This past Sunday (17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B), the Gospel reading was taken from John 6:1-15:
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.
The miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 is typically understood in Catholic theology as primarily Eucharistic. Besides the obvious giveaway in v11 where St. John tells us that Jesus gave thanks (Greek = “eucharisteo”), there are a few other Eucharistic images that are quite amazing.
The first is the invitation given by Our Blessed Lord to Philip when He asks him “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” At first glance it may appear that Our Lord was asking an obviously simple question; but nothing that Our Lord says and does in the Gospels is ever simply simple. Instead, Jesus’ invitation to Philip hearkens back to the Lord’s invitation in Isa 55:1 (which is itself a Eucharistic prophecy):
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
So our Lord is inviting Philip to expand his thinking past the physical need of the people – instead, He is calling Philip to see that they have a greater spiritual hunger which can only be satisfied by the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems that Philip at that time still didn’t appreciate exactly what the Lord was getting at.
Then in v9 Andrew tells Jesus that he has found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, although he wasn’t quite sure what Jesus could do with such a meagre offering. But, a meagre offering mixed with the smallest amount of faith, even the size of a mustard seed, is all that Our Lord asks of us in order to do a miracle.
What is the miracle? The Lord takes the little boy’s meagre offering and multiplies it superabundantly to feed the multitude – no less than 5,000 men (not even counting the women and children). And this is what happens in the Holy Mass – we bring our meagre offerings of bread and wine (the work of human hands as the Eucharistic prayer calls these gifts) and we offer them in faith to God the Father. Then in the words of Institution, these small gifts are transformed superabundantly into nothing less than the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. More than physical food for the masses, Jesus (acting through the priest) in this way gives us food unto Life Eternal.
What of the reference to the twelve baskets of fragments that remained? I think that, amongst other things, it serves two purposes in this passage.
Firstly, I think that it serves to show us that the multiplied bread and fish was no mere illusion or magic trick. The fact that fragments were gathered afterwards proves that the miraculous food was REAL food. The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is REAL – it is not merely spiritual or symbolic. He is really and truly present – Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Secondly, there is the allusion to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the Lord’s words “Gather up the fragments left over so that nothing may be wasted”. The multiplied loaves and fish did not cease to exist after everyone had received their fill – rather, the miraculous food remained. So too, in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus remains present even after everyone present at Mass has received Holy Communion and the Mass has ended. For this reason, it is fitting and proper that the Precious Body of Jesus be reposed in a most holy and dignified way in the Tabernacle. And more than that, if Jesus remains present in the Blessed Sacrament, it is our duty as Christians to pay Him homage, worship, and adoration in the Blessed Sacrament.
These are just a few of the Eucharistic images I found whilst I was meditating upon the Gospel reading. If you have any additional images that you would like to share, please feel free to do so.