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Much more than 'just enough'

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him. The people who give you their food give you their heart. ~ Cesar Chavez

If yesterday hadn't been a Sunday we'd have kept the feast of St Martha. A woman of great faith, she was the one to whom Jesus revealed himself as 'the Resurrection and the Life', prompting her declaration of belief in him as the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world. (John 11:25-27) But when we think of Martha we more usually think of the homemaker who bustled about, preparing food for Jesus - and, most probably, whichever other disciples turned up with him.

We probably all know women like Martha - generous hostesses who always prepare and serve copious amounts of food, preferring to err on the side of abundance rather than 'just enough'. "All are welcome" is their motto, as they set another place at their ever-expanding table for an unexpected guest. They make us welcome, and give us food, yes, but in so doing, they most definitely give us their hearts.

So it feels very right that, on this Sunday falling on the feast of St Martha, the Gospel was the account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is a Gospel account of generosity par excellence. We begin with the selfless handing over of one's precious, well curated lunch, with the full expectation that in allowing it to be shared out, only a fraction might come back to be eaten by the giver. Did he worry that what came back wouldn't be enough to satisfy his growing hunger? He trusted, and handed the food over anyway. And then - miracle of miracles! - Jesus transforms these few loaves and fish into an abundant feast. Now, instead of a tiny snack, or even 'just enough' for each person, there's a plentiful abundance - more than enough for even the hungriest among them.

In all three Synoptic Gospels we are told of leftovers being gathered up - but not what happened to them. I like to think they were given out as people departed, as food for the journey, or to be shared with the family when they got home. And all this, surely, was a foretaste of the Eucharist, given not just to satisfy our own hungers, but as a generous gift demanding to be shared with those around us. And there is the promise, always the promise, that there will always be more than enough if we begin by sharing, freely, joyfully, what we have been given. That is the hundredfold which lies at the heart of Jesus' assurances - give and you will receive, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing... (Luke 6:38)

I'll end with a question arising from this Gospel, posed by the Religious Formation Conference, which appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday. It leaves me with more questions and challenges, not only related to sharing goods, but also around the issue of places at the table - the people to whom we give not just food, but also our hearts; our time and energy, our empathy and more:

How do we get from "not enough for everyone" to an abundance beyond our imagining? What does it mean to go from scarcity and fear to generosity and care? 

May Martha, that generous, faith-filled hostess, and the boy who handed over his lunch to be shared with strangers, help and inspire us in responding to this.


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