Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother said: ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.”
The Eucharist, as the sacrament that celebrates the physical presence of Christ in the midst of His people in the form of bread and wine, is the distinctive character of the Church. It is at the centre of the Church’s liturgical and spiritual life. The Second Vatican Council describes the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Christian life” (Lumen Gentium. LG. 11). Every action of the Church is founded on the Eucharist and it flows towards it in essence and in reality. St. Irenaeus acknowledges the depth of the impact of the Eucharist in the lives of Christians, nay Catholics, thus: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” Beginning from this Sunday to the 21st Sunday, the Church interrupts our reading from the Gospel of Mark and inserts one of the most important chapters of the New Testament, John 6, where we encounter the Bread of Life Discourse of Jesus as a prefigure of the offering of His Body and Blood in the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist for the salvation of humanity. The Gospel of John (6: 1-15) presents the miracle of the Multiplication of five loaves and two fish for the feeding of five thousand people. This is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all the Four Gospels. Perhaps this by itself points to the centrality of this miracle to the understanding of the mission of Jesus and the accomplishment of the same. The Eucharist remains the substance of the “memorial” of the One Sacrifice that has made Eternal Life possible.
Our Readings at today’s Mass invite us to reflect on this all-important gift of Christ to His Church – the Eucharist. There are interesting connections and insights between the First Reading (2 Kings 4: 42-44) and the Gospel. Both the First Reading and Gospel narrate the miracle of the multiplication of loaves. Elisha, the “man of God”, one of the few men who were known as miracle workers in the Old Testament, multiplied twenty loaves to feed a hundred men; Jesus, the Son of God, multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men. Whereas the miracle of Elisha, was a recall to the feeding of the people of Israel with manna from heaven by Moses, and also foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, Who would feed the people of Israel to their fill. The miracle of Jesus was both a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and in anticipation of the Eucharist, the feeding of humanity with His Body, the Bread of life. Jesus is thus the new Moses who feeds the new Israel with the Bread of life. Both miracles use barley loaves. Barley bread was the cheapest bread and was held in contempt by the people. It was the bread of the very poor. The Lord always needs what we can all afford. What the Lords needs from us is affordable by all and easily accessible to all. There is a complain of insufficiency in both miracles that presents a challenge to us as we reflect on these historic miracles of immense salvific implications. The servant of Elisha asked: “How can I serve this to a hundred men?” Similarly, Andrew said to Jesus: “There is a boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?” We often fall into this trap of insufficiency where we complain about our unworthiness, that what we have is not much. And so we stay away from His Presence and fail to present ourselves and our gifts to Him. Yes, we may not be good enough but Jesus wants us just as we are; what we have may not be good enough but that exactly how Jesus wants it; it may not be much but Jesus says: “Bring it here.” It depends on whose hands we place them. Little is always much in the Hands of Jesus; the bad is always made good in His Hands and the weak is made strong if offered to Him. So let us go to Him in our insufficiency and He will make us adequate and whole; take it to Him and He will multiply it. Do not sit back and complain, but step forward and comply. In both miracles there are explicit reliance on God by Elisha and Jesus. Faith in God is what makes miracles possible.
The actions of Jesus clearly foreshadow what He would do at the Last Supper: “He took the loaves, gave thanks and gave them out.” The account of Mark is more detailed: “Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples” (Mark 6: 41). This vividly presents the image of the priest at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The miracles of the multiplication of loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist” (CCC 1335). After the thanksgiving the bread was offered to the people, who ate and had their fill. There were twelve baskets full of the leftovers. The number twelve here signifies the twelve tribes of Israel. The gathering of the leftovers to fill twelve baskets signifies the restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Jesus, as the Messiah, will gather the new Israel and feed them, not with Manna but with the Bread of life. By providing superabundantly to the people, Jesus had taken the role of God Himself, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30: 20).
This miracle opened the eyes of the people to see Jesus as the fulfilment of the promise of God to Moses: “I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites” (Deuteronomy 18: 18). So they testified: “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.” And wanted to make Jesus king but Jesus “escaped back to the hills by Himself.” Jesus was not interested in cheap popularity. The reason for the miracle was not to be made king but it was an empathetic and compassionate response of the Lord to the needs of His people; it was also, as we have noted, to foreshadow the Eucharistic sacrifice that He would leave for His Church as a memorial of His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Today, my dear friends, Jesus teaches us that it is in sharing the little that we have that everyone around us can have enough. When we look around us, we see so much greed, so much hoarding, so much individualism that stares us in the face. Let this reality challenge us in the light of our gospel message today. Secondly, Jesus invites us to come to Him as we are so that He may make us whole. Thirdly, He offers us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist so that we may eat and drink and never be hungry or thirsty again. Let us open our eyes to see these needs; let us our ears to hear this invitation; let us open hearts to feel and to respond in generosity and love.