“There is plenty of Bread for all!”
“God gives us everything we need”
by Rose O’Connor
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear John’s account of Jesus feeding thousands of people. We hear about the young boy who had the five loaves and two fish; a very simple offering yet in sharing it great things were achieved. It may be that Jesus performed a miracle by multiplying the loaves and the fish, or perhaps it was that everyone shared what they had, and in sharing there was more than enough for everyone.
At different times of our lives we have the experience of feeling that we do not have enough, whether it is food or money or time or energy. The message for us is clear – God is always ready to feed us – he gives us everything we need. What we want, or what we think we want, and what we need of course may not always be the same thing! It requires some reflection and wisdom on our part to discern what we truly need.
Donal Neary says that Jesus is offering us the bread of life, not because we deserve it but because we need it. A comforting thought is that God is with us in the ordinary; the God of the table so to speak. God is with us wherever we are in life; he is ready to feed us when we are empty. Through his teachings, Jesus is showing us a way of living that brings us new life in abundance. It is down to us to take time to hear, understand and act on what he is saying.
Central to this way of living is to be ready to love, to share and to help each other. We can never know what impact an act of kindness and love can have on another person. Kindness begets kindness; we never know where our act of kindness will bear fruit. Saint Teresa of Calcutta said “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – 2 Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing Elisha, the man of God, bread from the first-fruits, twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear.’ ‘Give it to the people to eat’, Elisha said. But his servant replied, ‘How can I serve this to a hundred men?’ ‘Give it to the people to eat’ he insisted ‘for the Lord says this, “They will eat and have some left over.”’ He served them; they ate and had some left over, as the Lord had said.
We are asked to reflect on two stories about bread today, first with Elisha and then with Jesus. The Elisha story is told simply. There was a famine in the land when a man gave the prophet twenty barley loves. To his servant’s surprise and objection, Elisha orders the bread be given to the people. “For thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'” And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said. The miracle here is scarce bread shared with the hungry, bread broken together. In the Bible, bread often symbolises wisdom or life or peace, or God satisfying our deepest human wants. So, there is more here than meets the eye. How are we to read Elisha’s story in our days? The world needs wisdom. Many countries are in dire need of peace. And life itself is under attack. Give us the bread, LORD! Give us a share in your peace! Fill us with a love for life! May your living wisdom flow through the world in lavish abundance!
LORD, Adonai, how wonderfully you worked through Elisha! What an amazing relationship he had with you! And twice as many miracles as Elijah! You truly gave him a double share of Elijah’s gifts. Elisha lived in times of oppression, difficult times for your people. Be with all who are oppressed today. Be with all who are touched by sorrow and tribulation, all who are marginalised. Be a strong presence among us. Breathe new life into us. Touch us with your gifting grace. Raise up men and women of great love and faith, bearers of your healing and transforming power. Elisha shared what he had with others: food and drink, hospitality, care, kindness, and great humanity. He worked with all in need. And you worked through what he had: bread, oil, water, a stick, a little flour, a willing heart, a great trust in you. Work with the little we have where we are. Grace us to bring glory to your Holy Name! Now and forever. Amen.
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18
The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs. Thus, the link is made between Elisha’s story and the gospel. And so, we pray together verses from a psalm of loving praise to a caring God whose face is revealed in Christ Jesus. As we pray the psalm together we discover the heft and power of praise. Psalm 145 teaches us the reasons for praise and reminds us that every time we engage in praise we are touched with blessing. What are the reasons? Declaring the greatness, goodness and mercy of God. The power of praise lies in the way praise opens every level of mind, heart and being to the touch of God’ greatness and glory. It wraps us in God’s resplendent goodness and floods us with divine mercy. Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your glorious might. Can you let the alleluias soar and let them echo in your deep heart’s core?
LORD, Adonai, we worship and adore you! How delightful you are! How glorious! How magnificent! May praise of you sing lovingly across our chattering minds today! May songs of praise rise freely to our lips! We acclaim you! We appreciate you! We exalt you! We affirm your loving presence! How splendid your majesty! Glory to you, LORD! Praised be your holy way and all your wonderful works! We rejoice in your abundant goodness! You are gracious and compassionate. You are near to all who call. You are slow to anger. You are rich in love and mercy. Your hand is generous, lavish and open. May all your works praise you, Lord, and all your faithful people! May every creature praise your holy name! For ever and ever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Ephesians 4:1-6
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
In this short reading Paul reminds us that the story of salvation is the story of our return to lost unity. Once again, we are challenged to read Paul from a position of oneness. Paul, describing himself as a prisoner of the Lord, offers us a vibrant invitation to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Sit with Paul’s words. Let them lead you into a vivid experience of oneness. Remember: oneness is not about a number. It is about an utterly absorbed and absorbing relationship with the very Ground of Being. Then you will experience the meaning of Paul’s other words: humility, gentleness, patience, and mutual forbearance in love. In the place of oneness all dualities vanish. Our sense of ego falls away. We come to very end and beginning of mind in the mind of Christ, paradoxically transcending and including everything. Are you ready to go there? Or do you still want to be in charge?
Lord Jesus, you open for us the way of return, the way to lost unity. You walk before us along the ways of oneness. You call us in the Spirit through your bonds of love and peace. In you we become one body and one Spirit. We embrace one Lord, one faith, one baptism. You draw us into unity with the loving Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. You want us to become one in the very Ground of Being. Open for us the paths of humility, gentleness, patience, and mutual forbearance. Lead us into the place of oneness where all walls, oppositions and dualities vanish in your dazzling love. May we truly be one in you! Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – John 6:1-15
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.
Rather than continuing with Mark’s version of the feeding of the five thousand we turn instead to John’s account. John reveals the full significance of the event and shows us that the miracle is not only a work of power but a sign pointing to realities of another order, a sign that address our whole being, our whole identity, and every aspect of our personhood. He went across the sea of Galilee. He climbed a mountain and sat with his disciples on the green grass. A crowd spontaneously gathered with him on the mountain across the sea. All aspects of a mysterious sign unfolding in the shadow of the Passover feast. The request to Philip is addressed to all of us today. Unleavened barley loaves used for the offering are multiplied. Twelve baskets of fragments are collected. There is more than Moses and manna here, more than Elisha. Can you hear the soft echoes of Eucharist resounding down the centuries? Can you sense Jesus drawing us all into unity? Will you withdraw with Jesus to the mountain when they seek to make him king? Will you sit with him and the Father on the green grass of the Spirit?
Lord Jesus, you speak to our whole being today. You whisper to our whole identity, and breathe on every aspect of our lives. You cross the Sea of Galilee. You climb a mountain. You invite us to sit with you on the green grass, excluding none. Let us draw close to you. Warm us with your smile. Lay your hands upon us. Multiply unleavened barley loaves for us today, and some fish. Bring all our fragments together. Send your light into all our dark places. Heal us. Make us one in you. Turn our ears to the soft echoes of Eucharist resounding down the centuries. Teach us to withdraw with you to the quiet mountain. Teach us how to sit silently with you and the Father in the gardens of the Spirit. You are more than Moses, more than Elijah, more than Elisha, more than all the prophets. You are the loving son of God. Remind us now and always that you always have Bread in your hands, balm for the hurting soul, food for the starving spirit. Alleluia! Amen.
We should not be surprised if we feel a bit ill at ease when we hear in today’s gospel that Jesus worked stupendous miracles. It is not because, like many of our contemporaries, we deny in principle the possibility of a miracle. For many, indeed, belief in miracles is a thing of the past, or the privilege of a few uneducated people. Our unease in the face of miracles is due, not so much to our lack of faith, as to our bad conscience. We continue to believe in Jesus and we accept his great power, but so far, we have never succeeded in witnessing a real miracle. It is strange that people take for granted that Jesus has worked exceptional miracles, like that related in this gospel passage, but cannot remember anything extraordinary or marvellous that God has done. We need to ask ourselves why this is. Why does Jesus not continue to work wonders for us as he did for his disciples in Galilee? Maybe if we read the account again we will discover some of the reasons. Certainly if we act today, as the disciples did then, we will witness miracles wrought by Jesus as they did.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This account belongs to a longer collection (Jn 6, 1-58), which is of great importance in the fourth gospel. It presents the multiplication of the loaves (Jn 6, 1-15) as a sign. Jesus will explain its real significance in the discourse that follows (Jn 6, 26-58). John emphasizes the sovereign initiative of Jesus, but does not mention his compassion. The real motive for this miracle was not the people’s need for bread, but the disciples’ lack of faith. Jesus is testing the disciples, while the crowd experience only the miracle. The fact that the food was given free of charge does not mean that it can be wasted. The disciples are entrusted with the distribution and instructed to collect what was left over. They are the immediate witnesses of the miracle and also its ministers. God’s gift is not lessened by the fact of being gratuitous. Jesus rejects any honour that might come to him from satisfying the people’s hunger, and he corrects their expectations. A messiah whose mission was no more than to feed the hungry would be of little value. Jesus’ real plan extends much further, but he begins by meeting the needs of his people. We learn from Jesus to be sensitive to the needs of others, but not to limit ourselves simply to meeting their needs.
This episode, placed right at the centre of Jesus’ public ministry, is introduced by a number of details which serve to make the story real: the place and time, and the participants are clearly mentioned (Jn 6, 1-4). The episode took place near the time of the Jewish feast of Passover (Jn 6, 1-4). The crowd are hungry for signs and they gather around Jesus, who already enjoys a reputation as a healer. The miracle, and the explanation given by Jesus, are both placed in a Paschal context.
The account of the miracle (6, 5-15) follows closely the synoptic tradition (Mk 6,34-44; Mt 14,14-21; Lk 9,11-17). However, in John the initiative comes directly from Jesus. When he looked up and saw the crowd, he wanted to test Philip (6, 5). Without any other motivation, and knowing exactly what he was doing (6, 6), he decided to feed the people. It was a decision his disciples had not expected.
As related also in the synoptics, what was needed was beyond their means. They did not have sufficient money (Jn 6, 7) and had very few provisions (6, 9). The fact that they remembered a small boy with a few loaves – barley loaves, the bread of the poor people (2 Kings 7, 1.16) – emphasizes the poverty of the available resources. The first to be surprised by the sign were the disciples. They were the best witnesses. They knew they had not enough food for so many people (Jn 6,7-9) and yet they were told to feed the crowd and to collect the pieces left over (Jn 6,10) that had not been distributed (Jn 6,11).
Jesus acted in the manner of someone presiding over a Jewish feast: he blessed the bread and gave it out, and then gave the disciples instructions to collect whatever was left over when all had had their fill (Jn 6,11-12). The miracle itself is not described, but the results were evident. The loaves that were multiplied were of barley (Jn 6,9), similar to when Elisha had given orders for twenty loaves to be divided among a hundred people (2 Kings 4,42-44). What happened here is obviously far greater: the number of people was greater, the loaves were fewer and there was much more left over.
A common feature in the accounts of miracles is the emphasis on the people’s reaction. This is the only time in John’s gospel that Jesus is publicly acknowledged as a wonderworker. The people recognised that only a prophet could give such a sign, and acclaimed Jesus as the one who was to come (Jn 6,14). It was understandable then, that they would want to proclaim him king. Jesus saw their political motive and knew that it was contrary to his understanding of what the messiah should be. It was not his work to satisfy people’s hunger. Seeing signs is not the same thing as having faith (Jn 6, 26). He moved away from the people who wanted to take him away from his mission, and from his disciples (6, 15). He went back alone to the hills he had left in order to feed the people.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The disciples were present at the multiplication of the loaves on the hillside. They had spent their life close to Jesus, accompanying him as he went though Galilee, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom. They could not fail to have seen the miracle, since Jesus had never been out of their sight. They were witnesses of this miraculous event because they had always been with the one who had power to accomplish it. Today, as then, the way to assist at stupendous miracles is to follow Jesus everywhere, to be with him when he is preaching or healing, to accompany him when he walks and when he rests.
If, on the other hand, we leave Jesus for any excuse whatsoever, or for any other person or any task, it will be impossible for him to reveal to us how stupendous and marvellous he really is, and the things he wants to do for us and for others. Unless we maintain a continuous profound relationship with the one who works miracles, we have no chance of being present for them. If we give our lives to Jesus, he will transform them into one continuous surprise, and a marvellous adventure. We do not realize how much we are missing when we stay away from Jesus, even for a short while.
The reality is that it is not easy to share our lives with Jesus. Maybe that is our excuse, but the first thing Jesus does with those who are close to him is to let them see how little they can do without him, and how much they are missing. When Jesus looked down from the hillside where he was sitting with his disciples, he saw the crowd approaching. He realized immediately that he would have to give them something to eat. He asked Philip where they could get some bread for them, to make sure the disciples realized how short of provisions they were, and to bring home to them the poverty of their resources They knew from experience that the needs of the people were always beyond their means. This was a constant threat to their faith and a permanent cause of disappointment to them. Neither Philip’s two hundred denarii, nor Andrew’s five loaves and few fish, would be nearly enough to satisfy the hunger of the crowd.
But the extraordinary thing is that Jesus pays no attention to the insufficiency of their resources. This is always how Jesus’ miracles begin. What’s more, Jesus makes use of their limited resources, and then of the disciples themselves, to accomplish his miracle. Jesus needs very little from his disciples to allow them to witness his miracle. He makes them realize how little they can do on their own, but he asks them to put themselves and the little they have at his disposal. The people will have enough to eat from the little bread the disciples had, because they had enough faith, and put not only the bread they had but their whole selves at his disposal. While Jesus was performing the miracle, praising God and blessing the bread, the disciples were busy getting the people to sit down. Thanks to the disciples, the people had a place to sit on the grass, before the bread reached them. And again, thanks to the disciples, nothing was wasted of the bread that was left over from the miraculous multiplication. Being short of resources was not an obstacle to becoming “servants” of a miracle.
It is consoling to notice that without the help of the disciples, even though they had insufficient resources, Jesus would not have been able to satisfy the hunger of the crowd. He needed their poverty and their obedience. He made sure they noticed with their own eyes, that the amount of bread they had would not be enough to feed the people, but he wanted them to be the ones to distribute the bread he had multiplied and to collect what was left over. Jesus was concerned, not with how little they had to offer, but with their obedience. They were witnesses of the miracle and the only people involved in its administration. Jesus asks very little of his disciples in order for him to perform miracles. Their poverty was enough, however great it might be, but of even greater importance was their obedience and availability. Well then, if the prophet of God who satisfies the hunger of the crowd, demands so little, we should ask ourselves why he does not count more on us. We continue to be his disciples but we have stopped believing in his miracles. But since he does not worry about the poverty of our resources, there is no reason why we cannot be present at his miracles, provided we are willing to put ourselves at his disposal. Let’s not forget, however, that while Jesus used the little his disciples had, he did not make them the beneficiaries of the miracle. They were given work to do, making sure the people had a place to sit and then distributing the bread and fish. He did not multiply the bread only for the disciples. They were Jesus’ servants first when they gave him what they possessed, and then servants of the hungry people when they distributed the bread that had just been multiplied. The disciples did not benefit from the miracle themselves, but they offered their services to Jesus so that the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish might be of benefit to the people who were suffering from hunger. Jesus still has need of people who will cooperate with him in miracles that are not for their own benefit, who will offer themselves to distribute bread to the people who, in spite of their extreme hunger, continue to search for Jesus, and find in him an answer to their poverty. If he is to perform miracles in our day, Jesus needs disciples who put at his disposal all that they have, even if it is very little, and who are willing to serve him.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that one of the great miracles of Jesus, the one we are reflecting on today, was of little real use, however wonderful it might seem. Jesus fed the multitude one day, and while we marvel at the miracle, we should not forget that their hunger returned the next day, when they did not have Jesus with them. With this miracle, Jesus wanted, not just to surprise us with his great power, but to remind us that there are always people around us suffering from hunger, and we must do something for them, however little we may have at our disposal. All he asks of us is that we put our little resources in his hands, and do what we can for the hungry, while he works the miracle.
As long as there is hunger, it will be necessary for us to make every effort possible, and to obey the Lord in whatever he wants of us, and then God will continue to work miracles. That there is hunger in today’s world is an injustice and a scandal. There is something wrong with a world where people waste the things they have, and have nothing to meet the essential needs of others. This should touch the hearts of Christians especially. The truth is that where there is most hunger today, there are fewer disciples of Jesus. Christian countries enjoy a higher level of wellbeing and show little compassion. This is the reason why we do not see miracles. It is not because they are no longer possible!