17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Entering into the Bread of Life


There is a very clear connection between our first reading and the Gospel today. In both of those stories, food is provided in a miraculous way. The real, miracle, however, is what these signs point to and that is the miraculous food that is provided for us.

Just like Elisha in the first reading, Jesus is faced with a hungry crowd. They've followed him to a deserted place and they don't have anything to eat - except for this tiny amount of food: five loaves of bread and two fish. That is nothing - there are thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus. The situation seems hopeless.

But Jesus takes that tiny offering and doesn't just provide enough food for the crowd, but an abundance of food - so much that the crumbs fill  twelve baskets.

It's an amazing story, a miracle; if we were there with Jesus, we would be amazed like those people were. They want to make Him their king - but there is so much more going on here.

With this Sunday, we begin a total of five weeks where we will hear from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. This chapter is important, worth spending almost an entire month on, because it is John's look at the Eucharist. Every other Gospel tells the story of the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament we call the Eucharist, but John doesn't do that. His telling of the last supper focuses on Jesus' words to the Apostles and him washing their feet. That doesn't mean that John's Gospel ignores the Eucharist, though. He relates to us this story of the feeding of multiplication of the bread and fish - followed by what is known as Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse. We will hear about that in the weeks to come. Today, let's look at how this story shows us the Mass.

Just like the crowd on that mountain, we gather together because of Jesus. We aren't here for a social event or to be entertained. We're here because we need Jesus, we hunger for him - whether we know that all the time or not.

In the Gospel Jesus sits down with the crowd around him - an ancient symbol of teaching. We usually picture teachers standing in front of the class to teach, but in the ancient world, teachers would sit with their disciples around them. At Mass we sit and then Jesus teaches us through the Scriptures. We see how the signs of the Old Testament, like today's story of Elisha multiplying the bread, point to the coming of Jesus, and how all of it is connected to us and our relationship with God.

What comes next? Jesus receives this small offering of food. We make our offering as well: in the form of money for the parish, in our prayers for our loved ones, and in the bread and wine that are brought up from the community of believers to the altar to be offered to God.

Then Jesus does something that should be very familiar to all of us. He takes the bread, gives thanks, and gives it to his disciples. Those words should stand out to us: they are the same at the last supper and we hear them at every Mass. The priest takes the bread and wine, thanks God (Eucharist means thanksgiving), and, through the very words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, distributes what has now become the Body and Blood of Christ.

The food we receive at Mass may not satisfy our physical hunger. It appears to be only a tiny piece of bread. But what it truly is - the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ - is the only thing that will satisfy our deepest longing - the longing for God.

As we spend the next few weeks hearing and praying over chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, let us open our hearts to celebrating the Mass with love and reverence. Let us recognize just Who it is that we receive when we come up for Communion. And let us be transformed by that Communion so that we can go out into the world as missionaries for Jesus Christ.