JESUS SAID TO THEM: “GIVE THEM SOME FOOD YOURSELVES”
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christi (Corpus Christi)
11The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured.12As 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.”13 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.”14Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of [about] fifty.”15They did so and made them all sit down.16Then 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.17They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Peter’s Confession About Jesus
Other readings: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
We are about to return to Ordinary Time. These past Sundays we saw a progressive separation between Jesus and the disciples. First, Jesus was taken away from them when he was arrested and killed, but he returned to them after his resurrection. Then finally, he returned to the Father, but his absence was mitigated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the Day of Pentecost, however, that great moment described by Luke in Acts 2, life had to follow its normal course. Jesus had promised on a good number of occasions that the disciples would not be left orphans. And so it was. The Spirit of the Lord was not present in fire and wind, but in the humble reality of the “breaking of bread,” the Eucharist, in which they shared in his body and blood.
Our liturgy has already presented the moment of the institution of the most important sign in which we can recognize Jesus alive amongst us: the celebration of Holy Thursday, in the context of the Triduum Sacrum, when we revived the mysteries of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. Today we approach the Eucharist from a different perspective, that of the celebration as such and its importance in the life of the Christian community. With the exception of John, the other Evangelists narrate the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. Paul tells us about the ambience and the failures that take place in the community of Corinth in verses 17-22 that precede the fragment of the epistle we read today. The apostle complains about the way in which the Corinthian community has degraded the celebration down to a mere social gathering where differences between rich and poor members, and selfish attitudes, contradict the meaning of the Eucharist as the memorial of the Lord. In an opposite direction, John omits the institution in his account of the Last Supper, as if he tried to warn his readers against another deviation, that of reducing the Eucharist to a mere rite, without any relation to service and love, depicted in Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet. His Eucharistic theology is developed in Jesus’ interpretation of the miracle of the multiplication and sharing of bread and fish (chapter 6).
In any case, both possible deformations of the Eucharist have been a permanent danger in the life of the Church. Either reducing the Lord’s Supper to a mere social meal, where secular rules are followed and the differences between rich and poor reflect worldly values and mores; or transforming the Eucharist into a new liturgical rite where the spirit of service to and care for the least important members of the community has faded or even disappeared. We have just seen the way in which John “compensated” for this ritualistic risk, emphasizing Jesus’ attitude, that of a servant who assumes the humblest role in a household.
Today’s text from Luke follows the pattern of the other two Synoptic Gospels, bridging the gap between rite and community life. All three describe Jesus’ multiplication of bread and fish by introducing the same ritual gestures of blessing / giving thanks, breaking and distributing, what John will call the “bread of life.” There is something the Synoptics do not hide from their readers, that is, how the disciples try to get rid of the hungry crowd: “Dismiss the crowd…” (Matthew 14:15 Mark 6:36, Luke 9:12). In all three cases, Jesus’ reaction is the same: “Give them some food yourselves.…” The link between the two Eucharistic dimensions depends on the attitude and the effective actions of the disciples … even if it is Jesus himself who multiplies the bread and fish.
After seeing the two possible “deviations” from the Eucharistic celebration according to the guidelines of the Scriptures, our questions today can follow the expected course. Do we find and bring into practice the link between cult, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the reality of our daily life? Do we extend the sharing of the Eucharistic bread and wine, the body and blood of the Lord, into sharing our material resources with those in need? Do we care about the liturgical dignity of our celebrations: the music, readings, prayers, and silence, as a sign of respect for the Lord’s presence among us? Can newcomers feel at home, as partakers in the banquet Jesus offers to those who come to him? Any line you follow may lead you to recognizing the failures Paul and the Evangelists found in their communities; but do not forget the achievements.
I know this is a thorny issue, but let us pray for those who may feel excluded from participation in the Eucharist, or at least receiving communion (those engaged in “irregular marital situations” are just one case): that they may feel accepted by their communities and find strength to be reconciled with themselves and with the Lord.
Let us pray for ourselves and our communities: that we may overcome the difficulties and contradictions that distort our fidelity to the memorial of the Lord’s Last Supper.
Pray for those who play a special role in the Eucharistic celebration, priests, deacons and Eucharistic ministers: that they may experience the joy of being close to the Lord while celebrating and distributing the Eucharist to the People of God.
Perform a simple, practical test: go to a different church for your Sunday service or mass. See how you feel. Are you ignored or welcome as a newcomer, as an anonymous visitor? Pay attention to the celebration: the readings, preaching, music, the participation of the community. Compare each aspect with your own community and see how you can contribute to and improve your celebration. I assure you the experiment can be really enriching.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain