Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish, and they became enough to feed five thousand people. This may sound irreverent, but aren’t we left asking, “Jesus, why don’t you do this more often?” Jesus had been healing the sick. The Gospel tells us, that’s why the crowd had followed him there, but now Jesus works a miracle for the average joe, for those with everyday needs, food, hunger. From healing the sick to helping the everyday man with everyday needs, our Lord was working miracles, but the Gospel doesn’t call them miracles, St. John calls them signs. This sign, like all the miracles in the Gospel are being worked not only because Christ had compassion and wanted to alleviate suffering, but because he was teaching us something; they carry a meaning for all ages, they carry a meaning for us today. In this miracle Christ was teaching us about the great gift of the Eucharist, and his plan for it to be distributed to all people for all ages through the Church. The Eucharist is something upon which we can rely, to restore our dignity and enable us to do the Father’s will, but before we get into that, let’s get a wider view of what the Church is teaching us through the special arrangement of scripture being offered today.
The Church is having us take a detour from our reading of the Gospel of Mark. Last week we were reading Mark chapter 6, and we heard that Christ saw us as sheep without a shepherd. Moved with pity, he began to teach us many things. That is, Christ’s cure for our problem of being without a shepherd was to teach us, was to share his “Word.” This week, we will be begin reading John chapter 6. In five weeks, this chapter will climax with the revelation that we must eat his “Body” and drink his “Blood” to have eternal life. Word and Eucharist, hearing Sacred Scripture and receiving Holy Communion, the Church is showing us that these two things are inseparable. At the end of John 6, we are told that many disciples leave Jesus because his words about eating his Body and drinking his blood are hard to accept. In contrast to these disciples which left, we hear Peter, who was probably also a little uncomfortable by Christ’s words, yet responded with faith and trust saying, “Where else shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” Thus straight from Scripture, from the earliest of times, we find the recognition that Christ’s Body and Blood are connected to his Word. The Word of God and the Eucharist are inseparable. This is why at every mass we hear the Word of God and then we receive the Bread of Life, because they are both Christ himself, they are inseparable, and like Peter our first Pope, we respond to Jesus in faith and trust. Thus with Peter we make the connection, the Word of God and the Body of Christ are united. Once the Church has helped us to make this connection: that we don’t live by bread alone, nor by word alone, but by both, we will return to Mark 7 where Jesus instructs us to live moral lives. Thus through this detour we learn that, to be a member of his Body, to receive the Bread of Life, we must be striving to live according to the Word of God, to be living a moral life.
Through God’s Word we become aware of how God loves us, and then how we are to love him and each other. Through the Eucharist we receive this love, and are made able to give this love to God and to each other. The Word teaches us the Father’s will, and the Body heals us and makes us strong so that we can follow the Father’s will. The purpose is for us to return to the peace and joy of a moral life, to the dignity of being images of God, and to once again be like sheep with a shepherd. As a bonus, we discover that our shepherd is leading us beyond our worldly expectation, to be with him eternally in heaven.
Now back to our Gospel for today, how is the feeding of the five thousand a sign that points to the Eucharist? Firstly we find Jesus coming down from the mountain to feed the people. This symbolizes how he is the Son of God who comes down from heaven to give us a great gift. From below, we find a “boy” with 5 loaves and two fish. Who is this anonymous boy carrying such a great load of food? Being that he was a boy, he must have gotten this bread and fish from his family, and every boy has a father. And he shares these gifts from his father to all the people. Jesus’ humanity is symbolized by this boy, and Jesus divinity is symbolized by him coming down from the mountain. Jesus transforms the normal gifts of creation, into miraculous gifts from heaven. The bread and the wine that we bring up in every Mass, he transforms into his very self, the Eucharist. Jesus’ humanity and divinity meet and are united in sharing the gifts he has received from his Father. This is a self-sacrificial gift to satisfy the hunger of a great multitude of people, a gift for the salvation of us all, the Eucharist which Catholics celebrate at every Mass.
The fish on the other hand, the fish is another symbol for us to consider. The fish is a common symbol for Christians. Fish swim in a school, and they swim completely immersed, surrounded, by a body of water. They breathe that water, and that water carries their food. We are like fish also, because we are individual persons, but we are also intended to be a community, to be united as in one school of fish swimming together. We are to be completely immersed, surrounded, by God’s grace and Word, in which we swim. But why two fish? Which two Christians are these? They are the only two fish that have never known sin, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they are also given to us as food. Jesus is the Word and Mary is filled with the Word and is completely obedient to it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, together they are fed to us. As we receive them our lives take the shape of the Word and we too become fish. In receiving them into our hearts, they are multiplied through us, because we become like them, more fish. As examples of the living Word of God, we too become food for others. Through the Word of God and the Eucharist, we are made able to swim in his “school”, to swim in the water of his grace and Spirit, in order to help others do the same.
Now when the people did not understand the miracle that was worked for them, when they did not understand what the “sign” was pointing to, they sought to make Jesus their worldly King. But Jesus “withdraws” to the mountain alone. He leaves the 12 disciples with 12 wicker baskets of leftover bread. This is a symbol of how the care of the people, the care of the sacraments were given to the first 12 apostles, to the first 12 bishops. The Bread of Life, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, has been left to be administered to us by our bishops, and now that we are large school, also to our priests. There was an abundance of bread leftover meaning this sacrament will always be with us for the care of all our souls. In contrast there were no fish leftover, after their lives of self-sacrifice, Jesus and Mary will go to heaven to continue carrying on the Father’s work from there.
This miracle, this sign, reveals to us that Christ left us this Mass so that we could become what God intends us to be. Christ has given us his Word and the heavenly Bread, so that we might know God’s will (the Word) and might be able to carry it out (the Eucharist). So that we might be his school of fish in the world. He doesn’t want to be our worldly king because that is our work to carry out. From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden we were told to be the stewards of God’s creation, to be fruitful and to multiply. Jesus came to re-awaken us and to re-new our capacity to accomplish this, to know and be able to do the Father’s will. He did not come to take our part away from us, but to make this dignity and privilege possible again. After this miracle, he withdraws to the top of the mountain refusing to be our earthly king. It was never his intention to take away our dignity nor our responsibility, but to help us live them out through his self-sacrificial gift, the gift of his very self, in his Word and his Sacraments.
In conclusion, it is right, it is right to call on God for healing and for our everyday needs, but let us also be aware that Christ’s ultimate intention was to restore us to the dignity of life in God and for us to share his gifts, his very self with others. This he does primarily not by physical miracles, but by forming us according to his Word through the Eucharist. We are to apply the gifts he has given us to solving our worldly problems. Let us never misinterpret Jesus’ signs, but always thank him for providing us with the resources to exercise this great dignity and responsibility. Knowing the Father’s will and having the grace to accomplish it, this is our peace and our joy until Christ comes down from that mountain again.