling? We might not find much but, we might find that the desire to be consoled is in fact, consoling–that God finds us anyway, even when we believe that God is absent in our lives.
It is when we are at our lowest moments that we most need God and it is where God gathers up the fragments and shows us great abundance. God shows us our resiliency to get past whatever might be bringing us so low. God offers us unlimited forgiveness for the times we may have cause irreparable harm to another. God shows us that we’re now stronger for the journey and can stand a bit more confident and healthy next time. God ultimately shows us where He has been working all along, even if we didn’t notice it at first. God, always just beyond our reach and reason, shows us that indeed He has not only been with us all along, but also has suffered with us intimately, closer to us than our very heartbeat, lying in the broken fragments of our lives.
It is those fragments that we can look at now –those times in the rear view mirror, that we have lived through, lived past, lived into and found God, lurking for us, gathering our fragments and making them into something stronger.
And so, if God gathers the fragments of our lives, then we too, must be gatherers—for the beloved, love in return. There’s an old song that the Parish Mission Team in New York’s Archdiocese sang so many years ago called Kindling Sticks:
Once there was a wonderful father
The father gathered all of his Sons
He said life is a bunch of kindling sticks
And he gave each a single one
Now you see how easily broken
Is a single piece of wood
They heard every word he has spoken
But none of them understood
Then the father in all of his wisdom
Spoke once again to his sons
Showed them a bundle of kindling sticks
And he gave each a single one
Now tie all the pieces together
And break them if you can
But the kindling couldn’t be broken
By the hands of the strongest man
And I, I my brother’s keeper
And my life lies in the palm of my sister’s hand
We must watch over each other
As the Lord our God commands.
So today let us gather up the fragments of our lives and stand strong, not merely for ourselves but for those who sit broken and bruised today.
May your prayers, be mine today and know that I hold them together bound up in the love that God gives us.
And God will make with the fragments of our lives, much abundance.