Note: Something personal to add. This writer heard this story for the first time in London’s Hyde Park corner which is famous for ‘Soap Box Orators’ on Sunday evenings.
It was in the l950s when I was studying theology in Rome. Our summer holidays used to be for two months in June-July when we could go and susbstitute parish priests in Europe who wanted to go for a month’s vacation.
So one year I opted to go to London to a parish near Silver Place, as I remember, as a substitute assistant priest for one month. It happened that the “Hyde Park” was only walking distance from the parish. Since my mind was full of Shakespear and Hyde Park stories, I made sure that I visited the place.
I went by walk one Sunday evening and the park was full of Soap box orators on ladder tops surrounded by interested crowd. The title of the talk was always displayed like: Miracles of Jesus, Sin, Colonialism etc. I listened to all three titles mentioned.
There used to be discussions between the speaker and members from the crowd who ask questions, sometimes heated exchanges. To prevent them from fist fights, there are police always to control.
Miracle of Feeding
The speaker on Multiplication of Loaves, narrated almost a similar one, about people going to listen to meeting with bundles of edible material, as there were no ready to serve hotels those days. When Jesus asked his disciples to feed them all were wonder struck, what would happen and guessing. All were in suspense for a long time.
Then suddenly a boy from the crowd made bold to break the suspense saying: “I have a piece of bread and a fish to share.” His example stirred the rest of the crowd with much larger stock of food even for two days. Shamed by the boy, others, one by one opened up their stock and provided more than enough food to feed the whole crowd.
The speaker on colonialism on another podium was an Indian. He was raging against the British, who transported all the wealth in India to build up the sky scrapers around Hyde park. So one of the English in the crowd simply shot back: “You bastard of an Indian!” and the Indian was ready with his telling reply which he did very politely.
“Very well said” and went on: “you are honest and civilized to the core. You and your battalion roamed the whole of our country looting it’s wealth, in the process also the virginity of our good looking women and siring sons and daughters, but left them all fatherless. When we come to England looking for our fathers, you call us “Bastards!”
Soda to a ‘Pani’ Man
I have similar examples of little help I did, for example, to wake up a poor man lying unconscious, sick or drunk, on Marine drive road Ernakulam, which produced a domino effect of drawing a crowd at the sight of me doing alone. It also helped me to escape the scene since I could only buy a Soda and give him at his muttering: ‘Pani, pani” revealing he was a north Indian. Since I didn’t have much more to give and since a better off crowd took over attending to the man on the foot path I could escape the scene not worrying what I could do after giving him a Soda.
Have many personal experiences to recount, but not now. You do your little bit, others will come in do their bit, nay providence will draw others without your knowing. Drops make the mighty ocean, no one can empty by drinking. There is enough and more every body’s needs around us, only not enough for every body’s greed!
Read below Josph Mani’s telling examples which need no commentary. Words move, examples draw. Mani does just that.james kottoor, editor ccv.
Please read below Joseph Mani’s telling examples of crowd pulling
It was Sunday. The congregation had assembled for Mass. The Gospel reading for that day was about Jesus multiplying five loaves and two fish and feeding five thousand people (Mt. 14: 15-21)
In the homily, the priest narrated the whole incident once again as was his habit though everyone had just heard it read. He did not clarify whether there were four thousand fed by seven loaves or how the people managed for the previous three days they were supposed to have been with Jesus or whether that was a different miracle (Mt. 15: 32-39, Mk. 8: 1-9, et al). These minor details are not germane to the core message.
The core message, the priest said, was that this was a great miracle and it was another irrefutable proof that Jesus was God. With this message the priest did not give the congregation any new enlightenment. They had heard the story many times. They were all believers. They did not need one more proof of Jesus’ divinity.
More important, there was no actionable take-away in his message. Ordinary people cannot work miracles, so where does that leave them; what were they supposed to do with this message?
Another Sunday, same congregation, same Gospel passage, but a different priest. This priest took a different tack. He said: There were no Taco Bell or Punjabi Dhaba those days. People going on a journey carried food with them. Even the disciples carried their loaves and fish, not depending on miracles. Jesus knew this. He also knew that there were many who on the spur of the moment joined the crowd en route and so had not brought any food with them. If those who had food shared with those who did not, there would be enough for all. But someone had to start that process. So Jesus asked his disciples to start sharing with others the food they had brought with them. Once they started sharing, others too opened their baskets and started sharing. One said “Hey, I have some bread and some home-made jam, anyone wants some?” Another said “I have brought some apples, here please take one.” Someone had figs, someone had dates. Everyone shared what he or she had with others, even with those who had not brought anything. Since many families had brought a little more than what they would need, there was much left even after all had their full.
Does it mean Jesus did not work any miracle? He did. He inspired people to open their hearts to others and share what they had with those who needed. Isn’t opening people’s hearts to share a greater miracle? That is something even I can do without having any miraculous powers – share with others what I have. And once I start sharing others may follow and there will be enough for everyone.
The Nobel winning economist Amartya Sen’s thesis was that millions of people in the world go hungry not because there is not enough food in the world, but because there is asymmetry in access to food; the poor have little access while the rich have all the access. Those who have abundance prefer to hoard or even waste rather than share.
Once a couple in their seventies were travelling by train from Chennai to Bangalore. They both had lower berths. That was fortunate because neither of them would have found it easy to climb to an upper berth. There was a slight problem, though. One of the lower berths was in the next compartment. The old couple did not want to be separated, if possible. The old lady asked a person who had a lower berth if he could vacate his berth for them and take her lower berth in the next compartment. He refused saying “Sorry, all my luggage is here and I am not going to carry all that and go to another compartment.” After a few minutes a young man and an elderly lady entered. The young man said “My mother and I have both upper berths because of last minute reservation. I have no problem with the upper birth, but my mother had a knee surgery just a week ago and she is in no position to climb up.” He asked the same person if he could give his lower berth to his mother and take the upper berth. The man said “Look, this old lady already asked me to exchange my berth for a lower berth in another compartment and I refused. Now you want me to take an upper berth? No way.”
The seventy-five year old man tapped the young man on the shoulder and said “Son, your mother can take my lower berth. I shall go up and my wife can go to the other compartment.” The young man was overwhelmed with gratitude. He helped his mother to the berth and tucked her in.
Then something miraculous happened. This person who had consistently refused to give up his lower berth suddenly told the septuagenarian “Sir, you can take my berth. I’ll go up. My only request is that you take care of my bags.” The old man said “Please, Sir, you don’t have to do that. I know how much you hate an upper berth.” The man said “I don’t want to discuss anything. I saw what you did. You were willing to give up your lower birth and agreed to take the upper birth and you are at least forty years older than me.” With that he climbed up, covered himself with the sheet and was soon apparently asleep.
Once I stretch out my hand to help, others may follow.
Once a parish priest announced at the end of Mass “There is a family. They have a girl, a very bright student, she has passed eighth standard with high marks. But the family is too poor and can’t afford further schooling for her. I know the family well and it’s a genuine case. Can someone in the parish help this girl?” Then he added “This family doesn’t belong to this parish, they are not even Catholics. They are Hindus”.
This was a poor parish. Most parishioners were at best lower middle class. No single person alone was in a position to take care of all the expenses.
After some minutes of silence one elderly person stood up and hesitantly said “You know I am not a rich person. I have a small stationary shop. I can give this girl note books, pens and pencils, maps and whatever there is in my store. I know it’s not much but that is all I can do.”
A lady put up her hand and said “You know I have a small tailoring shop. I can make uniforms for the girl for this year. Next year, we shall see.”A third man said “You know I have a cycle repair shop. Some people dump their old cycles with me because they have no use for them. I can repair one of these cycles and give to the kid. And I’ll make it as good as new, I promise you.”
An auto driver said he would put away ten rupees every day and pay her fees at the end of the month for half the year, he was not sure about the whole year. Then a widow said “I’ll take care of the fees for the other half-year.”
Another offered to pay for the text books. The parish priest said “Thank you all so much. I think everything this child needs is taken care of.” Before the priest could turn away one man stood up and said “One moment, Father. I never thought I’d say this. But seeing what all the others have offered I want to say this. If the kid needs anything else please let me know. I also want to contribute.”
Jesus’ miracle: Opening our hearts to share.
Once there was a hamlet with a few dilapidated huts. All the people were very poor. The men folk would leave early morning hoping to get some work somewhere to earn a few rupees. The women would spend their time lamenting about their misery and tending to the few vegetables they had in the little patch of land around their huts.
One day a mendicant came to one of the huts. Hearing his call the lady of the house came out.Lady: Yes Swamiji, what can I do for you?
Swamiji: I am a wandering swami. I live on whatever people give me. I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday. Can you give me something to eat?
Lady: Sorry, Swamiji. I am very poor. I myself haven’t had much to eat since yesterday. There is nothing in the house I can give you.
Swamiji: Actually I have a magic stone in my bag. It is called the Soup Stone. Do you have water in the house?
“Of course.”Fill a large vessel with water and boil it. I’ll put my miracle Soup Stone into it and we will have wonderful soup.”
The woman did not believe the man. But it would be fun to see the man’s red face when the water refused to turn into soup.
So she filled a large vessel with water and kept it on the fire.
This is a fun that must be shared with her friends. She went to all the other huts and said “Come, there is a man who claims he can turn water into soup with his magic.” The other women welcomed the diversion to break the drabness of their lives.
By the time all the women had assembled, the water was boiling. The Swamiji took a polished stone from his sachet, dropped it into the water, stirred it with a ladle. He tasted a few drops of the “soup” and exclaimed “Ah, so yummy! If only we had some carrots it would taste even better.”
One lady said “I’ve some carrots at home.” Carrots were brought, chopped up and dropped into the soup. The Swamiji tasted the soup and said “Really tasty. If only we could add some onions.” Another lady had some onions. Another had some spinach, another had two tomatoes, another salt and another pepper.
Finally the Swamiji tasted the soup and said “Ladies, this is absolutely delicious. Bring the bowls and spoons and let us all have this wonderful soup.” As the ladies were eating the soup and ah-ing and wow-ing, the Swamiji quietly slipped away unnoticed. No one person could have done it alone. But when everyone pitched in there was more than enough.
Mother Teresa told Dr. Devi Shetty “Hands that stretch out to help are holier than hands that join in prayer.” Einstein said “Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.”
The primary and ultimate goal of a religious person seems to be to save his own soul, go to heaven and enjoy eternal happiness for himself. Is religion instilling and encouraging selfishness?
If for the last twenty centuries, the followers of Jesus, clergy and laity alike, had emphasized this one message, “Love your neighbour, stretch your hands out to those in need”, would not the world have been a better place now instead of harping on sin, salvation and religious superiority? Someone said “You can use your strength either to pull a man up or to push him down.”
Your comments are always welcome.