My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
We’ve been following the public ministry of Jesus Christ in our Sunday Gospel readings. And in the Gospel we just heard, we’ve reached a turning point.
Up until this point in his ministry, all the miracles Jesus has performed have been “personal” and mostly “private.”
He has worked miracles for individuals — healing diseases, giving eyesight to the blind, casting out demons. And the only witnesses to these miracles have been the individuals involved, his disciples, and maybe a small crowd of people.
The event we hear about in today’s Gospel is different. Jesus feeds thousands of people in a meadow by the Sea of Galilee with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This is a “universal” miracle — performed for the benefit of many people, and performed for everyone to see.
The miracle of the loaves is the greatest of Jesus’ signs and wonders. But he intends this sign to prepare us for something even greater — the miracle of the Eucharist.
As we know, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life. It’s the summary of all God’s work in history — to sanctify the world, to bring us communion with his divine life, and to unite us as one family of God in his Catholic Church.2
Because the Eucharist is so important, for the next five Sundays in our Gospel readings, the Church will focus our attention on this great mystery of faith. In these coming weeks, we will hear almost the entire sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, in which Jesus explains that he is the Bread of Life.
Our reflections on the Eucharist begin in our Gospel today.
We notice again in this Gospel, the human emotions of Jesus.
The crowd has gathered to hear him. Now the day is almost over and they’re far from home with nothing to eat. Jesus knows they are hungry and he wants to feed them. We can feel his love and care, his heart for the poor.
But Jesus knows we have more profound needs than our material needs. He knows we don’t live by bread alone.3
So Jesus uses this natural and material sign of multiplying bread to teach us the supernatural and spiritual truth of the Eucharist.
The details St. John gives us about this miracle are important. He tells us that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and then gave the bread to the people.
Of course, we are all familiar with that language. We hear it every time we come to Mass. At the Last Supper, Jesus did the exact same things when he established the Eucharist. He took bread, he gave thanks, and he gave the bread to his disciples. And of course we also know that the word to “give thanks” is Eucharist.4
The Eucharist is the meaning of history. Since he created the world, God has been guiding all of history toward the coming of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the Eucharist.
That’s why we heard our first reading today — about the miracle performed by Elisha, the man of God.
I’m sure you noticed how much that story sounded like our Gospel today. Like Jesus, Elisha had a dilemma that he talked about with his disciple — how were they going to feed 100 people. Elisha uses the same kind of bread as Jesus — made out of barley. And after Elisha feeds the people, there is bread left over — just as there is after Jesus feeds the crowd.
In God’s plan for salvation history, Elisha’s miracle of the loaves was meant to prepare us for Jesus’ miracle of the loaves. And Jesus’ miracle was meant to prepare us for the miracle that continues in our midst every day — in every holy Mass.
My brothers and sisters, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, our Lord is still feeding us with his own hands, through the hands of his ordained priests, with his own Body and Blood.
The miracle of the Eucharist is a miracle of the Church!
In our Gospel today, Jesus wants his apostles to be a part of the miracle. He entrusts them with gathering the people and giving out the bread. At the end, he asks them to collect the leftovers. And these leftovers fill exactly 12 baskets, one for each one of the apostles.
This is a sign of their apostolic ministry in the Church — to be co-workers in his mission of feeding people with the Word of God and the Bread of Life.
But those 12 baskets at the end of the Gospel today are also a sign for us, my brothers and sisters. They are a sign that Jesus wants to continue his saving work through all of us — through his bishops and priests and through every member of his Church.
St. Paul tell us in today’s second reading: “Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”
Jesus is calling us, in every moment, to help him meet the needs of the people around us. He wants us to share our bread with the hungry. He wants us to share our faith and to spread the good news of his Kingdom in our society.
Like the apostles, and like that little boy with the loaves and fishes in our Gospel today, — Jesus calls us to use our gifts and resources to be instruments of his love.
He will “multiply” our talents and gifts. If we offer everything we can to Jesus in love, if we do everything with cheerfulness and joy, and if we make the best use of what he gives us — Jesus will provide!
He will bless and “multiply” our good works, not matter how little — just as he multiplied the loaves and fishes.
So let’s ask for the grace to have a stronger desire, a stronger “hunger” to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us be better apostles. Let’s pray for the grace to use all that we are given for the glory of God and the mission of his Church.
1. Readings (Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B): 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-11, 15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; John 6:1-15.
2. Catechism, 1324-1327.
3. Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4.
4. Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:25.