What is this among so many?
Aside from the resurrection, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. Obviously, the Gospel writers considered this a significant miracle. We might wonder why. For sheer eye-popping attention getting I can easily think of a lot more exciting miracles like the three raising of the dead, the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. What about giving the blind sight? Making the lame to walk? The deaf hear?
St. Augustine reasoned that God’s governance of the whole world is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand men with five loaves. For he feeds the whole world, from grains creates whole harvests.
But the explanation of the preeminence of this miracle is fairly obvious: it is impossible for Christians to hear the story of the feeding of the five thousand without being reminded of the Eucharist.
And the reason that this story is important for us is that it was impossible for the Jews who were feed that day not to be reminded of the feeding with the manna of the Jews in the wilderness. This is borne out if you go on read the rest of the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel: “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
The Gospel this Sunday is full of clues which link the Eucharist with the manna in the wilderness.
The reason that the crowd is hungry in the first place is because they have quite literally followed Jesus nine miles into the wilderness . Jesus like Moses has gone up a mountain. John mentions the fact that it was at the time of the Passover, when the Jews remembered that night in which the lambs were sacrificed and the blood put on the doors to protect God’s people from the angel of death. Phillip and Andrew murmur like the Jews of old: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little”. "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" Jesus takes the loaves and fish, give thanks and distributes them, as much as they wanted and the people ate their fill.
There were some fish, real fish, but fish not born in the sea but in the bottom of the baskets, with no mother or father, only the command of Jesus which fished them out of nothing. There was some bread baked by no baker from barley never grown, cut down and ground at the mill, but brought into being by the words of Jesus: “make the people sit down.” But it is real bread which fills human stomachs. Real bread which crumbles and so must be gathered that nothing be lost.
So it is at every Mass: bread becomes the real Body of Christ and wine becomes the real Blood of Christ only because Jesus commands that it be so: “This is my Body and This is my Blood.”. Yet we must also remember the other circumstances must be reproduced.
We come to Mass hungry. That is why the Church has always insisted on the fast before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. But whether we are physically hungry or not we must be spiritually hungry. Desperate for the food which give Life to the dead. We come weary from the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil, seeking the protection of the Blood of the Lamb. Every Eucharist is a night time affair even in the clear brightness of the morning: “the night in which he was betrayed”. So we come to Jesus with fear, fear of our own betrayals of Jesus, fearful of those who betrayed us, so that as that prayer of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says, the Son of God may Receive me today as a partaker of his mystical Supper. I will not reveal the mystery to his adversaries. Nor will I give him a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess him: Lord, remember me in thy kingdom.
That is why the Church has always commanded us to rejoice on the Forth Sunday of Lent: “REJOICE ye with Jerusalem: and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her.” This is the Jerusalem which according to the first reading is condemned, “exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations . . . polluted . . . exiled but also redeemed . We rejoice not in ourselves but in the abundance of God’s mercy , as St. Paul tells us in the Epistle, the abundance which not overflows into twelve baskets but the eternal store from which he feeds the New Jerusalem, the Church, throughout the world. We rejoice in the reckless divine generosity which takes our all-to-little -what is this among so many – and makes of it much-too-much.