“This is the food which sustains and nourishes us on our journey through life, until we depart from this world and are united with Christ.” – St. Gaudentius of Brescia
John 6:1-15: Some time after this, Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover. Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each’. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.
Christ the Lord Before dying, Moses promised that some day God would send another leader to the people of Israel, someone as great as himself, who had been the greatest and humblest of God’s servants. This figure was referred to as “the prophet”: “I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Through the centuries, the Jewish people had come to identify this figure with the promised Messiah, the one who would liberate their nation from oppression and usher in a new golden age, similar to the one they had enjoyed under King David.
The magnitude of the miracle Jesus performs by multiplying the loaves and fishes, added to the many other miracles that he had already done, convinces the crowds that he is indeed the promised Savior, the one whom God had sent into the world to finish the job of salvation that had begun with Moses and the Exodus. They recognized him, but they did not listen to him. He showed by his miracles that he was God’s chosen one, but with his words he spoke of a new kind of Kingdom, an everlasting Kingdom that was within men’s hearts, not in political platforms. The crowds refused to understand this, and so Christ refused to let them make him their King.
Christ the Teacher Five loaves and two fish cannot feed a crowd of five thousand men (plus at least as many women and children). It is impossible. Not even a year’s salary (the equivalent of two hundred denarii) could buy enough for such a feast, as Philip nervously points out. And yet, when the Apostles hand over their paltry resources to the Lord, they become more than enough to do the job.
The same goes for every Christian apostle. Whose natural talents and wisdom are sufficient to defeat the forces of evil that hold the world in tow? Whose innate strength is sufficient to put an end to the selfishness, lust, and greed that rage within the human heart? How can the meager resources of a single parish or diocese suffice to do battle with media moguls, corrupt politicians, international banking cartels, and other agents of the culture of death? We only have five loaves and two fish; by ourselves we can do nothing. Only if we put all we have into Christ’s hands, trusting in him and not ourselves, can we hope to make a real difference for the good of the Kingdom – in our hearts and in society at large. Every small act of charity adds to the Church’s much-needed reservoir of grace and strength. What we could never achieve on our own, we can immeasurably surpass with God. As Jesus himself put it, “For God everything is possible” (Mt 19:26).
Christ the Friend Friends look out for each other. “Looking up,” Jesus saw that the crowd following him didn’t have any food; that he remedied the situation demonstrates his desire for our friendship. He wants to be our partner in life, our companion; our confidant. He is looking out for us, always keeping his eyes open for an opportunity to feed our hungry hearts with his beauty and truth. He wants to supply for our needs; it is his greatest joy. As he puts it later in this same Gospel, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Those are the words of a friend we can count on.
Philip: How could I ever forget that day? None of us wanted to bother with the needs of that huge crowd of people. We were exhausted and just wanted to get away and relax. I was especially exhausted. Maybe that’s why he teased me a bit and tested me with the question about where we could buy some bread for that huge mass of hungry people; he knew I would be exasperated. But our tiredness didn’t impede us from learning the lesson he wanted to teach. In fact, it helped. He wanted us to learn what love is. He looked out at those people, who had sacrificed their own comfort in order to come and be with him, and he saw how hungry they were. He couldn’t hold back his yearning to feed them. He was always like that. He was always looking for ways to fill our starving minds and hearts with his abundant truth and wisdom. He was totally for us. Actually, most of the time I felt as if he was totally for me. He knew me so well; he always knew exactly what I needed, and he always took the first step to give it to me.
Christ in My Life I know that you are most interested in what happens inside me, in my heart and in my mind. You care about what I think about, pay attention to, and decide to do. You want to be King of my heart, because you know exactly what my heart needs in order to experience the satisfaction and meaning that it longs for. Lord Jesus, Savior of all people, make your Kingdom come in my mind and heart…
So often I let myself be carried away by nervousness, stress, worry, and fear. How I need you to increase my faith, Lord! You are God; you are omnipotent! All I need to do each day is put my five loaves and two fish into your wise and powerful hands, and you will make my life a fountain of light and hope and goodness. Teach me to trust in you, to rejoice in you, to fear only whatever could separate me from you…
Your heart never tires of giving. You are a furnace of love that never grows cold. When you look at me, you think only of all that you want to do for me. Why am I not more like you, Lord? What is keeping me from loving others with that kind of energy, constancy, and creativity? I give you my meager five loaves and two fish. Lord Jesus, show me how to follow you more closely, teach me to love as you love, giving myself to others as you give yourself to me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Saint Anthony Catholic Church (Temperance, MI) – loaves and fish mural, Nheyob, own work, 12 August 2013, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.