Unlike the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the gospel of John does not include Jesus’ words of consecration instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It was written several years after the other three accounts, by which time those to whom it was addressed were quite familiar with the words of consecration repeated at Mass each week. John’s Last Supper account focuses instead on connecting the Eucharist with how we are to live out the sacrament in service of others, symbolized with the washing of his disciples’ feet, and an extended prayer for the unity and strength of the church. In this weekend’s text from John’s 6th chapter, Jesus speaks of himself as the “Bread of Life” with the promise that whoever eats this bread will live forever, a clear reference to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Coupled with the words from the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread”, we understand that the Eucharist is not just a moment of unity with Jesus at Mass but also the nourishment we need to live our faith throughout the week.
Fr. Denny's Reflections
It is not unusual that people must pass through times of trial, sacrifice and deprivation to get to where they want to go on their life journey. People escaping from persecution and violence must often leave homes and possessions behind, suffer privation and walk great distances to get to a refugee camp or other place of safety. Such was the case for the Israelites escaping from Egypt. Despite their grumbling, however, they were not exactly in danger of dying from hunger. They still had sheep and cattle but, livestock being their most valuable possession and source of income, they did not want to slaughter their animals for food. This indicates their reluctance to put their trust and their future completely in God’s hands.
In today’s gospel, the feeding of the 5,000 is called a “sign”. Think about the purpose of signs such as our new church sign for example. It is not intended to be the ultimate focus of attention but, rather, stands for or points to something else, being the message posted. Jesus intended his healings and works such as the multiplication of loaves and fishes to be signs leading people to listen to his message and entrust their lives to God. The people, however, had more hunger for and were more focused on acquiring bread to fill their stomachs then food for eternal life.
In today’s first reading the prophet Elisha feeds 100 people during a time of famine with 20 small barley loaves. That seems rather miraculous until you compare it to Jesus’ feeding 5,000 with seven loaves and two fish. Juxtaposing the two events illustrates both the fulfillment and surpassing of the Old Covenant in Jesus Christ and his ministry. It should be noted that the two miracles were preceded by and made possible due to the generosity of people willing to share what they had with others in need.
The Sunday gospel selections during ordinary time of year B are generally a somewhat continuous reading from the gospel of Mark. We switch this Sunday, however, to the account of the multiplication of loaves and fishes from the gospel of John. The major difference between this and the account of the same event in Mark 8:1-8 occurs in who provides the food. In Mark, the apostles themselves have the five loaves and two fish. Here a little boy comes forward to offer Jesus the lunch his family has brought. God invites us to be generous in sharing our material blessings, time and talents for the good of the broader community . . . a catalyst which God can then bless and multiply many times over.
The apostles had returned from their ministry practicum in high spirits and shared their experiences to Jesus and the rest of the group. It was time to take a break. They got into a boat and headed across the lake to find some deserted place away from the crowds for a few days of rest. It was not to be, however. Folks from Capernaum and other lakeside towns nearby could identify the sails of Peter’s boat out on the lake and figured out about where Jesus and his apostles were heading. By the time they landed, a crowd was already forming. Eventually it would number in the thousands. Rather than leave to find some other site, Jesus took pity on the crowd for they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”
Unlike wild sheep that are adapted to living on their own, domesticated sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd. Sheep are rather defenseless animals. Naturally hotwired to flock together, if one sheep heads off for whatever reason, the rest will follow blindly. Without a shepherd, the sheep go astray and become easy prey for predators. Should a predator come, they get easily spooked and take off running. With little innate sense of direction and without a shepherd to guide them, finding sufficient pasture and water becomes near impossible. Their wool overgrows, becoming matted, heavy, dirty and infected with parasites. Their hoofs don’t get trimmed, making movement more painful and difficult. How, then, do you think the people who came to Jesus . . . or people today, for that matter . . . were like sheep without a shepherd?
(Mark 6:7-13) After a couple years of intensive discipleship at the feet of Jesus, it is time to put the apostles to the test. This will be their first time out on their own, the first time being the ones preaching and healing. Jesus is placing lots of trust in them, and they will be challenged to trust in the training Jesus had given them. He is also challenging them to trust that God will somehow provide for their needs as they leave on their mission with no food, no money, not even a change of clothes.
How would you do if you were to be sent out on such a mission today? How would you get by? You would do fine, hopefully, if you have companions sharing the mission and trust the people you meet along the way will be the “angels” God will send to take care of your needs. That’s why Jesus sent them out two by two with nothing in their pockets. They would discover that God provides for them as they give of themselves for others.
As with those apostles, we need one another for emotional and spiritual support to remain vibrant as disciples and evangelizers in Jesus’ name.