OT XVII [B]: 2 Kings 4:42-44, Eph 4:1-6, John 6:1-15
The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle from Jesus’ public ministry narrated in all four Gospels that has Eucharistic overtones. This is the only miracle, other than the Resurrection, that is told in all the Gospels, a fact that speaks of its importance to the early Church. John uses this story in his Gospel to introduce Jesus’ profound and extended reflection on the Eucharist and the Bread of Life. The Cycle B lectionary has selected portions from John chapter 6 for the next four Sundays to remind us of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. The Eucharistic coloring of the multiplication of bread is clear in Jesus’ blessing, breaking, and giving the loaves.
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus transforms a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. At every Mass God wants to take from our hands the fruit of our labor and work of our hands…as the offertory prayer stresses. The offertory collection really covers that aspect of the Mass. After his resurrection, at the sea of Tiberias Jesus appeared to the disciples and let them have a miraculous catch. And he asked them to bring some of the fish that they caught to add to the fish Jesus had already caught and was baking for their breakfast. Jesus could have performed the miracle of the multiplication of bread from scratch, from nothing. But he needed the 5 loaves of the boy. Jesus could have made wine from nothing. But he used water, the servants had to work to fill the jars with water. He always takes something that we worked on for his miracles. Therefore no Eucharist is offered without the fruit of our labor. The Eucharist brings no meaning to us if we bring nothing to the Eucharist. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine to be the very Body and Blood of Jesus. We also offer ourselves in this exchange, and we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist. This is what the celebrant says when he mixes water with wine: By this mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Water symbolizes our humanity and Wine symbolizes Jesus’ divinity. The water is fully absorbed in to the wine. The wine doesn’t become water. The same way our humanity is fully covered in Jesus’ divinity. That is why the Mass is fully acceptable to God the Father.
The multiplication may have actually happened in the passing out of the bread from Jesus’ hands into the hands of the Apostles or to the hands of the people. Therefore the people might not have seen a large bulk of bread before them. Only later may they have realized actually what happened a little before. This is what happens at the Eucharist too. We don’t see the transubstantiation taking place, but we only hear the word, this is my body and my blood, which Jesus utters using the celebrant’s tongues. And Jesus does not make a bulk of bread and asks people to come and help themselves. Instead, he did as we do at the Mass, the priests or the Extra ordinary Ministers serve the congregation as Jesus did at the multiplication of the bread or at the last supper. Receiving means I am accepting a gift, not a right that I have that I can go and take or grab. That is the reason only the bishop or the priests who stand in place of Jesus at the Eucharist serves themselves and nobody else. None of us have a right to divine gift.
In all the accounts of the multiplication Jesus asks the Apostles to collect the left over fragments. It shows the abundance of food they had. Also that God wants no food to be wasted. That's exactly what we do with the hosts that remain after Communion; we gather them in the ciboria and reserve them in the tabernacle. All of this is no accident.
Jesus is not just giving the crowds a free lunch to show them God's generosity and concern; he is also getting them ready to understand his coming discourse about the Eucharist.
At the Eucharist every particle that has any bread quality is believed to have the presence of the Lord. Therefore one is to carefully handle each and every particle. Extra ordinary ministers who deal with the bread may feel any tiny particle stuck to their fingers when they feel the fingers together. Therefore it is advisable to rinse your fingers in the water kept in the bowl here.
This reading invites us to become humble instruments in God’s hands by sharing our blessings with our needy brothers and sisters. Miracles can happen through our hands, when we collect and distribute to the needy the food destined for all by our generous God.
As we continue with this Mass, let's make an effort to live it deeply. And we can live it deeply, by paying attention to the sacred words of the liturgy, by stirring up sentiments of gratitude and faith in our hearts, and by remembering that we are not alone, that through this Mass we are connected to Catholics throughout the world and throughout history who have gathered around the same altar and received the same Holy Communion, obeying our Lords' command: "Do this in remembrance of me."