By Archbishop Francesco Follo
2 Kings 4.42 to 44; Ps 145; Eph 4, 1-6; Jn 6.1 to 15
The Miracle Is Born From God’s Faithfulness to Man
1) Bread to share.
Beginning this Sunday the liturgy interrupts the reading of the Gospel of St. Mark and for five consecutive Sundays (from the Seventeen Sunday up to the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time,) it presents chapter VI of St. John’s Gospel. The reason for this is the willingness to explore the theme of “bread.” Chapter VI of St John’s opens with the narration of the miracle of loaves giving us a beautiful example of Jesus’ compassion for those who had followed him to the point of “forgetting” to eat because of their desire to see his miracles and to feed with his word.
To understand today’s Gospel passage let’s once more analyze the context in which this episode happens. Jesus is followed by “a great crowd, seeing the signs he was doing on the sick.” People are attracted by the power of the merciful Jesus who cares for the sick and heals them. Jesus, however, is not only a healer, he is the master. For this reason he has climbed on the mountain like Moses, who had climbed Mount Sinai to receive the law of the Lord for Israel. However, Jesus did not go to the mountain to receive the word of God, but to give it. That’s why he sits (in the original Greek text: he sits on the chair), not because he is tired, but because this is the attitude of the teacher who, when teaching, sits above his students. After all, Jesus had already done so when he proclaimed the “new law” of the Beatitudes. “He went up on the mountain and sat down; then took the floor, he began to teach “(Mt 5, 1). Also with regard to the Gospel passage of today, it is useful to highlight the time of the year: it was close to Passover. It is spring time. This indication of the time of the year brings us back to the great story of the exodus which began with the first full moon of Spring thousands of years ago, and to the many signs that God had done with Moses for the deliverance of the Jews and on their way to the Promised Land. But the reference to Passover pushes us forward and also symbolically anticipates the gift that Jesus will make of his Body and his Blood at the Last Supper.
The gift of the Bread of Life is to be shared in the same way the bread multiplied by Jesus to feed those who had followed him was shared.
The shared bread teaches care for others and humility in not putting anybody aside, and to trust a God who trusts us and makes us able to distribute bread to a large crowd.
In addition to taking the Bread given to us and shared with us through a charitable life, let us turn to Christ with this prayer “If I want my wounds treated, you’re the doctor. If I burn with fever, you are the refreshing spring. If I am overwhelmed with guilt, you are the forgiveness. If I need help, you are the strength. If I fear death, you are the eternal life. If I want heaven, you are life. If I flee darkness, you are the light. If I look for food, you are the nourishment “(St. Ambrose of Milan). In short, we pray to God, “Our Father”, so that He may “give us our daily bread” for the body and for the spirit.
If it is a miracle to feed thousands of people with few loaves of bread, it is a greater miracle to give the bread of truth and of joy. This is the true Bread, the Bread of Truth to share with those who hunger for justice.
It is the Bread multiplied by the One who at the Last Supper will be the Bread of Life. The greatest miracle is not to feed a crowd, but to show the glory of God revealed in Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Word made Eucharistic food for Christians. In fact, the passage of today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them: three verbs that connect us to each Mass.
While the disciples were distributing the bread there was no shortage of it, and as this shared bread was passed from one hand to another it remained in each hand.
2) Bread of mercy.
On that day, Jesus had compassion for them because He is made of the same love of the Father and the mercy of God was manifested talking to the crowd and satisfying their hunger.
Today, loving us beyond measure, Christ multiplies the Bread of Life for us. In the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus becomes food for real life, we are happy for the mercy received.
On this Sunday, the sign of mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ is the story of the loaves multiplied and shared that helps us to understand that Christ gives us himself and his life offering himself to us as Eucharist bread. He, who thanked the Father, blessed and broke the material bread given to him by a child, lets himself be broken for us as spiritual bread. By eating of this Bread, the Eucharistic Body of Christ which is “God’s incarnate mercy” (Pope Francis), we too become mercy.
The Eucharistic meal, therefore, is not an action to watch but it is a gesture to live. To take communion is not only to receive and be sanctified by the presence of Christ, it is to open our hearts to bring to the altar the “yes” of our love for God. It is to open our hands to our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and that we must help with material and spiritual works of mercy. But let’s not forget that the first and greatest mercy is to teach the truth and to give true things, because “good is the truth, and the promotion of truth comes from love” (Cardinal Giacomo Biffi).
A significant example of how to live mercy is offered by the consecrated Virgins who are “the flowers of the tree that is the Church” (St. Ambrose of Milan).
Indeed, the consecrated Virgins in the world are called to be and to implement this mercy, to be its image and to be able to offer it with a life of patient vigilance in prayer, attention, discretion and confidentiality. This is because the virginal vocation is in deep relationship with the mystery of the Eucharist. “ In the Eucharist, consecrated virginity finds inspiration and nourishment for its complete dedication to Christ. From the Eucharist, moreover, it draws encouragement and strength to be a sign, in our own times too, of God’s gracious and fruitful love for humanity. Finally, by its specific witness, consecrated life becomes an objective sign and foreshadowing of the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9) which is the goal of all salvation history. In this sense, it points to that eschatological horizon against which the choices and life decisions of every man and woman should be situated.”(Sacramentum Caritatis, 81).
Imitating the Virgin Mary, these virgin women are witnesses of the truth of the Magnificat: “He has done great things for me, and holy is his name: from generation to generation his mercy is on those who fear him”, which can be paraphrased “I have been made great by the One who is mighty and whose name is holy, because the Divine Power worked the miracle of virginity and His infinite holiness filled it with thanks.” The virginal choir responds praising the mercy of God that through Mary Virgin and Mother, passed from generation to generation, making bloom in the mud of the world the flowers of holy virginity that fill with their perfume earth and heaven. Virginity is to follow Jesus; it is not renunciation to love, but to let themselves be fully taken by Love, as taught by St. Ambrose of Milan “Consecrated Virgin seek Christ in your light, that is in good thoughts and good deeds. In your nights, look for him in your room, because even at night He comes and knocks on your door. He wants to see you alert at all times, he wants to find the door of your soul open. And there is also another door that He wants to find open: he wants that your mouth opens and sings the praise and the profession of faith in the cross, while in your room you repeat the Creed and sing the psalms. When he comes, let Him find you awake and prepared. Let your body sleep, but your faith be vigilant; let the lure of senses sleep, but let the prudence of heart be vigilant. Let your limbs smell of the cross of Christ and of the fragrance of his burial “(Concerning Virgins).
On the words of the gospel, Jn 6,9 where the miracle of the five loaves and the two fishes is related.
1. It was a great miracle that was wrought, dearly beloved, for five thousand men to be filled with five loaves and two fishes, and the remnants of the fragments to fill twelve baskets. A great miracle: but we shall not wonder much at what was done, if we give heed to Him That did it. He multiplied the five loaves in the hands of them that brake them, who multiplieth the seeds that grow in the earth, so as that a few grains are sown, and whole barns are filled. But, because he doth this every year, no one marvels. Not the inconsiderableness1 of what is done, but its constancy takes away admiration of it. But when the Lord did these things, He spake to them that had understanding, not by words only, but even by the miracles themselves. The five loaves signified the five books of Moses’ Law. The old Law is barley compared to the Gospel wheat. In those books are great mysteries concerning Christ contained. Whence He saith Himself, “If ye had believed Moses, ye would believe Me also ; for he wrote of Me. “2 But as in barley the marrow is hid under the chaff, so in the veil of the mysteries of the Law is Christ hidden. As those mysteries of the Law are developed and unfolded; so too those loaves increased when they were broken. And in this that I have explained to you, I have broken bread unto you. The five thousand men signify the people ordered under the five books of the Law. The twelve baskets are the twelve Apostles, who themselves too were filled with the fragments of the Law. The two fishes are either the two precepts of the love of God and our neighbour, or the two people of the circumcision and uncircumcision, or those two sacred personages of the king and the priest. As these things are explained, they are broken; when they are understood, they are eaten.
2. Let us turn to Him who did these things He is Himself “The Bread which came down from heaven;”3 but Bread which refresheth the failing, and doth not fail; Bread which can be tasted,4 cannot be wasted. This Bread did the manna also figure. Wherefore it is said, “He gave them the Bread of heaven, man ate Angels’ Bread.”5 Who is the Bread of heaven, but Christ? But in order that man might eat Angels’ Bread, the Lord of Angels was made Man. For if He had not been made Man, we should not have His Flesh; if we had not His Flesh, we should not eat the Bread of the Altar. Let us hasten to the inheritance, seeing we have hereby received a great earnest of it. My brethren, let us long for the life of Christ, seeing we hold as an earnest the Death of Christ. How shall He not give us His good things, who hath suffered our evil things? In this our earth, in this evil world, what abounds, but to be born, to labour, and to die? Examine thoroughly man’s estate, convict me if I lie : consider all men whether they are in this world for any other end than to be born, to labour, and to die? This is the merchandize of our country: these things here abound. To such merchandize did that Merchantman descend. And forasmuch as every merchant gives and receives; gives what he has, and receives what hehas not; when he procures anything, he gives money, and receives what he buys: so Christ too in this His traffic gave and received. But what received He? That which aboundeth here, to be born, to labour, and to die, And what did He give? To be born again, to rise again, and to reign for ever. O Good Merchant, buy us. Why should I say buy us, when we ought to give Thee thanks that Thou hast bought us? Thou dost deal out our Price to us, we drink Thy Blood; so dost thou deal out to us our Price. And we read the Gospel, our title6 deed. We are Thy servants, we are Thy creatures: Thou hast made us, Thou hast redeemed us. Any one can buy his servant, create him he cannot; but the Lord hath both created and redeemed His servants; created them, that they might be; redeemed them, that they might not be captives ever. For we fell into the hands of the prince of this world, who seduced Adam, and made him his servant, and began to possess us as his slaves. But the Redeemer came, and the seducer was overcome. And what did our Redeemer to him who held us captive? For our ransom he held out His Cross as a trap; he placed in It as a bait His Blood. He indeed had power to shed His Blood, he did not attain7 to drink it. And in that he shed the Blood of Him who was no debtor, he was commanded to render up the debtors; he shed the Blood of the Innocent, he was commanded to withdraw from the guilty. He verily shed His Blood to this end, that He might wipe out our sins. That then whereby he held us fast was effaced by the Redeemer’s Blood. For he only held us fast by the bonds of our own sins. They were the captive’s chains. He came, He bound the strong one with the bonds of His Passion; He entered into his house8 into the hearts, that is, of those where he did dwell, and took away his vessels. We are his vessels. He had filled then with his own bitterness. This bitterness too he pledged to our Redeemer in the gall. He had filled us then as his vessels; but our Lord spoiling his vessels, and making them His Own, poured out the bitterness, filled them with sweetness.