Stone Soup and Full Baskets
Ordinary Sunday 17: 29th July, 2012
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Jesus said, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" (Jn 6: 5)
Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher was a prolific twentieth-century American author. She wrote more than 20 books in her lifetime. Listen to some of the delightful titles: Serve it Forth (1937), Consider the Oyster (1941), How to Cook a Wolf (1942), The Gastronomical Me (1943), and With Bold Knife and Fork (1969). If you've not read her, you'll have guessed her topic. Fisher wrote about food: the preparation of food, the natural history of food, food culture, and even philosophical musings about food. In The Gastronomical Me, written during the war years, she reflects on her art:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft. The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one.
Food, security, and love; I think Mary Fisher has it in a nutshell. I have seen the truth of this sharing a meal in a Thai refugee camp, chatting with those attending the Breakfast Programme, on my pastoral visits sharing a cup of tea and a biscuit, at our meals after weekday High Mass, and in my own family life. We all need to feel safe and loved, and our routines and rituals of food sharing are an integral part of this. Ultimately that is what our mass is all about too. As we break bread and share wine together the mystery of God's love and peace is made manifest. There is an old story that depicts this truth beautifully. It is called "The Soup Stone" — you may have heard it before — but it is one of those stories that bears repeating.
Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbours. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.
"There's not a bite to eat in the whole province," he was told. "Better keep moving on."
"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. "In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you."
He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water. By now, hearing the rumour of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the "broth" and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their scepticism.
"Ahh," the soldier said to himself rather loudly, "I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — now that's hard to beat." Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. "Superb!" cried the soldier. "You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king."
The village butcher managed to find some salt beef ... and so it went on, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for everyone who lived in the village. The next day some of the business people in the village offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell it and continued on his journey.
Most of us, I imagine, are like the villagers in the story of the stone soup, or the disciples in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. We feel that what we have is not enough. Even vicars feel like that. The task is so big, the famine so intense, the crowd too numerous to feed. But then we encounter an act of faith: the crazy soldier with his stone, the naïve young boy who offers his five loaves and two fish. This draws something out within us. We all pitch in and a miracle takes place.
Yesterday's Melbourne Open House was a bit like that, everyone in the village pitched in: Helen and Rhonda got the ball rolling and organised things so well; Guy produced an incredible display of vestments in the hall and manned it all day; June talked to people about Our Lady of Walsingham; Adam and David set up the church beautifully; Craig and Yan and others gave out brochures and talked with a phenomenal number of our 450 visitors; Kieran played the organ all day; and the list goes on. It was an incredible effort and so good to see our church buzzing with people; and there is more today. A great day of stone soup and full baskets, and an encouragement as we journey together as a parish into the future that God holds for us.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.