The next 5 Sundays at Mass deal with the most important chapter outside of the PASSION – the only miracle mentioned in all 4 – that is , the miraculous feeding of the 5000.
The readings taken together today remind us of the important lesson that God provides those who have complete trust - once we do our best, but we must play our own part in that Providence. The necessary condition for Divine Providence is total trust – provided we have played our part without worry. This is the meaning of ‘give us this day our daily bread’.
In the first Reading and the Gospel we see the miraculous provision of bread. The seemingly insurmountable impossible task of feeding of a crowd of 100 people in the Old Testament account is magnified in the Gospel 50-fold. The plea of the disciples meets with the compassion and concern of Christ, who first says ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’
These words prick our ears and consciences when we think of famine and the threat of mass starvation, as well as local needs and concerns, that raise their ugly head from time to time.
The role and example of the little boy –‘ there is a little boy here’ – reminds us of the seemingly little WE have to offer, and yet it is his TOTAL offering that is accepted and will be miraculously transformed. The total offering of the boy reminds us of Jesus’ words elsewhere of the child-like requirement of all who would wish to become members of God’s kingdom –‘ to such as these does the Kingdom of God belong’.
Jesus takes the bread (and fish), blesses it, distributes it to the disciples who in turn distribute it to the crowd, and there is no waste.
This miracle has two implications for us.
At one level there is the attitude to food, the needy, hunger of the crowd, the problem of feeding so many, the total offering of the boy and the resources available, the desire for food, the compassion and the question of just distribution
At a deeper level, Mass-goers will recognise in the words and phrases used today the Eucharistic action of Jesus - the taking, blessing, distribution for feeding, and collection of bread. These point to the actions of priests - by the grace of ordination - with the unleavened bread at the Presentation of the Gifts, the Consecration, and the distribution of the Eucharist, as well as the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. These actions are repeated ½ a million times every weekday and over a million times this Sunday throughout the world – with people gathered at Mass from every nation. The Mass is pre-figured in the action of Jesus in the Gospel. The Mass is truly a world event.
So as we set out on our journey over these 5 Sundays on John chapter 6, the first lesson of the Eucharist from John chapter 6 is the ‘humanitarian’ aspect, as it were, of the Mass – that the reality, the supernatural reality of the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ calls us to be ‘Eucharistic’ in our lives. The theme of the Dublin Eucharistic Congress was ‘communion with Christ, communion with one another’. How can we be ‘eucharistic’ with regard to food and others’ provision? How can we live out the prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread?’
The Christian response to food and its just distribution in an unjust world - and therefore to the real and concrete ongoing problem of world hunger - can be summed up in 4 A words that feature in today’s readings that I wish to leave you with:
Awareness of others’ need,
Action to alleviate others’ need,
Attitude of gratitude for food,
Avoidance of waste.
Finally...God WILL provide...but so must we!