Start With What's Possible
It’s been said that “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” The daunting tasks that we often balk at are really only a series of smaller tasks – tasks that are eminently possible. When you put one foot in front of the other, soon you’ll be walking, and who knows where you will go then?
This same dynamic is at work in our Gospel this weekend. Jesus is again in front of a large crowd. He has been teaching and healing them, and now they have a need for food. There’s a problem, though. There are so many people and not enough food; it would be a tremendous cost to feed them all; the resources are scant. Jesus is not unaware of this problem, either. He asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
The response to the problem that the apostles present is not encouraging. They don’t think it can be done. Philip points out that “two hundred days’ wages would not be enough” to even begin to feed them; Andrew notes that a little boy has a lunch of five loaves and two fish, “but what good are these for so many?” The apostles’ response is one of complaint – pessimism. They see the immense task ahead of them and are overwhelmed. They give up before they even begin.
Has this happened to you? Do you recognize problems in your life or in the world and decide that nothing can be done? It’s too difficult? Why even bother trying? I can admit that I have been there before – and I consider myself to be an optimist!
Think about the problems that you can identify.
· I’m depressed and my house is a mess
· My job is overwhelming or unfulfilling
· Climate change is going to destroy the planet
· The democrats (or republicans, or whoever) are ruining the country
· The pope is a heretic and the Church is falling apart
· Homelessness is getting worse
· The immigration system is broken
There are so many problems in the world and in our individual lives. Listing them can be enough to depress even the happiest among us. What this can show us is that there is plenty to complain about. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Even Jesus can see these issues.
However, St. John tells us, “He said this to test him, because He himself knew what he was going to do.” Jesus is God. Jesus knows not only the problems with which we are faced right know, but also the big picture. And, He invites us to be part of the solution to these problems in real ways – not just through having faith – which is absolutely essential. Every miracle in Scripture started out as a problem. And we stand together with Jesus in front of many such problems.
Recognizing the resources that they do have, Jesus invites the Apostles to do whatthey can at that moment. He has them receive even that meager offering from the boy; He has them gather the people to sit down; and He has them share what He gives them. These are all very simple tasks – very possible things to do. And they go a long way to accomplish a goal that they had seen as practically impossible only moments earlier.
So, what about us? What can we do? It is not enough to excuse ourselves from action by saying that the problem is just too big or that others have messed things up beyond repair. “Humanity” may be lost, but this human is right in front of you. What will you do? What steps can we take – real, accomplishable steps – in order to move along toward a solution to our problems and the resolution of even bigger ones? Jesus makes all this possible; first and foremost, by not accepting cop-outs and easy objections.
Sure, building unity between two diverse people, let alone two communities, is difficult; yes, working to establish order and harmony in your family is tough; yes, the messes that we can see are ugly; but that does not mean that we walk away from them because we cannot solve them alone. No. We have Jesus! Just like the apostles did. And Jesus continues to invite us to be part of His work.
When she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Mother Teresa said this:
“And so, my prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes, and from the foot of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor it is Christ. And we will really believe, we will begin to love. And we will love naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, next door neighbor in the country we live, in the whole world.”
Start small. Offer a heartfelt prayer. Make your bed. Clean your room. Take control over what you can control. Gradually, you will see a change in your life and in those around you.
Jesus took those loaves and fish – meager as they were – and fed thousands. With Him, all things are possible – even the big things. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Jesus is inviting us today to take that step.