Our Gospel today introduces us to Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Eucharist – the central mystery of our Catholic faith. The last few Sundays, we have seen the momentum of Jesus’ public ministry and the reaction of the Jewish people. The gospels of the past few weeks have recounted scenes of Jesus overpowering demons by casting them out from various men and women whom He encountered.
We have seen Him healing the sick and preaching in the synagogue where people knew Him, people who were spellbound by His preaching and asking: “Where did He get all this?” We have seen Him sending the Apostles out to preach, teach and heal the sick.
And last week we saw Jesus and the apostles trying to rest a little, but persuaded by the crowds to give more and more. Saint Mark said, last Sunday: “Jesus saw the vast crowd and He pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd”
Today’s Gospel presents the story of human need and God’s response to that need. Jesus feeds the multitudes. As the scene opens: there is a vast crowd of about 5,000 men, (25,000) counting the woman and children. They have been following Jesus and have been listening to Him preach and watching Him heal. The crowd is very tired and hungry and they have no visible resources for food.
The Apostles are trying to keep the crowd calm and orderly, but they are beginning to get restless. Jesus initiated the miraculous feeding by asking: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip could hardly believe his ears, but He was at least trying to figure out how to feed the crowd. Andrew cleared his throat, and then announced to Jesus: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and a couple of fish.”
Andrew was gradually “coming to faith” in the power of Jesus. Jesus took the bread and the fish, blessed and broke it, gave it to the Apostles, and told them to distribute it to the vast crowd. They did, and after all the people had eaten, there were twelve baskets full of food leftover.
The reaction of the people was amazement and delight. They said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” But they missed the point. They saw the miracle as a kind of entertainment – a show – what else can He do for them? It is clear to Jesus that they would like to use Him for political purposes. John says: “Jesus could see that they were about to come and make him king, so He withdrew to the mountain alone.”
As long as Jesus said and did the things that the people wanted him to do, and as long as Jesus didn’t disturb their religious indifference, they were delighted: but challenge them, and they couldn’t take it – they wouldn’t accept it! This incident in the Gospel today was just the introduction – the warm-up pitch to the most profound mystery ever revealed to the world! The miracle of the loaves fed hungry people; Jesus intended to feed hungry souls!
The miracle of the loaves and fishes fed hungry people bread and fish – food for their bellies; the miracle of the Eucharist would feed people Jesus’ very body, blood, soul, and divinity – food for the souls.
In the next few weeks, the Gospel will be the continuation of Jesus’ promise of the Eucharist. St. John makes it clear, that many of the people who had been his followers, did not want to hear about the Eucharist. The catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them. ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
The Eucharist and the cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. ‘Will you go away too?’ The Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only He has the words of eternal life, and that to receive in faith the gift of the Eucharist, is to receive the Lord himself.”
On the day of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, those who had been fed walked away from Jesus when He spoke of the living bread of the Eucharist that He would one day give the world to eat – His very body and blood. If you would have been in the crowd that day, what would you have done? Would you have walked away from the lord because of this teaching?
Our faith must be as deep as the roots of the Church! We must treasure the Eucharist, we must love the Eucharist. Our faith must be embedded in the Eucharist – the real and true body and blood of Jesus Christ! Our faith must be grafted onto the rock who is Peter-grafted onto his successor Francis. Our commitment to the Eucharist must be as serious as our commitment to take our next breath!
Until we are convinced with all our mind, with all our heart and to the depths of our souls of Jesus presence in the Eucharist, we are as fickle as the crowd who walked away from the Lord that day shaking our heads and saying, “This sort of talk is hard to endure! Who can take it seriously?”