“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is John 6:1–15:
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “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. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Today’s Gospel provides a parallel to the Old Testament, in more than one way. In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha instructs his servant to feed a hundred people from twenty barley loaves, saying that the Lord will provide. In this passage from John, Jesus tells the disciples to feed thousands from five barley loaves and two fish. The miracle of the loaves and fishes doesn’t just parallel the passage from Elisha’s prophetic life, it greatly amplifies it. In this Gospel, there can be no doubt of the miraculous nature of the event.
There is another parallel, too, which may be a little more subtle but applies more in these times than ever. In both passages, the need to feed the crowd is obvious, and the anxiety almost palpable. Elisha’s servant all but scoffs at the prophet, saying “How can I set this before a hundred people?” The servant seems to be more worried about the reaction of the hundred people to himself — “how can I set this before a hundred people?” It certainly seems that the servant is worried about the consequences of facing a hundred hungry people and presenting them with such an inadequate amount of food that it might be taken as an insult.
When Jesus tests the disciples, they react in a similar manner. Philip scoffs at the idea that they can buy the food, looking at the enormity of the crowd. Andrew, like Elisha’s servant, looks at the offering and despairs at the prospect of going out into the crowd with it. The disciples focus on the impossibility of the task and give in to anxiety and defeat.
Jesus, however, uses this to teach important lessons, not just to the disciples but to all of us. He takes the offerings, blesses them, and they become enough to feed the multitudes with plenty to spare at the end. The same took place with Elisha, when Elisha trusted in the Word of the Lord:
“Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’” And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the LORD had said.
In the end, the anxiety does nothing to improve the situation. In fact, it gets in the way, and reduces our ability to act in faith to the Lord.
Not long ago, I watched a portion of the film Parenthood, which I’ve seen a number of times and enjoy for different reasons at different stages of my life. One of the children in the movie, Kevin Buckman (whose father Gil is played by Steve Martin), has an anxiety disorder, with which the entire family struggles. It’s a paralyzing disorder, one that keeps Kevin from enjoying almost anything, causing him to despair and cry out at any adversity, no matter how small.
In light of this Gospel reading today, I wonder just how often we are all Kevin Buckmans in our faith life. We see the adversity of living in a fallen world with the consequences of our own free-will choices, and our impulse is to despair. We look to the false promises of this world, see their falsity, and yet obsess on the material for salvation rather than look to the Lord for sustenance. I find myself falling into trap repeatedly, constantly.
Jesus speaks explicitly about the folly of anxiety in Matthew 6:25-34. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (In regard to Kevin Buckman, it’s more than a retainer or a pop fly in Little League, too.) In a moment of foreshadowing, Jesus instructs his disciples not to become overanxious about “what shall we eat?” and “what shall we drink?”, but to “seek first His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Now, Jesus wasn’t saying that we don’t have to work and plan for our own sustenance. We are called to feed others as well as feeding ourselves, to clothe others as well as ourselves, and so on. But giving in to anxiety and despair paralyzes us so that we can’t do any of those tasks. We have no faith, we have no hope, and then we have no will or strength to act. Every potential action is preceded with fear, the fear produces hesitation, the hesitation becomes a stall, and so on. We don’t feed the multitudes, and eventually we can’t deal with our personal responsibilities, either.
Instead, Jesus calls us to rely on Him, to put our trust in Him, especially when it comes to doing His work. We may look at the poverty and inhumanity of this world and want to give up. How can we possibly feed the world with just a few loaves of bread and what we’ve gathered for the local foodshelf? How can we clothe the world from just a few hand-me-downs? How can we evangelize the Good News in a world obsessed with materialism and hate? We cannot, on our own, do those tasks, especially not with the meager offerings we bring. But Jesus Christ takes those offerings, blesses them, and multiplies them in ways we cannot comprehend nor even see — especially if our anxiety and despair has closed our eyes and our hearts to Him.
This is our salvation — to have faith in Christ, hope in His resurrection, and caritas for our neighbors as ourselves. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” He said, “for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Live in the Multiplication, and put aside the worries of division.
The front-page image is of a garden at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, from my personal collection.