The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, anonymous, the Royal Church, Curtea de Arges, Romania.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline…..” John 6:9-10
Today’s gospel tells us that there were about 5000 gathered simply to listen to Jesus’ words. Remember from last week’s gospel, which immediately precedes today’s, that the original idea was for the Jesus and his disciples to go away for some reflection and prayer. The crowd however thought differently, and followed them, simply to hear more of what Jesus had to say. He talked to them, and then reality dawned. He was the one who asked how these people were going to get something to eat. A silly question, because there was no money to buy enough for everybody. His disciples were very concerned, not having a clue how to respond to the situation; Andrew found a lad with a little bit of food, perhaps offered by the boy to him in good faith. But it was clear that they could do nothing to deal with the problem. And then the miracle happened. How? Who knows? Scholars try to explain it away by saying it would be realistic to suggest that people would never take a trip like that without taking something to eat and drink, and that they were inspired to share it all with those who had not done so. Maybe. The words of the gospel at this point seem to be a pre-echo of the Last Supper. “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining…” (John 6:11). So perhaps it was a real demonstration of Jesus’ power by virtue of being the Son of God, to cement in the people’s mind that the words he spoke to them were words of God’s truth, and also to demonstrate to his disciples that they were right to trust him and follow him. That certainly seems to be the case seen in the concluding thought of today’s gospel: When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” (Jn. 6:14). Then, as ever, he knew they were thinking of him as their long-expected warrior-messiah, and he definitely was not, and this time he managed to escape successfully to a quiet place. Jesus was not a warrior-messiah!
Jesus’ vocation was to be the prophesied Messiah, fulfilling those prophecies in Scripture. For example, Isaiah 58:10 says: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” Jesus, in his teaching, which clearly attracted many people, met the “desire of the afflicted,” with their troubles and fears, but also literally fed and cured them, giving a practical dynamic to fulfilling his vocation. In this he gave us a model for our own vocation, which is to be Christ to the world, our own world. There we must implement our Christian ideals, but never forget there must be a practical element, not just words. This is the essential message St. Paul is talking about in today’s second reading. We have to live the Christian word in practice, just as Jesus did. How we do that depends on our own gifts, our talents and skills, using them all to serve our brothers and sisters and in that way make the world a better, happier place. That is to fulfill God’s will for each of us, again just as Jesus did, no matter the consequences; God knows if we have done our best to be of service and, as God’s children, be obedient to the divine will to the very best of our ability. At that point we will indeed be Christ to the world.
Miracle of The Bread and Fish, Giovanni Lanfranco, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.