This week’s Gospel marks an interruption in our semi-continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark [for Year B in the Cycle of Sunday Readings]. This week begins a rather in-depth reading of the Sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which will continue for the next five weeks.
Why John chapter 6? Because this chapter illuminates the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is the Source and Summit of our lives as Catholic Christians. So, it is worth spending time studying.
The Gospel this week begins by setting the stage for the rest of the chapter through the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It is important to point out that John’s Gospel uses “signs” rather than “miracles”, because, while a miracle tends to point only to itself and the immediate circumstances, a sign points beyond itself to something much more significant. This will become important in weeks to come. So stay tuned!
The time in which this takes place is also significant: The Passover: This is when God saves His people from the tenth plague in Egypt, the slaughter of the first born, through the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. This points forward to the True Lamb of God whose sacrifice saves us from our sins: Jesus Christ.
Jesus sees the multitude coming and challenges His disciples with how to feed uch a crowd. So Andrew sort of goes into a panic: 200 days’ wages would not be sufficient to satisfy so many. What to do? Even the contribution of a child with five barley loaves and two fish would not be enough.
But, this was a challenge from Our Lord, because He Himself knew what He was about to do. Very often in our lives, when we come up against some challenge that we don’t know the outcome of, rather than panic, we ought to trust in the Lord, because He knows what He is about to do in our lives, even when we do not.
Then, Jesus uses what is at hand in order to make a miracle – a sign.
Make no mistake: this multiplication of loaves and fishes is a true miracle of Jesus. The point here for us is: Trust in Jesus with what we have on hand, and let Him do what He needs to do in order to fashion a miracle.
Numbers in this passage are also significant, because they point to the powerful effect of the Eucharist: In gathering together what has been scattered.
First, the FIVE thousand people and the FIVE loaves: points to the five books of the Torah, or the Law. The TWO fish point to the books of the Prophets and the Psalms, thus completing the totality of the Jewish scriptures.
The number of baskets left over is also significant: TWELVE. This points to the Twelve tribes of Israel, who had been divided, then scattered: Ten tribes to the North, taken into exile by the Assyrians, never to be reunited; and the Two tribes to the South, Judah, who were also cast into exile by Babylon but were restored. It seemed impossible that all twelve tribes would ever be reunited, collected as they once were. But our God is a God that can do the impossible. But, God, through Jesus Christ, will gather all the nations together in one flock, under One Shepherd.
This proves Our Lord Jesus Christ as the great gathering force, over and against the devil, whose only power is to scatter, sometimes, seemingly irrevocably.
So, looking forward, this multiplication and feeding of the five thousand sets the stage for Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. It is a SIGN that points beyond itself to that which sustains us not just for a time, but for all eternity. So, stay tuned …