Back in 1991 I traveled with my three siblings and my parents to Duncan, Nebraska for a family reunion. Duncan is about 9 miles west of Columbus, Nebraska, and since you probably aren’t super familiar with Nebraska geography it is about 90 miles west of Omaha. Duncan is a small town. At it’s largest it had just over 450 souls. Few people know about or have even heard of Duncan, Nebraska. The only people who know about Duncan are people who live in central-Nebraska, were fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football in the mid-1990s and people who have parents or grandparents (that’s me!) who are from there.
I don’t remember much from the trip other than we took US Highway 63 North out of Columbia, Missouri and stopped in Kirksville. I’m still trying to figure out why my parents took US 63 to get to Duncan. While I was writing this I looked at Google Maps and even with the expansion of US 63 to four lanes it still takes almost an hour more of travel time to get to Duncan from St. Louis. Maybe they wanted to go through Ottumwa (home of fictional character “Radar” O’Reilly from the TV show MASH), and come to think of it they did mention this a number of times between Kirksville and Ottumwa.
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When we stopped for the evening in Kirksville my mom noticed the signs for Northeast Missouri State University (NMSU). She suggested, “You should go here for college.” My response was, “There is no way I’m going to school in a dumpy little town like this!”
Early on in my senior year of high school I was firmly committed to the idea of going to Marquette University. I loved the idea of continuing at a Jesuit institution and their masters program in education was intriguing to me. I collected applications for a few other schools just to be sure. So if I wasn’t accepted into Marquette I would still apply at SLU, Creighton and Mizzou. I visited the tables of these colleges at my high school’s college fair. I picked up the schwag of a few of the other colleges, but I avoided talking to most of them. My good friend, Tom, said I should go with him and talk with NMSU’s recruiter. Since I wasn’t interested and had long ago dismissed the idea of attending school in a dumpy little town I stood behind Tom and let him talk to their representative. I was a bit shocked to hear they had the same program Marquette did. Oh, and the tuition is $11,000 a year less expensive, and you’re generous with scholarship money, and it’s three hours closer? Well, okay, I guess I’ll take your information, and wait I don’t have to pay anything to apply? Hmmm…
I ended up applying only to NMSU. I spent the next five years of my life in Kirksville. At some point in that time they changed the name of the college to Truman State University. My mom, of course, reminds me all the time she suggested I go there. It’s one of her favorite ‘I told you so’ moments. Those were five wonderful years of my life. I loved Kirksville and I loved Truman! I developed life-long friends, learned a lot (both in and out of the classroom) and met the woman I ended up marrying. This is not to say my life wouldn’t have been wonderful, blessed and rich if I had gone somewhere else. It’s also not putting down other colleges (well, except for maybe the University of Kansas). However, I am grateful for the abundance the small act of listening for a brief moment gave to me.
In this Gospel reading Jesus’s disciples notice a practical problem. I can imagine the fear they might have about thousands of humans without food. I know how grouchy I get when I’m hungry and I bet the disciples were thinking, “Oh no, we have a bunch of hungry, thirsty people who are going to start getting grouchy.” If they were like some of my friends they would probably say, “Oh no, they’re all hangry.” The disciples, as always, have a plan on how to solve it! As so often happens Jesus has a different plan, an impossible one.
His plan, take five loaves and two fish and feed all of these people. Could you imagine the incredulity the disciples probably responded with? “This man is crazy!” “No way we can do this!” The text does not say this, but it is crazy! The disciples get over their fear of not having enough and do what he tells them to do.
Our God is a God of abundance, of possibility. Giving ourselves the space to listen to what Jesus calls us helps us see beyond our human limitations, beyond our fears. Giving that small space can open up richness of life, abundance and possibilities.
- Describe some times where you were surprised by God’s abundant love.
- Describe a time you had a plan, listened to God’s call for you and then changed your plan.
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