for Sunday, July 26, 2009
There are very straightforward links between today's First Reading
and the Gospel. And, of course, both contain direct references to the
The incident from the Book of Kings is a clear and very early
foreshadowing of the Eucharist. The man bearing the bread comes from a
town named after a pagan god but he gives his first fruits to the true God
by handing them to Elisha, "the man of God".
The normal procedure would have been for the first fruits to be offered
in the shrine and then afterwards consumed by the priests. But here Elisha
breaks with this longstanding custom and gives the bread to the people to
eat. And miraculously the small amount of bread is shared out among a
hundred men who all had their fill and more.
It doesn't take a genius to see the links with the Eucharist with its
reciprocal sharing of bread. We also get a glimpse of the sheer bounty of
God. He feeds his people apparently out of a very small amount and yet
there is plenty left over afterwards.
This ancient reading foreshadows not only the Eucharist but more
directly the account we are given in St John's Gospel of the Feeding of
the Five Thousand. Here it is not a pagan man who makes the offering but a
small boy - he perhaps represents the People of Israel who have not yet
reached their full stature as the People of God.
You will be aware that there is no breaking of the bread or sharing of
the cup in St John's account of the Last Supper, instead he recounts the
washing of the feet and gives us a long rendering of Jesus' last speech,
known as the Farewell Discourse.
Many people see the incident of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as
containing all that John had to say about the Eucharist. He has transposed
his treatment of the Eucharist from the Last Supper to the Feeding of the
If we examine the text we can easily see that it contains the principal
elements essential to the celebration of the Eucharist: Offering, blessing
As in our First Reading, the extraordinary multiplication of the loaves
is a sign of God's tremendous generosity. This generosity of God is
expressed most fully in the sacrifice of his only Son on the Cross of
Calvary with which the Eucharist is so closely connected.
I'd like to focus on the Gospel Reading and see if we can see what is
really happening here.
The disciples, as so frequently in the Gospels, don't get it. We
should not blame them for this because, in a sense, that is their role.
They are not meant to get it. At first, they are meant to react, as we so
often do, with the eyes of the world. This is so that Jesus can explain by
mans of contrast how things really are.
The disciples, particularly Philip and Andrew, are preoccupied with the
way things are in this world. Philip, the pessimist, knows that it is
impossible to feed these people. Andrew, the optimist, points out the
small boy with the five loaves and the two fish. But bound, as he is, by
the laws of this world bluntly states, "But what is that among so many?"
He is locked into the law of nature, the physical facts of the matter.
But Jesus is working on another level altogether he intends to
illustrate the Law of the Spirit this is not a law of scarcity but a law
of abundance. He wants to demonstrate the sheer bounty of God, his
unequivocal and unbounded generosity towards mankind.
The people ate and were satisfied and there was a great deal left over.
By these means Jesus demonstrates that God provides for our needs and
indeed more than we can ever ask for or even imagine. God is all love and
his love overflows even so far as to become what we might call wasteful.
One of our biggest problems is that we cannot comprehend the logic
behind this extraordinary generosity of God.
I was watching Richard Dawkins on the television the other night. Some
veterinary scientists were dissecting a giraffe. He was commenting on how
the nerve controlling the giraffe's larynx went from the brain right
down to the bottom of the neck and then all the way up again to the base
of the throat where it eventually connected with the larynx itself.
He said that this was one proof that there could have been no divine
designer. No engineer, he said, would have done a thing so extraordinarily
inefficient. According to him it had to be the result of evolutionary
accident occurring over a long period of time.
Just like the Disciples, Richard Dawkins doesn't get it. He thinks
that God and evolution are opposites, whereas we see that it is God who
set the universe in motion and uses evolution and all kinds of other
processes to express his bounteous love.
These two ways of looking at things - through the eyes of this world
and through the eyes of God - are not in contradiction but simply operate
on different planes.
While not ignoring or devaluing what I'm calling "the eyes of this
world" Jesus, however, is trying to get us to understand that there is
another way of looking at things. He wants us to realise that there is
another and more fundamental way of looking at things i.e. with the eyes
The Feeding of the Five Thousand is one of the really great miracles
but it is not a miracle of healing. It is, however, a miracle of
nurturing. The food that Christ gives us, the bread of the Eucharist,
nurtures and sustains us on our journey through life.
It is from the Eucharist that we draw life and sustenance, it is from
the Eucharist that we experience Christ among us, it is from the Eucharist
that we find hope for the world.
In this great miracle the Laws of Nature may seem to be broken but this
is only so that we get a glimpse of the Laws of the Spirit. We who
concentrate so much on the superficial are invited by Christ to pull back
the veil and to appreciate the fundamental underlying Law of the Spirit by
which God operates.
It is this law that makes sense of our faith, makes sense of the
sacraments, makes sense of the sacrifice of Christ.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: