17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
f you remember, on Holy Thursday when we read John’s account of the Last Supper, he doesn’t speak much about the Eucharist. Instead of the Institution narrative, John gives us the washing of the feet. Now, that’s not because John doesn’t value the Eucharist. In fact, he takes a whole chapter to do so — chapter 6, which has come to be called “The Bread of Life Discourse”.
And it’s this account that we begin to read today and which we’ll continue to read over the next five weeks. The Bread of Life Discourse begins with the account of the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the five thousand that we hear today. It is the only miracle story recorded in all four Gospels.
The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the five thousand is first of all seen as the supernatural provision for the physical hunger of a large crowd. We can and should be amazed at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. However, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, there is a far more amazing miracle that takes place as Jesus feeds us with His Body and Blood in the miracle of the Eucharist. In the gift of the Eucharist, Christ feeds all who come to Him to have their hunger satisfied.
It is true that towards the end of the day, Jesus fed and satisfied their physical hunger. But throughout the day, he was feeding them also on a different level. In order to realize the deeper meaning, we need to know the reason why people followed Jesus to the desert. What brought the people to Jesus?
Some, surely, are attracted by Jesus’ miracles and healing. Some came to listen to him and to be in his presence. You could say that they longed for a deeper relationship with God. They had a hunger for a meaningful life, for true peace, and joy. The people’s hunger for Jesus is what we need to pay attention to here. And his feeding the large crowd is a sign of the Lord’s desire to satisfy the hunger of the human heart.
It's our longing for the Lord that brings us around the table of the Eucharist today. The readings today invite us to see our own hunger- our hunger for love, holiness, peace, joy and so on., and to continue to seek the Lord in prayer; seek the Lord who alone can fulfil the deepest longings of our hearts.
Today we are once again assured that God is ever willing to satisfy our hunger and our thirst, the hunger we feel in our hearts when we’re afraid, when we’re hurt, when we are grieving and when we long for peace, healing comfort and hope.
Another point that stands out for me in today’s gospel is when the disciples approach Jesus with the problem, he invites them to participate in his work. I think the miracle really began when the boy shared what he had brought with him. Since the Pandemic began, we have seen and heard stories of the commendable efforts of first responders, the hospital staff, essential workers and the many generous people supporting those who needed help.
I came across such a story on the CBC website that inspired me. It was about a person by the name Socall, a chef who got laid off as the city shut down in the face of the novel coronavirus. The next day, she says, she decided she needed to help others. She would wake up at 6 a.m., making 12 to 18 loaves. She says she's baked sometimes close to 40 a day — donating them to people in need across the GTA. I am sure Socall’s generous deed made a difference in the lives of those who experienced her generosity.
As we are nourished by the Eucharist today, we also are invited to participate in the mission of serving those in need. May the generosity of God, may the generosity we see and witness continue to inspire us to be willing to share and to serve those in need.