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Learning to count

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

"They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children." (Mt. 14:13-21)

There are two sentences that make the gospel passage about the feeding of the five thousand both one of my favorite and one of my least favorite in all of scripture. The first sentence is, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” The second is, “Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.” I’ve chosen the voices of two African women to add to my own.

Give them some food yourselves. I recently listened to a TED Talk presented by the outrageously outspoken Nigerian journalist, Adeola Fayehun. Africa has everything it needs to be great, she declares with the utmost confidence. I want our leaders to start taking responsibility and stop putting everything on God. God has given us everything we need. Five loaves and two fish. Jesus uses his hands to take the bread, to give thanks for it, and then to break it so that it can be distributed. The miracle is his responsibility, but it is equally the responsibility of the disciples, whose job it is to make sure that everyone gets what they need.

Not counting the women and children. It’s hard for me to understand why the women and children weren’t counted, when it stands to reason that they far outnumbered the menas is the same today, in our own church communities. Historically and customarily, it has been the women who have made sure that the practice of faith is kept alive in the home and, by extension, the community. And yet, we still go uncounted. I have found consolation in yet another TED Talk, this one by Former Liberian president, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We faced the challenges of those left behind—the primary victims of all civil war: women and children. But there's nothing more predictable than a strong woman who wants to change things, who's brave to speak out, who's bold in action. There will always be those who will tear us down, who will tear us apart, (those who refuse to count us) because they want the status quo to remain. What this says to me is that when women do the counting, not only is everyone accounted for, but everyone is held accountable.

Author: Angela Redmond-Theodore

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