17th Sunday of Ordinary Time: John 6 - Part 1

Today we start a sort of Gospel marathon. This happens every few years, as the Church goes through the cycle of Sunday readings: we take a break from the Gospel of Mark and spend 5 weeks on one chapter from the Gospel of John.

Why do this? Why focus so much on this one section of John? Well, what we'll be looking at until the end of August is John, chapter 6 where Jesus speaks to us about the Bread of Life. This is one of the most important parts of the New Testament when it comes to understanding the Eucharist.

We start today with the multiplication of those loaves of bread and fish; then we'll hear Jesus identify Himself as the bread of life and tell the crowds that to have eternal life, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood; and finally, we will see many of his followers leave Him because of this teaching.

John 6 is such an important thing for us to hear and spend time understanding because it opens up for us the mystery of the Eucharist. So, brace yourselves. This is a challenging thing to listen to for a whole month - it's also challenging to preach on it for that long; but it is so important.

The Lord wants to speak to you about His gift of the Eucharist.

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Now that we can see where we will be going, let's look briefly at the miracle that takes place in today's reading.

There is a hungry crowd and Jesus somehow provides food for them out of the small amount offered by the boy. In fact, when everyone has eaten, they have more bread - twelves baskets of bread fragments - than when they started.

It's a miracle. Jesus did something that would be impossible for any ordinary person and this sign is full of meaning. It would remind people that through Moses, God fed His people miraculous bread in the desert. That's why the people say "This is truly the Prophet" - they see Jesus as Moses' successor, the great prophet promised by God hundreds of years before.

They might have also remembered the story from our first reading. Elisha, the prophet, took 20 barley loaves and fed a hundred people; but now Jesus is feeding so many more.

It's an amazing event on its own, but as Catholics, we can look back and see that this sign is pointing us towards the even greater miracle of the Eucharist. There are two things in the reading that I would like to point out.

First, listen to how Jesus performs the miracle: "Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining ..." Those words should sound familiar because they match what the Lord does at the Last Supper when He gives the Eucharist to His disciples for the first time. This stands out in a particular way because John does not write about that part of the Last Supper in his gospel; this seems to take its place and point forward to what is coming.

Second, after everyone eats, Jesus says, "'Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.' So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat."

There is an abundance of bread - more than they could eat - and in a very real way, we are still eating that bread. When Jesus commanded His apostles to carry on what He did, to eat the bread and drink the wine, He showed us a far greater miracle than just filling our stomachs. He gave, and continues to give, Himself to us in the Eucharist. Millions of His followers throughout history and throughout the world have been fed the true Bread of Life since then.

In these next few weeks, we will hear about the peak of the Christian faith: Jesus, the Son of God, gave Himself completely for us on the cross and that sacrifice is made present for us again and again in the Eucharist. When we receive, we are being transformed. God is giving us His life.

Let's come with open minds and hearts to receive the gift Jesus has for us.