Scripture: Lectionary 111, Sun. July 29th. II Kings 4:42-44. Psalm 145:10-11.15-16.17-18. Ephesians 4:1-6. John 1:1-15:
Since Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, less than 700 lines, we turn to John’s Gospel to fill in the next five Sundays, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost to the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. We are actually in the middle of Ordinary Time that began after the feast of Pentecost. The Eucharist is the center of our Scriptural readings in the Gospel for these coming weeks. John is the choice for the miracle of the loaves and fish and the discourse on the Eucharist. We are in the middle of summer and the focus on Jesus present in our midst through the sacrament of the Eucharist is complemented by the readings of the liturgy of the word.
The sign given today in chapter 6:1-15 is the gift of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. John pays almost all attention on the loaves for he wishes us to see Jesus as the Bread of Life. The fish later on becomes a symbol for the person of Jesus for in the Greek it reads I X TH U S and was used as a code symbol for declaring our belief in who Jesus is : Jesus (I) Christ (X) God (Th) Son (U) and Savior (S). Those letters in Greek are the first words of the expression Jesus Christ God’s Son (and) Savior.
John uses the expression sign for what the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) call miracle. The sign is there to lead us to a deeper belief in Jesus rather than to make us marvel at something extraordinary in nature like a miracle. Belief and Love are the two golden themes of the two parts of John’s Gospel. Faith is what is emphasized in chapters 1-12; love in the rest of the Gospel. Our sign serves as the gift of our faith in Jesus who performs the sign (miracle) of the multiplication of loaves within the context of the Exodus Event and the Passover. The scene is important for our understanding the Scriptural foundations for the key to the doctrine of the Eucharist.
The chapter six is totally dedicated to Jesus as the Bread of Life and our reading for today is the prologue to the discourses on the Eucharist which may be seen as two complementary revelations of Jesus about the Eucharist. We may see them as one discourse, too, and it comprises verses 26-59; verses 60-71 are the epilogue for the teaching of Jesus.
Since there are six distinct narratives that treat of the miracle of the loaves (and fish) we are certainly aware of the great importance of this happening in the plan of salvation history where Jesus is the one mediator of it. This may be the only event that has six accounts within the New Testament about the Eucharist. We have what is called “multiple attestation.”
In John’s unique account we have Jesus becoming the Passover Lamb and in a sense he replaces the Passover. John the Evangelist does have other Jewish feasts being replaced throughout his Gospel. His theology takes a different perspective than the Synoptics.
Three apostles are named in our passage: Phillip, Andrew, and Peter. Phillip is curious about how to feed such a large crowd; Andrew is most practical in noticing there is a lad who is selling the few loaves and fish that he has to someone in the crowd. Peter is simply mentioned as the brother of Andrew. St. Cyril of Alexandria, one of the greatest early commentators on John’s Gospel has this to say about the curious Phillip: “Although curious to ask questions, (Phillip) was not very quick at a generous appreciation of what fitted the divine.”
In the words and actions of Jesus we easily recognize what takes place at the Mass at the Consecration: Jesus TAKES the loaves, GIVES THANKS (EUCHARISTEIN in Greek) and GIVES them for distribution. (See other accounts in Luke 22:19; Mark 14:22; I Corinthians 11:23).
The amazing thing is that not only is the crowd fed but twelve baskets of food remain. The generosity of Jesus is seen in this sign. We know that John does not have an institution of the Eucharist in his Gospel taking place at the Last Supper. It is this sixth chapter that gives us his proclamation of the Eucharist in word and sign. We relate to this event each time we receive the Eucharist and recall the words and gestures of Jesus. We are led to give thanks to Jesus just as he did to the Father. We become one with him in his relationship to the Father and recall him saying, “I and the Father are one.” Our best response comes from another apostle who finally learns who Jesus truly is when he exclaims, “ My Lord and my God.” (Thomas). Amen.
Copyright 2012 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.