As Jesus went ashore, he saw a large crowd, and he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
It was now getting late, so his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place and it is now late. You should send the people away, and let them go to the farms and villages around here, to buy themselves something to eat.”
Jesus replied, “You, yourselves, give them something to eat.” They answered, “If we are to feed them, we need two hundred silver coins to go and buy enough bread.” But Jesus said, “You have some loaves; how many? Go and see.” The disciples found out and said, “There are five loaves and two fish.”
Then he told them to have the people sit down, together in groups, on the green grass. This they did, in groups of hundreds and fifties. And Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and, raising his eyes to heaven, he pronounced a blessing, broke the loaves, and handed them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them.
They all ate and everyone had enough. The disciples gathered up what was left, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces of bread and fish. Five thousand men had eaten there.
The apostle John tells us in today’s first reading: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Now the verb “to know” has a very strong meaning in biblical Hebrew. For example, when a man has sexual intercourse with his wife, he is said to “know” her (v.g. Gen 4:1; 17:25; Nb 31:18, 35; Jdg 21:12; etc.). In other words, to “know” is synonymous with: to experience in depth. It is not, like in Western philosophy, a merely intellectual process. It is an activity which involves the whole person. Now, because of this, sincere atheists who are ready to sacrifice themselves for other people’s welfare, despite their intellectual denial of God’s existence (often based on inadequate notions about God), are actually very much attuned to God, because the very nature of God is to love, as John tells us (“God is love“), and such atheists truly love.
Thus we have such cases as that of Nelson Mandela (died in 2013), who spent 27 years in jail for his political convictions and emerged from there a most loving person who rid his country, South Africa, of the scourge of apartheid (racial segregation)—and yet was a communist to his dying day. True, his mind denied God, but he “knew” God at the very core of his being. And that is what ultimately matters.
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