Saturday, July 30, 2011

Feeding the 5,000: A good start!

An older woman walked into the local church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked politely. ”The front row please.” she answered. ”You really don't want to do that”, the usher said. “The pastor is really boring.” ”Do you happen to know who I am?” the woman asked. ”No.” said the usher. ”I'm the pastor's mother,” she replied indignantly. Embarrassed, the usher asked, ”Do you know who I am?” ”No.” said the woman. To which he sighed and said, ”Good.”

“Those who ate were about five thousand” people. This story of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the most compelling stories that we hear in the life of Jesus. It ranks right up there with the healing of lepers and the raising of Lazarus as truly miraculous moments that show with authority the true nature and identity of Jesus. I often reflect on this story in my mind’s eye trying to picture myself in the scene; to experience what it must have been like to be one of the disciples distributing the loaves and the fishes – in wonder and awe and the seemingly endless supply of food coming from those baskets. Imagine witnessing such glory?

As I have reflected on this miracle over the years, however, I have come to understand that this great event is really small potatoes in terms of manifesting God’s great power. As we reflect on what it might have been like to be present for the feeding of the 5,000; what would you think if I told you that you have been present for the feeding of the 5 million; 5 billion; 5 trillion; maybe more? The feeding of the 5,000 is not the highpoint of Jesus nourishing His holy people; instead, it is just a foretaste; a mere beginning.

On that beautiful day, on that beautiful hillside, Jesus was only getting started. You see this miracle is a sign of something to come. The feeding of the 5,000 is an event that looks to the future as it prefigures the gift of the Holy Eucharist. Just listen to the very language that Jesus used in this miracle – it is clearly Eucharistic language. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” This language reminds us of the words that Jesus would later proclaim at the Last Supper; and they prefigure the words that Jesus will say again today, through the ministry of my priesthood, in this Eucharist.

The key difference is that on that glorious day 2,000 years ago, Jesus said the blessing prayer and gave to the people ordinary bread to eat; which sustained them for a day. Today, Jesus again says the blessing prayer, but will give to us the Eucharistic bread from Heaven. And, my brothers and sisters, this bread will not sustain us merely for a day; this bread – the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Himself – will keep us going for a lifetime and beyond into eternity. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus fed a very large crowd miraculously for a day. In the feeding of the Holy Eucharist Jesus has continually fed a crowd that after 2,000 years must number in the billions or trillions of believers – including each and every one of us; we are all present for this miracle feeding - and Jesus isn’t done yet. Jesus promises us that this miraculous feeding will continue as long as we are on earth; and will continue on even into eternity. As He said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the day that I drink the new wine with you in the Kingdom of my Father.” Jesus is essentially telling us, “This is not the Last Supper; there will be more in the eternal life to come – and you will be there!”

So today’s Gospel is not just about a miracle in the past that calls us into awe and wonder. It is also about the gift of the Eucharist that we celebrate today in the present and it is about the promise of the Heavenly banquet in the future. All of these are divine manifestations of the great love of God for us that we heard in our other two readings today. As we heard in Isaiah, “Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare…Listen, that you may have life.” And the Letter to the Romans put it more directly, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing! “In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.”

So, how do we respond to our participation in Christ’s love for us – especially his gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist? First and foremost, we need to be well disposed whenever we receive His Sacred Body and Blood. We need to be aware of what’s actually happening. We are about to receive the real Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus; we are about to encounter Him sacramentally in the flesh, to be as close to Him as we can possibly get in this life. “This is the Lamb of God,” you will hear me say, “Happy are those who are called to His supper!” Happy are they! Happy are you, my brothers and sisters! The trouble is that we who are called to be happy, are often elsewhere – lost in a daze, in a daydream, perhaps on auto-pilot, receiving reflexively rather than reflectively. It happens to us all. The encounter is over before we know where we are – before we realize who He is right before us. When we get in line for communion, we are not following the person in front of us – we are following Jesus Christ! Since Jesus is good enough, kind enough, gracious enough to come to us; we must be totally present. The Real Presence isn’t just about Jesus being truly present in the Eucharist, it is also about each one of us being truly present when we receive Him.

There is a casualness in our age that can lead us to lose the sacredness of this miraculous moment. We must approach with reverence, bow in humility, put out our hands invitingly, take the Lord lovingly into our bodies and into our hearts and lives.

Jesus invites each one of us today to join Him on the hillside, on this beautiful day. We have gathered here today some simple bread and wine, but He invites us to partake in the miracle multiplication and transformation. The miracle goes on.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.” May we too be satisfied at this and at every Eucharistic feast.

May God give you peace.

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