Feeding the Multitudes in Palestine, described in today’s lesson, is another Messianic trait. After a long day of preaching and teaching, night had fallen. It was time to release the crowds to return home. Jesus, instead, suggests to His disciples to feed the thousands of people with two fish and five loaves of bread. By feeding the people using His super natural method, once again, Christ validates His Messianic origin.
After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, He traveled to the desert to prepare Himself by fasting and prayer for His three year Public Ministry. Satan appeared to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell those stones to become bread”. Jesus responded and said, “Man cannot live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. In today’s reading, apparently Jesus deems that the right time has come to perform His miracle, the feeding of five thousand men, five thousand women, and at least five thousand children.
Today’s Miracle is included by all four Evangelists in their respective Gospels. It is included not only because it is remarkable and unique, but it also carries a significant message. Although it speaks to us about God’s miraculous and unending love to feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish, the emphasis is elsewhere. Today, with modern agricultural and scientific developments, we have been able to produce so much more food per square mile on the farms. Even so, we must question ourselves, why are there so many millions of people dying each year from starvation around the world? So what is Jesus’ significant message?
The Church realized early on the important message which is reflected in today’s Gospel Lesson. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. Jesus is indeed the Manna that falls from heaven to nourish His people in the wilderness. More importantly however, whoever partakes of Christ, shall live eternally and shall not fear starvation nor death. It is not coincidental that following this Feeding the Multitudes passage in the Gospel of John, the Evangelist includes a teaching of Jesus centered around Holy Eucharist (John 6:54). The Fathers of the Church wisely characterized the blood and corpus of Jesus, which is offered at every Divine Liturgy, as an immortality treatment (φαρμακο αθανασιας). The nourishment from Holy Communion does not satiate common human basic needs. It goes beyond. Holy Communion satisfies man’s ultimate quest, man’s thirst and hunger for immortality, to live eternally. People then and today are hungry for God. They seek freedom from sin and the heavy weight of oppression as they travel along in their journey towards the Kingdom of God.
You will also notice in today’s lesson that Christ, after the dinner miracle, avoids direct contact with the people. He again teaches us that by basing our faith on shallow enthusiasm, we have not arrived. Superficial enthusiasm is not indicative of a well-grounded faith. Enthusiasm comes and goes. It is not stable. It is not serious. Today it is important, tomorrow it is forgotten. While the people were searching for Him to proclaim Him as their king out of enthusiasm, Christ eludes them and retreats to a nearby hill for prayer. He does not want them to focus on the externals of the miracle. Rather, He insists that they focus on the Church that He plans to establish soon enough. Therefore, today’s miracle symbolizes the Divine Liturgy. Check out the verbs in the passage: Christ “Took the bread”, He “Looked up to Heaven”, He “Blessed”, He “Broke”, and He “Offered” (Matt. 26:26-29). Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life.
We can conclude that the message for today is concise and to the point. Jesus Christ does not represent a nice and beautifully profound teaching that is morally uplifting for people. Today we admit that He, Himself, is the Sacrament—He is the Bread and He is the Wine. He is the source of life and He is the treatment for immortality of the soul. Allow me to end with a quote from John’s Gospel: “If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever.” John 6:51 Let us affirm our faith in Christ and prepare to receive Holy Communion frequently and sincerely as we, like the crowds that were listening to Him, may proclaim Jesus Christ as our King and our God.