Did you notice the similarities between the first reading from 2
Kings and today’s gospel? One of the reasons the first readings are
chosen is because they point to their fulfillment in Jesus. Today
the two readings run in close parallel to one another.
Both Elisha, the prophet, and Jesus respond to the hunger of the
people before them. They enlist the services of others to feed the
people – both meet with similar bewilderment. There are too many
hungry people and too little food to feed them. Did you notice the
bread in both stories is barley loaves? It wasn’t croissants or
bagels, just the simple bread of the poor, provided from the midst
of the people themselves. There is more than enough food to satisfy
the their hunger and there are leftovers. In Jesus’ miracle, a lot
of leftovers! People’s hunger will return and what the Lord gives is
both more than enough for now – and the future.
The Elisha account reminds us that Jesus’ providing bread was not
the first time God fed hungry people. Remember also the manna, and
quail in the desert for the Israelites? But Jesus isn’t only
providing food for the road, though he is doing that. He is also
drawing the hungry together, not just to fill their stomachs, but to
share a meal with him and one another.
When we eat our Eucharistic meal today it won’t just be for our
own spiritual hungers. Eucharist is a community meal and we are
reminded it is not just about our personal salvation. We are saved
and fed as a community, and as a community we are called to feed
others. Elisha and Jesus use the bread provided by others and so we
ask: Who are the hungry and what bread do I have for them?
Notice that Jesus and his disciples don’t just toss out bread to
outstretched hands. Instead, there is an accompanying ritual: the
peoples’ bread is given to Jesus, who receives it, gives thanks and
shares the food with the hungry. We learn that we don’t just feed
people’s physical hungers. We also offer them our presence and
commitment – a very nourishing and satisfying food for the many
hungers of modern people.
All those people Jesus and his disciples fed that day entered
into a new relationship with one another and with him. We can see
why John and the early church saved the story. The feeding of the
crowds is more than a miracle story of multiplied bread. It is a
lesson for us about Eucharist: about hungry people coming to the
altar to fill their hungers and then, as refreshed disciples, going
forth to do the same for others.
Meals these days can be rushed affairs: we grab "a bite" on the
run. Parents consider themselves lucky if they can get all their
family members around a table a few times a week. Forget about
having a Sunday meal with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
Those days are gone. But in Jesus’ day meals were not casual
get-togethers; they were significant, though seeming-ordinary
Eating with others strengthened family bonds and ties with
friends. If enemies sat and ate together, the meal reconciled them
with one another.
Together we eat at the same table, where sins are forgiven, and
separations bridged. We may be strangers to one another, but at this
table we are a community formed and nourished by Jesus, our bread of
life. Through our actions shall we be a sign to others of Jesus’
continued presence and concern for our world? He turns to us and
asks the same question he asked his disciples: "Where can we buy
enough food for them to eat?" Like them, we see the people’s needs
and our own inadequacies as well. We also shrug our shoulders and
say, "We just don’t have enough to feed them!" But he takes what few
gifts we place at his disposal, our "barley loaves," blesses them
and feeds the hungry with them.
It wasn’t just a meal for the thousands by the sea of Galilee,
was it? It was also a reminder that Jesus would give us himself –
blessed and broken– from the cross. He renewed the covenant God made
with the hungry, wandering people in the desert and, with this meal,
he renews the covenant with us as well.
I don’t think the miracle of the bread impresses, or convinces,
modern people. They look at Jesus’ miracles, if they acknowledge
them at all, as past wonders. So, trying to draw others to faith
because of Jesus’ wonder-working, miraculous powers, doesn’t go very
far. To modern ears it’s all part of a long-gone age and a tale
about "simple people." Perhaps more convincing than the works Jesus
performed, are his words and deeds. Jesus brought healing to
people’s lives. He is the "bread of life" and could satisfy their,
and our deepest hungers. He walked on the water once; but he
continues to calm our fears and enable compassion in us for those
still burdened by sin, ignorance and confusion.
In some cases today, miracles still occur. But what occurs more
regularly and with less fanfare, is the wonder of God’s grace that
permeates all of our living. We may not be able to testify to a
recent "miracle" that has happened in our lives; but we can witness
how often God works in the most ordinary ways. As ordinary as the
barley loaves that fed the multitude.
During the civil rights struggle in our country, people were very
agitated about their table companions. They refused to eat with
people of other races. In the crowd by the sea of Galilee that day,
there certainly were those considered sinners and ritually unclean
by the devout. Women were there too; the healthy and the sick;
citizens and foreigners; different races; the comfortable and the
poor. Yet, there were no restrictions on who could, or couldn’t, eat
the meal. All ate, or were welcome at Jesus’ table. None got an
exclusive menu with choices. They ate the same food: Jesus was
offering himself to everyone. Just as bread was broken and shared
for all, so would he be – and is, at our table today.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: