May 29, 2016
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Jesus spoke to the crowds of the reign of God, and he healed all who were in need to be cured. 12 As 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 answered them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fishes are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people?” 14 Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Jesus said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.” 15 They did so and made them all sit down. 16 Then, taking the five loaves and the two fishes, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven, pronounced a blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to set before the crowd. 17 They all ate until they were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Immediately before the text for today’s gospel, the New American Bible begins verse 10 and 11a this way: “When the disciples returned, they explained to him what they had done. He took them and withdrew in private to a town called Bethsaida. The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke…
In the first verses of this chapter, Luke describes Jesus’ sending of the disciples out on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. The fact that the disciples have just returned from their missionary effort to tell people of the Kingdom of God suggests that the significance of this meal for Luke is larger than just the report of a miracle where Jesus feeds a multitude with five loaves and two fish.
Luke describes this event as taking place in Bethsaida, a familiar place to Jesus and the disciples. It is a fishing village on the northeastern shore of Galilee, and it was the home of Philip, Andrew and Peter. Jesus had cured a blind man there (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus is reported to have complained that the people of Bethsaida, as well as those of Chorazin, were slow to repent, (Matthew 11:21) considering the signs of power that he had shown in their area. These people would have been familiar with Jesus and his ministry. This may explain the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God. If familiarity with Jesus did not draw the crowd, reports that he was “healing those who needed to be cured” would have done so. As the day nears its end and the time for the main meal of the day approaches, the twelve (with just five loaves and two fish) suggest that Jesus send the crowd away so that they can get provisions and secure lodging.
This gospel text has many levels of significance for Luke’s community. They would be familiar with the stories from the Hebrew scripture where God had acted to feed their ancestors. Most important would be the feeding with quail and manna during their time in the desert (Exodus 16:4-35). A story less familiar to the contemporary Christian is that of Elisha, a prophet, who was able to feed 100 people with 20 barley loaves.
“A man came from Ball-shalishah bringing the man of God twenty barley loaves made from the first-fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. ‘Give it to the people to eat.’ Elisha said. But his servant objected, ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?” Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha insisted. ‘For thus says the Lord, They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’ And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.” (2Kings 4:42-44)
With this background, Luke’s community would understand that Jesus was doing for them what God had done for their ancestors.
On yet another level, Luke has chosen to tell this story using language that would remind the community of their Eucharistic banquet. The sequence of the verbs in this text: “taking the loaves,” “said the blessing,” “broke them,” and “gave them to the disciples” (Luke 9:16) is identical to the text used by Luke at the Last Supper. “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘this is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’” (Luke 22:19) This language would remind the people of the Last Supper, the Eucharistic banquet, and the final banquet when the Kingdom of God is restored. This last notion is enhanced by the fact that Luke reports that “all were satisfied.” Keep in mind, the context for this story is that Jesus was speaking about the Kingdom of God and healing those who were in need. (Luke 9:12)
1. When you have meals that are meant to celebrate special events, do you incorporate features from family celebrations from the past?
2. Do you have memories of being truly hungry? Have you ever been in the midst of people who do not have enough to eat?
3. If you think of a gathering of five thousand in the countryside, hoping to be healed and to hear a religious teacher, what kind of people would you expect to find among the group?
4. Given Jesus’ complaint about the people of Bethsaida in Matthew 11:22, do you find it surprising that Jesus would perform such a sign of compassion for them?
5. How often do you think those gathering there ever sat down to a meal where they could eat as much as they wanted and have leftovers besides?
6. How do you think the disciples heard Jesus’ statement that they should give the people some food themselves?
7. The apostles provided the bread and the fish, they distributed it to those gathered, and they collected the remainder. Does the fact that Jesus wants them involved in the feeding of the crowd have meaning for you?
8. Jesus took all that they had, all five loaves and the two fish. Do you think that had significance for them at the time? Does it have significance for you now?
9. Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom. He sent the disciples to preach about the Kingdom. At the end of the meal everyone was satisfied. Does your celebration of this feast—in the Eucharist, receiving communion—put you in touch with a God who is pointing us to that day when all will be satisfied?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions for the upcoming Sunday are posted at the following link: http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx. You are invited to share your own reflection and comments with others at this website. The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.
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