Graced communities

Reflection on the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Patricia Zerega

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 55:1-3
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

You know the story; there’s a crowd, and a boy who has some loaves and fishes. Then, the miracle - thousands are fed.

It’s so familiar since the miracle is retold in all four Gospels. And, the story lives on today because it has become a symbol in today’s church.

There are “Loaves and Fishes” soup kitchens, popular artwork, and a multitude of competing interpretations of the “real meaning of the miracle”.

  • Some see the crowd sharing and not hording.
  • Others the words of thanks being similar to the words hear each week at Eucharist.
  • Some sense the hospitality and caring that Jesus created.
  • Others focus on the mystery - the multiplication of the loaves and fish with enough to feed all.

The piece that I see is, “the crowd”. In Matthew, we read that a crowd gathered after John the Baptist’s beheading. This large group following Jesus became community through the sharing of the bread. A community that shared food, supported each other, and were nourished.

So, where are those communities in my life? Where are those groups and those individual relationships that when I cross their path, and hear and see the word of God, and give thanks, community is created and alive?

I believe those groups appear everywhere. In many ways it is only with great effort that such events can be avoided. Here are three recent examples in my life:

The first

A Pastor I know goes to Starbucks every morning. He stays up to two hours with his cup of coffee and book. I’ve noticed that very little reading gets accomplished. People stop and spend time-sharing stories and prayer needs. As they move on to their work day they know that he has supported and shared with them. These meetings become inescapable communities of sharing.

The second

My day is filled with email from colleagues and list serves of long forgotten origins. Recently, one list serve participant put out a call for us to respond with prayer for his debilitating depression. By reaching out through email he found some who responded by arranging appropriate treatment while others with prayer and good wishes for a return to health. This list serve became an international community of nourishment around intimacy and life.

And, Lastly

Doing more than my fair share of traveling, I’ve begun to keep a collection of business cards from “graced moments while on the road”. I’ve had people share problems and joys. Earlier this year I had a trip where I met a couple going to China to adopt a baby. We shared their excitement and exchanged addresses. Two weeks later, on a different trip, I found the same couple and met their new baby even before Grandma did – and, I became part of their family. What started, as a random seat assignment, became a community of support where we shared much joy.

As I read the story of the crowd meeting, sharing, being nourished and fed, I give thanks for the groups in my life that become communities of sharing, support and nourishment. Who are those graced communities in your life?