The next five Sundays we’ll read from the 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel, beginning this Sunday with the miracle of the loaves and the fish. All four gospels recall this miracle, Mark and Matthew report it twice. The miracle and Jesus’ words that follow it in John’s gospel are about the Holy Eucharist. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the answer to our hunger.
The miracle takes place across the Sea of Galilee, in a “deserted place,’ as Matthew’s gospel describes it. There’s no place to buy food for a hungry crowd.
There’s only five barley loaves and two fish a small boy has. Barley loaves were the ordinary food for the poor.
Jesus initiates this miracle by pointing out to his disciples a hunger in the crowd. They seem hardly aware of it and have no answer what to do, except to say “We don’t have enough!” Taking what’s there, the five barley loaves and two fish, Jesus multiplies this food and feeds a multitude. John notes the Passover is near; it’s spring and green grass has grown up in this deserted place. Not only is it enough, but fragments are left over as the crowd has its fill.
Keep in mind the basic reality the miracle addresses: hunger. It’s bodily hunger, yes, but hunger of all kinds is addressed here. Like the disciples, we may be hardly aware of it. Humanity is hungry, this gospel says. Only God can fill its silent, hidden hunger, this miracle says. Only Jesus can.
“I come among the peoples like a shadow,
I sit down by each man’s side,
None sees me,
but they look on one another and know that I am there
My silence is like the silence of the tide that buries the playground of children
Like the deepening of frost in the slow night, when birds are dead in the morning.
Armies travel, invade, destroy with guns roaring from earth and air.
I am more terrible than armies.
I am more feared than cannon, kings and chancellors
I give no command to any, but I am listened to more than kings
and more than passionate orators
I unswear words and undo deeds,
Naked things know me.
I am more the first and last to be felt of the living.
I am hunger. “