The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Sustris 1515-1568, Private Collection.
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.” John 6:14.
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Save for the ultimate miracle of the Resurrection, today’s gospel, the feeding of the 5000, is the only miracle found in all four gospels. From that simple fact it seems it made an enormous impact on everyone, never to be forgotten. For one thing, it must have reminded devout people of the parallel which is today’s first reading from Second Kings, where only 100 people were fed with 20 barley loaves, a miracle nonetheless. There is also the echo of the feeding of the Hebrew people with manna in the desert for 40 years. So the experience was clearly rooted in Scripture, with Jesus becoming, as it were, the new Elisha and even the new Moses. It underlined once more the power of the Lord to assist others, and never himself. I can easily imagine Jesus not eating any of this until the end, when he might have eaten some of the abundant left-overs, after making sure everyone was filled up. Just like a shepherd and his sheep, he was completely aware of, and willing to meet, the needs of his flock.
The image of bread seems to be a very strong element in Jesus’ ministry. It comes up at the very beginning of his ministry, with the temptation in the desert, when, tired and hungry, the devil reminded him of his divine power, even to change rocks into crusty, fragrant, delicious, fresh-baked bread. Jesus refused. Matthew 15:29-39 relates the other multiplication miracle, the feeding of the 4,000. Here again it is the compassion of the Lord for his flock. Then, ultimately, it is the Last Supper moment where Jesus declared bread, blessed by the Lord himself, to be his true body, thus elevating this basic, simple sustainer of human life to be that which sustains our link to the Godhead, our own spiritual life sustainer. Even on the wider level, to include the Old Testament, bread was an essential element in the release from slavery in Egypt at the Passover meal of unleavened bread (from which we get our unleavened communion hosts today). In fact, it appears that bread is mentioned over 490 times in the Bible! It is clearly seen as a fundamental of life, both physically and spiritually.
So is there a message for us in today’s readings? We are the children of God, those of us who have been baptized into the faith. That is our identity, to be remembered and maintained at every second. Our vocation, also received at baptism, is to be Christ to the world, as indicated by our God-given gifts, which guide us into whatever career they support. And it is in that career and vocation that we act as Jesus would act. In that world, whatever it might be, we must act as Jesus does in today’s gospel. We do all in our power to support those around us, and those far away, as well as ourself. That is to say, we love neighbor and self as integral and essential elements in loving God above all and within all.
The Great Command, N.T.I.M.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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