Corpus Christi Year C Lectio divina on Lk 9,11b-17
During his public ministry, Jesus was often a guest at table. He shared in people’s hunger and he thirsted to be with them. He provided food for the crowds who had listened to him. He multiplied the bread and satisfied the hunger of all who believed in him. But before he satisfied their hunger for bread, he met their need for God. He listened to the needs only of those who had listened to him. The miracle is a consequence of their listening to the word of God. It is important to note that to work this miracle Jesus had recourse to the help of his disciples. Their contribution was small, but not insignificant. It was only when they put at his disposal the little they had, that they saw how Jesus was able to satisfy the hunger of the crowd.
Christians must learn from what the disciples did, if they want to fulfil the Lord’s command. In the Eucharist they will have to repeat their gesture of taking care of the hunger of the people by sharing with them the bread of God which is Jesus Christ. No one who is a disciple of Jesus can say he has too little to give, because whatever he has to offer will always be enough.
At that time: Jesus spoke to the crowds of the Kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish – unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
I. Read: underrated what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Although the passage is the report of a miracle, the emphasis is on the conversation between Jesus and his disciples. The miracle is for the benefit of the crowd, although they had not asked for one. They came only to hear Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom, but they were also healed of their hunger by Jesus, and served by the disciples. Jesus satisfies the hunger only of those who have listened to his message. The bread, which had not been requested, is pure gift, given in abundance.
Jesus maintains the initiative throughout the whole episode, except at the beginning of his conversation with his disciples. They would have liked to get rid of the crowd, once they had been evangelized. And for good reason – they had only enough food for themselves. They had given some consideration to the possibility of buying food for so many people. But where would they get the money? Here it is their obedience, rather than their poverty, that leads to the miracle. They not only put what they had at Jesus’ disposal, they themselves were at his disposal and at the service of the crowd. Without this change of attitude, there would have been no miracle. The miracle is referred to only at the end. The miraculous food is described as a Eucharistic meal. For the evangelist, there is a food which really satisfies and which cannot be lost – the food blessed by Jesus and distributed by his disciples.
Meditation: apply what the text says to life
The mystery that we celebrate today is, without doubt, fundamental in our life of faith. Like every mystery of faith, it hides an extraordinary story of love. Jesus Christ, who lived among us, did not limit himself to giving his life for us. He also tried to find a way to remain at our disposal, in body and soul, even in his absence. Only divine love could reach such a fantastic level. Only the power of God could be so omnipotent. He loved us to the point of giving his life for us, and he continues to love us so much that he remains available to us. In the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, Jesus remains at our disposal to satisfy our hunger and meet our needs.
Today, Corpus Christi, we thank Jesus who willed to do the impossible for us – and that is what he has done – by becoming our normal food, in order to be of help and sustenance to us in our daily lives.
Today’s gospel speaks precisely about this effort of Jesus to satisfy our needs. By multiplying the bread and the fish, Jesus satisfied the nagging hunger of the crowd that had come to listen to him, to the great amazement of his disciples. The episode still has meaning for us. The people who received that bread, had gone to Jesus only to satisfy their hunger for God. When they heard him speaking about the Kingdom, they forgot their hunger. Instead of going to get something to eat, they stayed on to listen further to Jesus. It was the disciples who were with Jesus who drew his attention to it. Neither Jesus nor the crowd had noticed what was happening, they were too engrossed in God and his Kingdom. Jesus did not follow the advice of his disciples who told him to send the crowd away since they had neither food nor accommodation. The disciples were aware of their poverty and did not know what to do with only two fish and five loaves, and so many people without food or shelter. They did not know yet that having Jesus meant that they could count on miracles, which happen only for those with love beyond imagining.
We are all somehow involved in the behaviour of those who were present. We should take a brief look and see who it is that we identify most with. Then we will know what we need to do if the Eucharist is to satisfy fully our need for God and our need for life. The people went to hear Jesus, and the needier ones among them to ask for healing. They stayed to hear him speaking about the Kingdom and to see him healing the sick. They lost all sense of time and all awareness of hunger. The disciples became concerned about their lack of provisions, and spoke to Jesus about the responsibility they knew would fall on them. The crowd had not thought about the situation. The miracle took them by surprise. While Jesus was speaking about the Kingdom, they forgot about their most basic need, their need for food. He took care of all who needed him. While they were with him, they had no need for food or lodging.
As Jesus himself said, he had provided what was most important – God, who alone was necessary, and his Kingdom. He would not have left the people alone, under the open sky, without at least satisfying their need for food. To obtain from God the lesser miracle, they had to have the courage to desire from him a greater one. Jesus multiplied bread for a crowd that preferred to remain hungry rather than do without God, and spent their time seeking inner healing rather than looking for food. We don’t know what we are missing, when we waste time seeking to satisfy our lesser needs instead of nourishing our hunger for God, our deep and radical need for God, and our need to feel cared for and healed by him. If we are really committed to listening to God, like the people in that crowd, letting our own needs wait, we will be surprised by the concern God shows for us in meeting our needs. Being concerned about the things of God is the way to ensure that God will take care of our needs.
The many times we have participated in the Eucharist have not had the desired effect in us, the miracle that we need, because we usually put our own needs before the will of God. We are so preoccupied with what we want, that all we do is to bring our needs before God. We don’t give him time to offer himself to us as the answer to all our needs. Going to Jesus to allow God to speak to us and be close to us, as the people in that crowd did, is the surest way to having our needs satisfied, before we ever become aware of them or even think of asking for them. If we put God first, ahead of our own hunger or needs, then we will receive, gratis, the bread that has been multiplied, and all our needs will be met. If we forget about God, then we will experience no great miracles today. If we put our hunger or our needs, however urgent and unbearable they may be, before our desire for God and his Kingdom, we will be deprived of the bread of God and of his life. Let us go back, like the crowd, to listen to Jesus and pay attention to what he teaches. Then he will come back to hear our need and to satisfy it. God is attentive to those who pay attention to him.
To us, the behaviour of the disciples is perfectly reasonable. They were alarmed by the situation that had arisen there in that field, at the end of the day, with limited resources and a crowd that had not eaten. We are not shocked by how little faith they had, or by their attempt to get rid of the people who needed their help. We can all identify with the attitude of Jesus’ disciples. Their fear of undertaking something that was beyond their means indicated a lack of faith in the Lord. They had heard what he had to say, the same as the crowd. They thought they had enough for themselves and they felt no responsibility for the needs of the others. Their own lack of generosity prevented them from foreseeing the generosity of their master. They did not expect so great a miracle, because their selfishness was as strong as their hunger. They had only a few loaves in the baskets, and they could not enlarge their hearts to feel the needs of the crowd. They thought they were poor and they became miserly. They were not only poor, but lacking in faith – like us!
When he multiplied their provisions, Jesus showed the disciples that those who live with him, no matter how poor they are, must open up their whole lives and all they have, to the needs of others. We cannot live with Jesus and ignore the hunger of so many people. The disciples had seen how Jesus cared for the sick and healed them, how he approached the marginalized and restored them to society, how he welcomed sinners and brought them back to God. But they still had not learnt the lesson. They still thought that they were not good enough to begin to care for the good of others, that they had too little to tackle such great needs. Their faith was not enough to multiply their few goods. And even though they could count on Jesus, they did not expect a miracle from him.
This is only an example, but it is of little use for Christians to receive the Body of Christ, and allay their need for God by receiving the Eucharistic bread, if they become insensitive to the hunger for bread of so many people in today’s world. Like the disciples of Jesus, we continue to think that our bread and our fish are little enough for our own needs, and so we show no concern for the very many people who know nothing but poverty and hunger. As disciples of Jesus, we know that he takes care of our hunger and our needs, so that we can devote ourselves to satisfying the needs of others. This is the only thing that gives efficacy and credibility to our receiving his Body and his Life. Anyone who has God as his food, must nourish the hungry. To forget this would be to show no regard for the Body of Christ we receive.