A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear. Elisha said, "Give it to the people to eat." But his servant objected, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" Elisha insisted, "Give it to the people to eat." "For thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'" And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said.
Refrain: The hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs.
1) Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might. (Refrain:)
2) The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Refrain:)
3) The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little." One of his disciples, 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." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. 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." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
[Text from: Lectionary for Mass Volume I, Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved.]
The Cultural World of Jesus, by John J. Pilch, pp. 115-117. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1996.
The Word Encountered, by John F. Kavanaugh, pp. 89-90. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1996.
Catechism: #1382-1390. United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC: 1994.
- Now if we are going to make that linkage between John's gospel and the Eucharist, it has to be done using this chapter. Well, you might ask why that is so? Why don't we just use the Last Supper narrative? Well, we could do that, but it wouldn't come from John's gospel. You see, JOHN'S GOSPEL HAS NO LAST SUPPER NARRATIVE!
- "God convokes the Christian assembly to celebrate the Eucharist, when Christ - Word and Bread - having fed his faithful by giving himself to them, sends them into the world to announce to the crowds, wandering without shepherds, the good news of salvation, so that all of us may one day share the same joy and unite ourselves to the thanksgiving of God's children finally gathered." (1)
- Jesus formed the disciples for their ministry by awakening in them a compassion for the crowds that were hungry for the Word of God and for the bread of life and by teaching them, through his example, what they were to do and teach. This urgent mission has priority over all the rest. (1) We heard last week about the need we all have for solitude, for time spent alone with God, for time to recharge our batteries and make certain that we are "staying the right course" and not being lured away by the attractions of this world. But this solitude is not a cause to stay away from people, but rather something which should lead us back to them with renewed vigor.
Before we delve into today's gospel, I would like to review with you where this gospel fits in the liturgical year. There are three cycles of readings: during the first year, the gospels are taken from Matthew; in the second year, they come from Mark; and in the third year, from Luke. We are currently in the second year and are focusing primarily on Mark's gospel. In last week's gospel, we heard how the disciples had returned to Jesus and how he had wanted to provide them with some rest after their missionary work by taking them away from the crowds and across the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum, where he was preaching. However, the crowds saw where they were going and followed them on land. So, when Jesus and the disciples disembarked, the crowd had already re-assembled there. Because of their persistence, Mark says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd and taught them many things.
If we were to continue reading Mark's gospel, we would come to his narration of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. However, instead of his narration, the Church switches gears on us out of Mark's gospel and into Chapter 6 of John's gospel, which will be read over the next five weeks. These excerpts will contain our Lord's "I am the bread of life" discourse. Now we could ask why does the church do that? Well, first of all, Mark's gospel is the shortest of all and, thus, other readings are needed to fill it out. But secondly, and I believe more importantly, the liturgists have done this because this discourse forms such an important part not only of John's entire gospel, but of our Eucharistic beliefs.
As I just mentioned, last week's gospel ended with Jesus having compassion on the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so he taught them many things. In other words, he fed them with spiritual nourishment, the Word of God. Now in today's gospel, John begins with the same information that Mark included in his narrative: that Jesus went away across the Sea of Galilee, but that a great crowd followed him. It is then that Jesus feeds the multitudes with the five loaves and two small fish. In other words, he gives them physical nourishment. If we think about that for a minute, we would realize that Christ was instituting the very first liturgical celebration. First, he fed the people with the Word of God, which we hear in the Liturgy of the Word every time we attend a Eucharistic celebration. But then he goes on to feed us with the bread and wine of his own Body and Blood. This is an important point to make, especially as we discuss this chapter of John's gospel in more detail in the weeks to come.
Now in his narrative of these events, John notes that Jesus saw a great crowd coming to him. Where did all these people come from? First of all, as John notes, many people followed Jesus across the lake. But John also points out that the Feast of the Passover was near, so many devout Jews were traveling to Jerusalem to participate in that great annual event and passed by the place where Jesus was. And what about the elements of the miracle, the bread and the fish? It should be noted that the barley bread which the boy carried was the cheapest of all breads and considered to be the bread of the poor. And the small fish which he had were probably sardines which abounded in the Sea of Galilee. (1)
So why did Jesus perform this miracle? There are three explanations: first, that it is simply a miracle of the multiplied loaves and fishes. Christ used it to demonstrate his miraculous powers. But then why did our Lord perform this miracle now and yet refuse to do the very same thing when he was tempted by Satan in the desert? This question can be answered by the second explanation: that the miracle was a sacramental meal. This is an intriguing option. Listen once again to the words from John: "Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated". Sounds remarkably similar to the Last Supper narratives of the other evangelists. But what about John's Last Supper narrative? Well, we use that narrative on Holy Thursday. Think about that. What happens after the reading of the gospel on Holy Thursday that is not done at any other time of the year? (Pause for response from congregation. If no response:) Okay, here's a clue (remove sock and shoe). Now do you remember? It is the washing of the feet. So if this is John's Last Supper, where is his institution narrative? It is right here in this chapter of his gospel with the feeding of the five thousand and later on when our Lord says "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you". Thus, THERE IS NO INSTITUTION NARRATIVE IN JOHN'S GOSPEL!! The sacramental meal of the Last Supper is right here!
But there is still another explanation, what is probably the most marvelous explanation of all: that Jesus performed the miracle to bring out the best in the crowd. If the crowd had indeed been swelled by travelers on their way to Jerusalem, as we noted before, then they would have brought some provisions with them for the journey. After all, in those days, there were no restaurants and McDonald's on every other corner. As they became part of the crowd, they probably were reluctant to part with those remaining supplies which they would need to complete their journey. As Andrew sent through the crowd seeking contributions of food to help feed the multitude, only the boy with the small picnic lunch came forward. But then a most wondrous thing happened. As the crowd saw Jesus blessing and distributing those meager provisions, their hearts were moved and they opened up their own coffers and shared what they had with those around. Such generosity could well have produced twelve baskets of leftovers. Thus, in the presence of our Lord, selfish men and women became sharers. (2) And that is precisely what the Eucharistic feast should make of all of us: sharers of the Word and of our wealth with fellow partakers of the Body of Christ.
Finally, we come to the major characters without whom the miracle would not have occurred: Philip, Andrew and the young boy. Philip surmised that the situation was hopeless and that there was no possible way that they could feed such a multitude. No faith in Jesus there. Andrew, on the other hand, had enough faith in Jesus to bring forth the boy with the gifts, which our Lord could use as he saw fit. Then there was the young boy, who did not have much to offer, but in what he had, Jesus found the raw materials for a miracle. (2)
So what does all of this have to do with us? Aren't we a little like the people in the crowd who believed that the Lord surely could not possibly have any use for the few food stuffs which they had to offer? Sometimes, don't we feel that we have no gifts of any significance to offer for the Lord to use? But we have to realize that in the service of the Lord, there is only one gift or ability that matters. And that ability is availability. No matter how much or how little our abilities are, if we do not make ourselves available to do God's work, they will do no good for anyone. In fact, ability without availability is a liability. We have all heard the parable of the Master who went away and left his servants with talents to use while he was gone. And we all know what happened to the servant who buried his one talent rather than use it for some good purpose. Sometimes we assume that God could not possibly use us in his work because we have no special abilities, talents or gifts. But the truth is that God knows who we are and loves us as we are because he made us who we are. He doesn't ask what gifts we bring to the table because he knows very well what we have to offer. He asks only that we make what we have to offer available for his use. (3)
Christ took those measly offerings of barley loaves and sardines and fed a multitude of 5,000 people. God takes our offerings of unleavened bread and wine and makes them into his Body and Blood. Perhaps in the next few minutes, when those gifts are once again brought to the table of the Lord, we need to remember that we are also offering up ourselves on the altar to be used as God wills. We ought to feel humbled that God will use the gifts that we have, as insignificant and imperfect as they may be, for his own good. But we should never feel that they are so insignificant that he will not use them. There would have been one great deed fewer in history if that boy had withheld his loaves and fishes. And who knows how many miracles God needs to work through us today because, as St. Teresa once said:
- (Christ) has no hands but our hands to do his work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
He has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died; and,
He has no help but our help to lead them to his side.
1. From Days of the Lord, Volume 5, pp. 152-164. Copyright 1993 by the Order of St. Benedict. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. Used with permission.
2. The Gospel of John, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, pp. 154-156. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA.
3. The Greatest Ability, adapted from A Fresh Packet of Sower's Seeds, Third Planting, p. 81. Copyright 1994 by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R., Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ 07430. Used with permission.
(Copyright 2015 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Christ Jesus, you feed us with the living bread of your Body. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you use the gifts we offer to accomplish your will. Lord, have mercy.
The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve and Lord and make our gifts available for his service.
CelebrantChrist cares for our physical and spiritual needs. Therefore, confident that he will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, feed us with your bread of life."
That the leaders of all Christian churches will work together to unite all believers around the one table of the Lord, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will share their abundance with those less fortunate, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the elderly and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will find strength in the Eucharist, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will bless our harvests so that we may feed a hungry world, we pray to the Lord.
That we will put the unity we share around the table of the Lord into practice in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods, we pray to the Lord.
That all of our priests who have selflessly dedicated their lives to Christ will be strengthened and renewed in their vocations, we pray to the Lord.
That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, you sent your Son to feed us with us with the bread of eternal life. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to care for the physical needs of one another as he has cared for our spiritual needs. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.