18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The story of how Jesus fed over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish is the Gospel of today. It tells us what happened, not how. It is true that Jesus worked the miracle out of a motive of pity for the crowds, yet his concern went deeper than their need for physical nourishment. Jesus’ actions are described in terms which allude to the institution of the Eucharist: “He looked up to heaven, blessed, and broke the loaves.” As we hear these words, our minds easily turn to the words of the consecration in the Mass. The feeding of the five thousand was a sign that Jesus wanted to feed his followers in a spiritual manner by means of the Eucharist. Actually, he was preparing them with this miracle for the doctrine of the Eucharist which he shortly revealed.
We can appreciate Jesus’ tender love in this event only if we enter into his heart. He had just received the terrible news that his beloved cousin and brave herald John the Baptist had been executed in Herod’s prison. Jesus’ suspicion about Herod’s interest in him leads him to depart to a deserted place. His heart felt in need of healing, and he tried to go off alone with the apostles. But the people followed, so he forgot his wounds and healed theirs. He labored in teaching, the day passed, hunger came, and he fed the people. He could have sent the multitude away to obtain the necessary goods in the villages, or he could have strengthened them miraculously without the use of food. Instead, he keeps the crowd but desires the cooperation of the ministry, of the disciples. He asks them to distribute the bread. Jesus performs the miracle by beaking the bread; but then he gives the broken bread to his ministers, who pass it on to the people.
The crowd in this deserted place reminds him of the Exodus experience of their ancestors, wandering in the desert without food for forty years. Yahweh had pity on his people then and fed them with manna until they finally reached the Promised Land. Jesus now faces the same hunger and, filled with the same pity as his Father, satisfies this huge crowd with bread and fish. These people have two types of hunger in common: The hunger that brings them to Jesus in the morning ratheer spiritual. However, toward sundown, after listening all day, they are physically hungry. Their groaning bellies become the symbol of their spiritual yearning.
This scene portrays who Jesus is and what he does for us. He is the giver of God’s good gifts in abundance. To distribute his bounty, he relies on his friends. They have nothing of their own to give. They are completely dependent on him. The multiplication of the loaves, as well as all other miracles on this occasion, are a manifestation of superhuman power. It is also a manifestation of Jesus’ human tenderness and the episode allows us a glimpse into his heart; it discloses to us how deeply human poverty, necessity and powerlessness touched him. It is this feeling of compassionate tenderness that prompts him to put his power at the service of humankind.
As we reflect on how Jesus fed his people miraculously, we believe that he is going to feed us even more marvelously today in this Eucharist.