The miracle of the feeding of the 5000, was so important to the early Church that the evangelists included it in all four Gospels. This makes immense sense to us as Catholics who detect the Eucharistic overtones of the miracle. We love the gift of the Holy Mass, for we are the Eucharistic People and its celebration is the heart of our community. Things have not been easy of late. We have felt keenly the restrictions which the virus has imposed upon us. Particularly our time apart from coming to Mass. It is good that we feel this way because it is a testimony to our hunger for Jesus the Bread of Life and the Cup of our Salvation. We miss being together as God’s family of faith. Though many of us are now able to come to public Mass, there are also those of you still isolating, housebound or have a duty of care to another who needs your presence. I hope God’s miracle will encourage us. In our Gospel, we see Jesus making a little go a long way. This is something the poor are well used to. The poor are limited in their resources but the needs must still be met, the children must be fed and the bills paid. There is still immense poverty in our world and there are families in refugee camps wondering how they will feed their little ones and frail parents and relatives. Things may be a bit tight for us at the moment. Because, in our experience, a little doesn’t always go the distance, people become a little despondent and this attitude overflows to their spiritual life. “I can say my prayers, what difference can I make? I give what I can to charity but it’s a drop in the ocean to the immense hunger of the world.” People see their efforts as insignificant and quite a few just give up in frustration.
Jesus can see that His disciples feel overwhelmed by the task of being His followers, the prospect of being His representatives and feel a little in dread of the implications. They sense they are being trained for responsibility and do not feel their resources will be fit for purpose. They are afraid that when they are faced with demanding tasks and duties that they will prove inadequate. Remember this is before the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which will deal with any cold feet. In the miracle of feeding 5000, people Jesus seeks to reassure His followers. Let us learn from this miracle.
First, there is recognisable and obvious great need: all the hungry people. All Jesus needs are two things: someone to give Him some food He can bless and, secondly, people to be responsible for the distribution to the crowd.
There is emphasis on the smallness of the initial amount of food: five loaves and two fish. The disciples who feel this is insufficient represent all of us who feel out of our depth, despondent in the face of challenges, and our resources of love, patience and compassion seem too thin. We feel we lack the where with all. John’s Gospel gives us the little boy who hands over the bread and fish. All he had without hesitation. The little boy doesn’t share the pessimism of adults and gladly gives the little he has if Jesus wants it. Obviously to the child, Jesus is serious and he will play his small but vital part.
Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives what He has blessed to be distributed. We as Catholics clearly see the action of the Mass in this Gospel here:
First, the people have been listening to Jesus’s preaching and teaching: our Liturgy of the Word when we listen to the Scriptures in Mass.
The boy offers his gift of bread and fish to Jesus: we recognise our offertory procession of the gifts of bread and wine.
Jesus blesses the gifts: we hear the words of the Priest who acts in the Person of Jesus in the Mass saying the Eucharistic prayer which changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The Lord breaks the bread, as we see the Priest break the Host before Communion.
Then we come to the distribution to the hungry people: we see the foreshadowing of when we come forward to receive the Host or a blessing. The disciples are asked to take the blessed food to the multitude. We see this first as taking Communion to the people who are housebound or unable to get to Mass. But it is also true that we must take the blessings we have received and be ready to share them with those we meet in the course of daily life and enhance their lives by our action and prayer. The presence of leftovers reminds us to take our sense of blessing with us and be the love of God to others, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
The important thing for us today is that Jesus needed the little, seemingly inadequate gift of five loaves and two fish to work the miracle. Grace builds on nature. Jesus chooses to work through our cooperation and generosity. The little boy gave all that he had, like the widow in the Temple with her two pennies. Like the Widow to Elijah who felt once she had fed the prophet, herself and her child would die. Both widows will be blessed with the abundance of God’s blessings. Supremely, the death of one Life on the cross was used by God the Father to redeem the world. Jesus knew “a little”, lovingly offered at great personal cost, achieves its purpose. As Pope Benedict said at a world youth day: “give yourself entirely to Jesus, you will lose nothing and gain everything”.
So, let us continue to put the little that we are in God’s hands. Doing so with confidence it will become superabundant in God’s hands and wonderful things will be possible once blessed by God. He will bless every little prayer, act of kindness and sacrifice. Your little, placed in God’s loving hands, will go the distance and achieve out of all proportion to your gift. When you get to Heaven you will wonder how so much good was done through your efforts. Your mustard seed will give shelter to the needy. Treasure in Heaven indeed.
God bless and keep you safe,
Fr. Gerard X