Sunday reflection: Luke 9:11–17

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 9:11–17:

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.” Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.

Over the past few years, I have traveled much more than I ever imagined I would. Much of that has been work-related, and some has been for personal enjoyment. Looking back over that time, the amount of travel I’ve done seems almost mystifying to me, because travel was never my passion — and I’m not a big fan of flying, although I am much better about it than I was when I was younger. I’ll be traveling again this week for work, and almost certainly quite a bit more this summer and fall, too.

Regardless of my feelings about travel at any one time, each trip brings a sense of anticipation with it. What will I find, who will I meet? The more mundane logistics of lodging and food still contribute to that anticipation — what cuisines will I encounter, and will I get a chance to find something unique and sustaining on the journey? Especially on work trips, food usually gets relegated to the lowest priority, and one ends up eating poorly — missing meals, grabbing the most convenient and fast food possible, and paying the price for it sooner or later. Even when in Rome on business, where healthy and delicious food abounds, I made a few, er, poor choices and ended up weakened and struggling to maintain my schedule.

Today’s Gospel and readings remind us that we face the same kind of choices on our spiritual journey as well. I have traveled through the site where the Gospel reading took place, in Tabgha on the shore of Galilee, where the Church of the Multiplication stands to commemorate the event. Thousands of people gathered there two millenia ago, on their own spiritual journey, hungry for the Word of God. As Luke writes in this passage, they also had corporeal needs that had to be fulfilled so that they could continue that spiritual journey, and the Twelve began to worry that they could not address the hunger of the crowds. Even now, the area closest to this site would struggle to find food immediately for a crowd of thousands. At that time, it would have been impossible.

Of course, nothing is impossible with the Lord, and Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes in order to provide that sustenance that would allow the crowds to stay and hear His Word. These pilgrims, who had journeyed to Galilee, received both physical and spiritual sustenance through the sacrifice of the Twelve, who provided the core of the food that fed all.

We see something similar in our first reading from Genesis. Melchizedek, a priest as well as king of Salem, seeks out Abram after he had rescued Lot and his household and was traveling back. As a priest, Melchizedek had the responsibility to offer sacrifices to the Lord on behalf of His people, and the authority to bless on His behalf. Melchizedek brings bread and wine for the sacrifice and the blessing, at which point Abram tithes to Melchizedek while refusing to take anything else from the king. He has received the spiritual food for the journey which would begin almost immediately, the journey which would bring a covenant between the Lord and Abram, known forever as Abraham, the father of the nations.

Paul also writes about the nature of our spiritual journey and the sustenance it requires, in a passage that is especially resonant on today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul scolds them for failing to realize that the Eucharist is not just a meal for the body. Instead of an act of unity and faith, the church in Corinth had apparently treated it as a party. “When you meet together,” Paul writes in the verses just prior to today’s second reading, “it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry while another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?”

The Eucharist provides the spiritual strength for Christians needed for their long journey toward salvation, Paul instructs. It is a remembrance, but not as one might have a remembrance of a dead relative or friend as a social event. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The act of receiving the Eucharist is a spiritual meal — it is a proclamation of the Christian faith. And it is a spiritual meal of unity and worthiness, not gluttony, drunkeness, and selfishness. “So, my brethren, when you come together and eat,” Paul instructs, “wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — lest you come together to be condemned.”

Journeys can lead us astray in some ways, both physically and spiritually. We focus on the moment so much that we forget the goals. We look for the easy and cheap food rather than that which will best protect and sustain us. Even when we do find the latter, we can often forget the purpose of that sustenance and instead indulge ourselves for our own selfish reasons, rather than to commit ourselves to the purpose at hand. Today’s readings remind us of our purpose, and offer a chance to recommit ourselves to the Word in our own journeys.

Jesus didn’t feed the multitudes just for the sake of feeding them. He wanted them to hear and understand the Word of God so as to seek salvation, and wanted the disciples to understand their role in spreading the Gospel on their own travels to come. Through the twelve Apostles and their successors, the sacrifice of Melchizedek has been perpetuated not just as a meal for the body, but as a unifying act of the Body of Christ as the church has multiplied throughout the world. We proclaim His death and resurrection and unite as one to await His return with every participation in the Eucharist — our spiritual sustenance on the way to salvation.

Let us choose to be strengthened with His Word, rather than weaken ourselves on the inferior on that path, and let us resolve to lift each other up to do the same. We can eat and drink at home, in this fallen world, if that’s all we want.

The front page image is of the garden at the Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Galilee, Israel. From my own collection.

“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.