One day, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat when they suddenly realised that they forgot to bring food with them. They became distracted, worrying about how one loaf might feed them all. Jesus said to them:
Why are you talking about bread? Do you not yet understand? Have you no perception? Are your minds closed? Have you eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear? Or do you not remember? (Mk 8:17-18)
You see, this had happened after he had fed the crowds not once but twice. The first time he had fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. The second time it had been 4,000 with seven loaves and a few small fish. On both occasions, there had been basket loads left over. Jesus reminds them that he can provide more than they need if only they have faith. Of course, this was not really about bread.
The Season of Lent, like in nature, sees a change in the colour and feel of the Church. The word itself is Anglo-Saxon for ‘springtime’. Lent gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect upon, reconsider and renew our relationship with God. The three ‘pillars’ of Lent are prayer, fasting and charity, and they call us to put into practice the words of the Great Commandment – to love our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love one another (and that means all others) as ourselves. We shouldn’t think of Lent as a Catholic endurance test to see how long we can last without coffee or chocolate. It is not about getting physically healthy but spiritually healthy. In turning from the things that seem important in our world, we see what is truly important. It is not a time for gloom, thinking of what we are missing, but instead, it is a time of joy as we realise what we had been missing. In other words, it is about forgetting about the bread and remembering and rejoicing that you are in a boat with Jesus!
When we read the stories of the feeding of the multitudes, we discover something significant. After blessing the bread and breaking it (sounds like the Last Supper, right!), Jesus hands it to the disciples to distribute. He shares his ministry with them, enabling them to be his ambassadors. He was preparing them (and us) to take over this most important social need: to take care of those in need. There is a famous parable where Jesus tells the crowds:
Whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me (Matt. 25:40).
Lent calls us into solidarity with the needy and suffering, those on the margins. It tells us to seek justice in an unjust world. It is the realisation that we are the ambassadors to the message that Jesus brought to the world: a message of love for God and one another. It is not accidental that the word ‘charity’ comes from the Latin word Caritas which means ‘love’ and ‘compassion’, and this love is the divine love that God gives to us. So, every time we display acts of charity or compassion, we are demonstrating God’s love. In this, we become his ambassadors of Christ in the world. In the words of Saint Paul:
So, we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled with God. (2 Cor. 5:20).
Dr Nathan Leber