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.
Ever had a dinner party and run out of food to eat? Growing up, that would have been the ultimate faux pas in my family. Whenever anyone came over to visit, food would magically appear — magically, as in I wasn’t putting it together — and in enough quantity to feed a visiting army. No matter how many people we had in our house, we ended up with what sometimes seemed like more food than when we started. Coming up short was unthinkable. Even today, when we have a few friends come over, I find myself grilling enough meat to feed their entire extended families, and my wife does the same.
When I was younger, I chalked that up to my mother’s Italian heritage and her excellent cooking, but it’s a much broader impulse than that. There is something deeply ingrained in the human character about hospitality. In many cultures, if not most of them, the quality of hospitality and the provision of abundance to visitors and strangers are central concerns, even defining terms. Hospitality is the concrete manner in which we show our care for others — nourishing them and giving them rest from other weariness, at least symbolically relieving them from the need to forage for sustenance on their own.
Today’s readings reflect on hospitality as an invitation to reflect on God’s grace. Our first reading today from 2 Kings foreshadows the Gospel story of the miracle of the Multiplication. The prophet Elisha receives a sacrifice of significance, enough loaves and grains to feed a number of people. Elisha, however, instructs his servant to do what would horrify most of us planning dinner parties — to invite far more people than the food would satisfy.
“How can I set this before a hundred people?” the servant exclaims. Elisha, however, remains calm, putting his trust in the Lord, who had said, “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.” The Lord promised abundance, and in fact Elisha turns out to be correct; the people had their fill and there was food left over.
In the miracle of the multiplication, the scale changes dramatically. Rather than twenty barley loaves and fresh grain for a hundred people, the disciples can only round up five barley loaves and two fish for five thousand people. The miraculous nature of Elisha’s feast might be debatable, but this one leaves no doubt at all. Once again, at the end there is food left over, but this time far more than what the disciples had in the beginning — twelve wicker baskets to hold the remains of what had been five loaves of barley.
We do not hear what Jesus taught the crowd in John’s Gospel; Matthew recounts the miracle as following healings by Jesus, while Mark tells of Jesus teaching the Word, and Luke describes both. None of these accounts discuss what Jesus taught that day, though, but that may be the point of the Gospel authors. The miracle itself teaches us much about the nature of the Lord, and our own reflection of His caritas within our natures. Consider again that seemingly universal impulse of hospitality. Jesus doesn’t just exemplify it in this passage — and many others as well — but divinizes it in this miracle, demonstrating its source as well as its purpose.
The Lord created the earth for humans as our dwelling place, intending it as a Garden of Eden where we would continually take our rest and enjoy His enduring hospitality. Instead, we rebelled, desiring not to be the guests but the hosts and to control the abundance spread before us. This rebellion, our original sin of arrogance and disobedience, has created iniquity and division among us. We indulge selfish desires, see the world through a prism of shortage, and have no trust in the Lord who made all for us to live joyfully and properly in His love.
The Multiplication demonstrates, as did the passage with Elisha on a smaller scale, the desire of the Lord for us to return to Him as honored guests and family. God provides us with abundance when we cooperate with His grace rather than rebel against it. He turns our sacrifices into our own sustenance, which would allow us to rest from our need to forage continuously for our own sustenance by reordering our desires and putting our trust in His abundance rather than our own.
When we come to His feast, we are well fed indeed. That is even more true in Christ Himself and His Word. We chose the world over the Word in the Garden of Eden, and our hearts have been restless ever since. The peace of Christ fills us with abundant caritas for the Lord and for each other, with enough “leftovers” to allow us to invite others to that feast as well.
Our cultural priority for hospitality is an echo of what we lost in original sin. The Lord set an entire world out as a banquet for us, His invitation to sit at His table. We have a glimmer of that same caritas with our friends, family, and at time strangers — an impulse to repeat that form of caritas and an understanding that sharing the table is so universal that it binds us all in the same manner.
Jesus calls us to return to His table throughout His ministry. The Book of Revelation shows us a glimpse of heaven as a wedding feast, a time of renewal and reunion that is usually the highest form of hospitality in human culture. It promises eternal abundance, fellowship, and rest for those who choose Christ and open our hearts to trust the Lord. The miracles in today’s readings remind us of God’s call to us to return not as slaves, servants, or strangers, but as members of His family.
And don’t be afraid to bring a friend, either. The more the merrier.
The front page image is the Garden at the Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Galilee, Israel (photo by Ed Morrissey).
“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.