Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gospel for Friday, 2nd Week of Easter

From: John 6:1-15

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fish
[1] After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. [2] And a multitude followed Him, because they saw the signs which He did on those who were diseased. [3] Jesus went up into the hills, and there sat down with His disciples. [4] Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. [5] Lifting up His eyes, then, seeing that a multitude was coming to Him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" [6] This He said to test them, for He Himself knew what He would do. [7] Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." [8] One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, [9] "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" [10] Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so men sat down, in number about five thousand. [11] Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. [12] And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." [13] So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. [14] When the people saw the sign which He had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" [15] Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by Himself.
1. This is the second lake formed by the river Jordan. It is sometimes described in the Gospels as the "Lake of Gennesaret" (Luke 5:1), because that is the name of the area on the north-eastern bank of the lake, and sometimes as the "Sea of Galilee" (Matthew 4:18; 15:29; Mark 1:16; 7:31), after the region in which it is located. St. John also calls it the "Sea of Tiberias" (cf. 21:1), after the city of that name which Herod Antipas founded and named after the Emperor Tiberius. InJesus' time there were a number of towns on the shore of this lake--Tiberias, Magdala, Capernaum, Bethsaida, etc.--and the shore was often the setting for His preaching.

2. Although St. John refers to only seven miracles and does not mention others which are reported in the Synoptics, in this verse and more expressly at the end of the Gospel (20:30; 21:25) he says that the Lord worked many miracles; the reason why the evangelist, under God's inspiration, chose these seven must surely be because they best suited His purpose--to highlight certain facets of the mystery of Christ. He now goes on to recount the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, a miracle directly connected with the discourses at Capernaum in which Jesus presents Himself as "the bread of life" (6:35, 48).

4. St. John's Gospel often mentions Jewish feasts when referring to events in our Lord's public ministry--as in the case here (cf. "The Dates of the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ", in the "The Navarre Bible: St. Mark", pp. 49ff, and "Introduction to the Gospel according to St. John", pp. 13ff above).

Shortly before this Passover Jesus works the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, which prefigures the Christian Easter and the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, as He Himself explains in the discourse, beginning at verse 26 in which He promises Himself as nourishment for our souls.

5-9. Jesus is sensitive to people's material and spiritual needs. Here we see Him take the initiative to satisfy the hunger of the crowd of people who have been following Him.

Through these conversations and the miracle He is going to work, Jesus also teaches His disciples to trust in Him whenever they meet up with difficulties in their apostolic endeavors in the future: they should engage in them using whatever resources they have--even if they are plainly inadequate, as was the case with the five loaves and two fish. He will supply what is lacking. In the Christian life we must put what we have at the service of our Lord, even if we do not think it amounts to very much. He can make meager resources productive.

"We must, then, have faith and not be dispirited. We must not be stopped by any kind of human calculation. To overcome the obstacles we have to throw ourselves into the task so that the very effort we make will open up new paths" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 160).

10. The evangelist gives us an apparently unimportant piece of information: "there was much grass in the place." This indicates that the miracle took place in the height of the Palestinian spring, very near the Passover, as mentioned in verse 4. There are very few bigmeadows in Palestine; even today there is one on the eastern bank of the Lake of Gennesaret, called El-Batihah, where five thousand people could fit seated: it may have been the site of this miracle.

11. The account of the miracle begins with almost the very same words as those which the Synoptics and St. Paul use to describe the institution of the Eucharist (cf. Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:25). This indicates that the miracle, in addition to being an _expression of Jesus' mercy towards the needy, is a symbol of the Blessed Eucharist, about which our Lord will speak a little later on (cf. John 6:26-59).

12-13. The profusion of detail shows how accurate this narrative is--the names of the Apostles who address our Lord (verses 5,8), the fact that they were barley loaves (verse 9), the boy who provided the wherewithal (verse 9) and, finally, Jesus telling them to gather up the leftovers.

This miracle shows Jesus' divine power over matter, and His largesse recalls the abundance of messianic benefits which the prophets had foretold (cf. Jeremiah 31:14).

Christ's instruction to pick up the leftovers teaches us that material resources are gifts of God and should not be wasted: they should be used in a spirit of poverty (cf. note on Mark 6:42). In this connection Paul VI pointed out that "after liberally feeding the crowds, the Lord told His disciples to gather up what was left over, lest anything should be lost (cf. John 6:12). What an excellent lesson in thrift--in the finest and fullest meaning of the term--for our age, given as it is to wastefulness! It carries with it the condemnation of a whole concept of society wherein consumption tends to become an end in itself, with contempt for the needy, and to the detriment, ultimately, of those very people who believed themselves to be its beneficiaries, having become incapable of perceiving that man is called to a higher destiny" ([Pope] Paul VI, "Address to Participants at the World Food Conference", 9 November 1974).

14-15. The faith which the miracle causes in the hearts of these people is still very imperfect: they recognize Him as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15), but they are thinking in terms of an earthly, political messianism; they want to make Him king because they think the Messiah's function is to free them from Roman domination.

Our Lord, who later on (verses 26-27) will explain the true meaning of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, simply goes away, to avoid the people proclaiming Him for what He is not. In His dialogue with Pilate (cf. John 18:36) He will explain that His kingship "is not of this world": "The Gospels clearly show that for Jesus anything that would alter His mission as the Servant of Yahweh was a temptation (cf. Matthew 4:8: Luke 4:5). He does not accept the position of those who mixed the things of God with merely political attitudes (cf. Matthew
22:21; Mark 12:17; John 18:36). [...] The perspective of His mission is much deeper. It consists in complete salvation through transforming, peacemaking, pardoning, and reconciling love. There is no doubt, moreover, that all this makes many demands on the Christian who wishes truly to serve his least brethren, the poor, the needy, the outcast; in a word, all those who in their lives reflect the sorrowing face of the Lord (cf. "Lumen Gentium", 8)" ([Pope] John Paul II, "Opening Address to the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops", 28 January 1979).

Christianity, therefore, must not be confused with any social or political ideology, however excellent. "I do not approve of committed Christians in the world forming a political-religious movement. That would be madness, even if it were motivated by a desire to spread the spirit of Christ in all the activities of men. What we have to do is put God in the heart of every single person, no matter who he is. Let us try to speak then in such a way that every Christian is able to bear witness to the faith he professes by example and word in his own circumstances, which are determined alike by his place in the Church and in civil life, as well as by ongoing events.

"By the very fact of being a man, a Christian has a full right to live in the world. If he lets Christ live and reign in his heart, he will feel--quite noticeably--the saving effectiveness of our Lord in everything he does" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 183).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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