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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled.” (Luke 9:16-17)

“SOUL-SURFING” – June 6, 2010
The Body and Blood of Christ
Luke 9:11-17
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Hands in prayerful fold as he stood before the small congregation, the pastor’s baritone voice rang out for the second time, “Still not enough.” As the stooped usher once again began the basket pass through the congregation, Clara dug deep into her purse. Resignedly, she brought forth all she had left, a fifty-dollar bill. Dropping it into the basket, she muttered under her breath, “Lord, what am I gonna do for groceries this week?”

It was Clara’s sister, Lois, a fellow hospital chaplain, who related to me her trip way down south for a visit. While Lois had lived most of her life up north, a goodly part of her family had remained entrenched in the tiny Mississippi town where Lois had been born. It’d been a few years now, Lois told me, since she’d spent time with Clara and her family. And part of the experience, Lois continued, was attending church on Sunday morning with her older sister. It was this particular adventure that she excitedly related to me upon her return to the hospital after the visit.

“So,” said Lois, “Clara belongs to this really small Baptist church in our hometown, and come Sunday morning, she dragged me along with her to meet her church friends and her pastor. I didn’t really want to go because I was an outsider, you know, and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But Clara insisted I come along.” Here Lois took a deep breath, as if to prepare both herself and me for the drama that was to follow. “Well, there were only 15 of us in church, and when I nudged Clara to ask where everybody was, she said this was everybody! There was no robed choir up front, no organ or piano either. The 15 of us with our wobbly voices were all there was music-wise, Clara said. She ordered me to sing loud. O Lordy, I thought! What have I gotten myself into?”

“Well,” Lois continued, “The pastor was an old white-bearded codger with a deep melodious voice. Been there for as long as anyone could remember, Clara told me. I’d have to admit just his bearing was pretty inspiring, and he was a darn good preacher to boot. And when we sang, his rich voice covered up all the un-heavenly noises our voices were making. All in all, it was a prayerful service, even by northern standards. But the offering! Let me tell you about the offering!”

Eyes now wide with excitement, Lois continued. “In the middle of the service, this bent little man passed the basket around. And I didn’t hear any coins clinking in that basket either, just the shuffle of paper. Then, after we’d all made our offering, the pastor, the man with the basket and an important looking woman in the front row retired to the pastor’s study just off the sanctuary. Before slamming the door behind them, the pastor ordered us to sing hymn #73. Well, there were only 13 of us left in church at the moment, but we did our best without the pastor’s rich voice. Just as we hit the end of verse 3, he returned. Standing solemnly before us with hands joined, he bellowed out above the reverberation of the last note, ‘Not enough!’”

Lois went on, “The bent little man with the basket came forward once again, and as the worn wicker pestered each worshipper, I could hear the clink of coins. Not much paper shuffling this time. Then, at the pastor’s instruction that the 13 of us should now sing hymn #172, the same three retired to the study for the count. We got through about 2 verses of that hymn when the study door flung open, the pastor marching right to the center of the sanctuary and intoned what I feared was becoming a refrain, ‘Still not enough.’”

Chuckling now, Lois concluded her narrative of the adventure. “So the bent little man shuffled among us again, but this time he didn’t pass the basket. He stood before each one of us individually as we fumbled in pockets and purses for enough money to allow poor old pastor to pay the week’s bills. We knew the reverend wasn’t greedy, and he knew we 15 were mostly just scraping by ourselves. But he’d gotten pretty good over the years at extracting blood from a stone. Well, on this third swipe of the basket he met his goal, but only as Clara mumbled under her breath while placing that fifty-dollar bill in the basket, ‘Lord, what am I gonna do for groceries this week?’”

“Clara fussed all the way home in the car,” Lois said. “One minute she was praising God for his bounty, the next she was berating the Almighty for taking her last dime.”

In the gospel passage we hear on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the disciples stand stunned by the miracle they witness, Jesus feeding a multitude with what seems so very little. St. Luke writes, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled.” (Luke 9:16-17) And, as the gospel further relates, there were even leftovers!

It’s likely this very story came to Clara during the car ride home from church with her sister that Sunday morning. Though the trip began with Clara fussing about pastor taking her last dime, by the time the two of them arrived home, Clara was laughing and praising God’s providence as she recalled the many times, many indeed, when her pockets were near empty but she’d been able to muster up a Sunday dinner for her family with what seemed for all the world like nothing, nothing at all.

“Yes,” Clara sang to herself as the car pulled into the driveway, “The Almighty keeps on making a lot out of a little. Yes sir, he does! Still wish I had my fifty dollars, though.”

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