Receiving What We Already Are
Readings: 2 Kgs. 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-19; Eph. 3:14-21; Jn. 6:1-21
Sometimes I wonder how all of us here consider miracles stories in the Bible. Do you think they “really” happened, especially the story of Jesus’ feeding of more than five thousand people? And what do we mean by “really”? What’s real and what’s not real in today’s gospel reading?
When we say this “really” took place, does it mean that Jesus literally and historically manufactured the loaves of bread and fish enough to feed more than five thousand people? Or are we saying something like the little boy’s act of sharing/sacrificing his food with others moved everyone’s hearts so they all shared their bread and fish with those without food?
Both approaches to today’s gospel reading, I think, have some truth, yet I don’t think it is enough to get deeper into the actual meaning of the story that
wants to convey. Because it ends up deciding whether it “really” happened or
not and reducing its message into a mere historic or scientific incident as if
our faith depends on our pseudo-scientific and pseudo-historic approaches to
the story, rather than understating it symbolically and analogically.
To decide what’s real and unreal is, of course, very important because it helps us to see the impossible possibility of God. Nonetheless, I still think it’s not enough. I argue that this kind of miracle story should be perceived symbolically and analogically because it not only goes beyond what’s real and unreal, but also takes us to see its primary meaning.
It is definitely not my intention to confuse you with so many theological or philosophical ideas of what’s real and what’s symbolical. If I make myself clear about today’s reading, I think it really happened. It took place historically, and what’s more great about today’s miracle story is that it is “really” as well as “historically” still happening today! Jesus is still feeding more than five thousand people! And today, I invite all of us to see this great miracle happening around us.
In order for us to get a better understanding of today’s gospel reading, we should have some background knowledge regarding Passover because in the story Passover was near. It is the Jewish festival also known as Pesach, which commemorates the story of the Exodus, God’s deliverance of the Israelites from
There were ten plagues God caused in Egypt to make the Pharaoh free the
Israelites. Especially the tenth plague was the most daunting one in which the
firstborns in Egypt
were struck down. For the Israelites to be saved from the tenth plague, God
commands them to mark the doorposts with the blood of a spring lamb so that God
could “pass over” the firstborns in
these houses of the Israelites.
God finally liberates the Israelites from slavery in
Egypt and takes
them to the wilderness which would eventually take them to the Promised Land.
And Moses becomes the leader of all. While being led by him in the wilderness,
the Israelites complain about how poorly they are being fed. Some even say it
would’ve been better to remain in Egypt as a slave. God hears their
cry and feeds them every day with manna.
So this one sentence that “the Passover was near” reminds us that Jesus is taking the role of Moses who not only led the Israelites from slavery in
but also received the Law (the Ten Commandments) from God. We see a large crowd
following Jesus who sets them free from the slavery of sin. And they are
hungry. In this sense, manna from heaven must be given to them.
On the other hand, in our reading from the Book of the Second Kings, we encounter the prophet Elisha who feeds a hundred people with twenty barley loaves and fresh grain. Considering the fact that today’s gospel reading is written long after this passage about Elisha, we can speculate that Jesus takes the role of the prophet Elisha.
Now, it seems quite clear that Jesus takes the roles of both Moses and Elisha. If we push this idea a little bit further, we can even state that Jesus fulfills what Moses and Elisha do represent, which is to say he completes the Law and the prophesy as the Messiah, the Son of God the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit.
Thus, Jesus completing the roles of both Moses who represents the Law of God and Elisha who represents the prophecy regarding the Messiah, takes five barley loaves of bread and two fish. He gives thanks to God. He breaks them and distributes them. Of what do these four acts of Jesus (taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to all) remind us? It’s the Holy Eucharist!
At the Eucharist, Christ sacrificed himself and gave himself as the eternal manna from heaven to us all. So we receive the Body of Christ, not because we deserve to get it, but solely because God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit love us unconditionally even though we are unworthy. If we consider the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the miracle of Jesus feeding more than thousand people is still happening. He gives himself as the heavenly bread to feed us and we are being fed with his Body until we see him again.
But this is not the end of the story about today’s gospel reading. Remember that he has nothing in his hands to give people to eat. The sources of feeding the five thousand are indeed from the little boy whose name is not even mentioned. He gives his entire food to Jesus even though it seems so little to feed thousands of people gathered around Jesus. I do believe there’s something that we can learn from this little child. Why can’t we give something that I have to Jesus so that He can multiply them to give those in need?
At the Eucharist, we not only receive the Body of Christ in our body, but also we receive what we are. We are joined with Christ and we are the Body of Christ as the Church. Thus, giving ourselves to God is nothing, but giving the Body of Christ to God to feed others in hunger.
Christ has called and gathered all of us as his Body. We must realize that we are what we receive at the Eucharist. When we kneel down before the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist, we not only take his body and blood, but also become one with his body and blood. We are his body and blood which is to be sacrificed to God so that God can feed the hunger, heal the sick, forgive the unforgivable, and love the unlovable.
Thus, we not only pray to God, “Lord, have mercy,” but also cry out, “Lord, let me be your mercy to others in need!” I would like to end my reflection with Corrine May’s song about today’s gospel reading.