All through this particular year we take our readings from
the Gospel of Mark but because it is much shorter than
the Gospels of Matthew and Luke it is sometimes
supplemented by extracts from the Gospel of John. This
is the case with the next five Sundays when we consider Christ’s extended discourse on the Bread of Life. We begin this week with the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
We are all very familiar with this wonderful miracle and how Christ transformed the five barley loaves and two fish into sufficient food to feed five thousand people and how he ended up with twelve hampers full of left overs.
This, however, is no ordinary miracle. Most of Jesus’ miracles were healings or exorcisms and a couple of times raising people from the dead; but there were other miracles such as changing water into wine, walking on the water, the miraculous catch of fish and the calming of the storm.
But this miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is unique because it has specific overtones of the Eucharist. And it is given particular prominence here in the Gospel of John which does not have an actual celebration of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Instead it has the account of the Washing of the Feet and the long Farewell Discourse given by Jesus.
There are several aspects of the story that link directly with the Eucharist. The first is that it took place at the time of the Passover, exactly one year before Christ’s death on the Cross. So there is a specific connection with the time when it occurred, exactly a year before the Last Supper itself.
Another link is that it involves bread which is distributed among the people as is also done at the Eucharist. This bread feeds our bodies but in the case of the Eucharist it more importantly feeds our souls.
Then there is the sequence of actions which is similar to that of the four actions which comprise the Eucharist: take, bless, break, give. These are the four parts of the mass: take as in the Offertory, bless as in the Eucharistic Prayer, break as the priest does at the Lamb of God and give as at the distribution of Holy Communion.
In the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand we clearly see how Jesus took the bread and fish from the boy and this represents the offertory where the priest receives the gifts. Then we see how Jesus gave thanks; this is the same as the blessing that occurs in the mass. The Greek word for giving thanks is eucharisteo which is the very same word used for the mass, the Eucharist.
There is no explicit reference in the text to Jesus actually breaking the bread on this occasion but he must have done so in order for it to be distributed among the people. And then there is the giving out of the bread with its direct parallel in the mass of the distribution of Holy Communion.
We can see then some very direct connections with the Eucharist and in the coming weeks in our Gospel readings we will see how Jesus carefully explained all this to his disciples. For example next week’s Gospel concludes with the statement, ‘I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never be hungry, he who believes in me will never thirst.’ You couldn’t get a more direct reference to the Eucharist than that.
There is also one other thing to be taken into account and that is the messianic expectation of the people. They have been following Jesus around for quite some time and they are growing in their understanding of his message and his significance, even though they don’t always get it quite right.
The people have come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah and this is given expression in the reading today when they say, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ The people then decide to take him by force and make him King, but Jesus flees into the hills.
There is as we know a messianic dimension to the Eucharist. It is both a sign and a promise of the Kingdom of God. In the Eucharist we acknowledge the Kingship of Jesus, we acknowledge too his presence among us and by receiving his body and blood we are given a pledge of life eternal.
So we can see that there are a great many links between this account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the mass, the Holy Eucharist that we celebrate today.
I’d just like to point out one other little detail in this fascinating story and that is the generosity of the boy. This little lad just happened to be there with his five barley loaves and two fish. We don’t know what he was doing with them although he was probably taking advantage of the great crowd gathered there to sell his food to them.
I’m sure that his father was waiting for him to come home with a few coins from the sale of this small amount of spare food. There is not much mention of the boy except for the fact that Andrew points out that he has some loaves and a few fish.
Then the story simply says that Jesus took them; but Jesus would never have taken them by force and there is no mention of money so it seems logical that the boy generously offered the loaves and the fish to Jesus.
He probably expected to get a scolding from his father when he got home with no money for the family. But nevertheless the boy freely hands over the loaves and fishes to Jesus. It is therefore a simple act of generosity on which this great miracle is based.
And generosity we know is at the very heart of the Eucharist; the generous love of our great God for us, the generous sacrifice of Jesus our Saviour on the Cross of Calvary for the redemption of our sins. And generosity is an important element of our relationship with each other as we gather to celebrate God’s love in the Eucharist.
We share the sign of peace together and we all share in the one bread and we feel the unity that binds together all Christians. Leaving the Church we feel especially benevolent towards each other and are generous with our time and our gifts.
You can imagine on the Day of the Resurrection that young boy arriving in heaven to meet Jesus and saying, ‘I’m the boy with the five loaves and the two fish.’ What a welcome he would receive as being the one with such a generous heart that enabled Christ to perform such a wonderful miracle, one which would become such a teaching opportunity for the whole world.
We are happy for him, but we should also be happy for ourselves when we too show a generous heart to our brothers and sisters in the human family.
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July 26, 2015
Seventeenth Sunday: John 6 Part 1 and the First Supper
This Sunday we begin a five week focus on the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John. We do this every three years, just as we repeat all the Sunday readings every three years. That the Church should spend five weeks on John 6 demonstrates that this is one of the most important sections of the Gospels.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
John 6: 1–15
Because of the signs Jesus was performing on the sick, a large crowd followed him as he went up on a mountain with his disciples. When Jesus saw the crowd, he said, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip answered, in effect, that he did not know. Another disciple said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus had all the people recline. Then he took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the people, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. After the banquet, the disciples gathered twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that were left over. Since the people wanted to carry him off and make him king, Jesus withdrew to be alone on the mountain.