This Sunday, we begin a five-week-long discussion on the Eucharist, our Bread of Life. The Gospel readings for these five weeks will be taken from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. I strongly recommend that everyone read this passage. Spend about 15 minutes of your TV time and read the entire chapter. It would be best if each family reads it together and share some thoughts on the words of the passage and how they speak directly to us.
Here’s a summary: Jesus feeds about 12,000 people with five loaves and two fish. The people are amazed and wanted to forcefully make him a king. He eludes them and goes back to the hill. Later that evening, he calms the sea and rejoins his disciples. The next day, the people are searching for him. They want more bread. He tells them that He was the Bread of Life, and that they really would need to eat him in order to have life. That sounded intolerable to them. They get upset and decide to stop following him: everyone except the Twelve. Peter later reassures him that they have no one else to go to except he who was the Holy One of God.
The stage for the action of Jesus today was already set in the Old Testament reading we heard today from 2 Kings 4:42-44, where the prophet Elisha accepts a few loaves of bread from a foreigner (a pagan) and gives the people to eat. Miraculously, the small amount of bread is shared by a hundred men who all had their fill, and had some left over, as the Lord decreed. Here we see a clear and very early foreshadowing of the Eucharist.
The aspect of the Eucharist that I would love to reflect on today is the “left over.” There was need to feed 5,000 men. We know the many needs of our world, our families and ourselves. God does not jump in or intrude into our lives to solve all of them. He wants us to bring what we have, no matter how small. The “Philip” in us sees an impossibility—“Two hundred denarii ($2,000) would buy only enough to give them a small piece each” (Jn 6:8). The “Andrew” in us sees something, but it’s very little, however, enough for a start. Andrew clearly remembers the miracle at Cana and knows what the Lord can do. Faith does not imply we fold our hands. Expectant faith spurs us on to make our best contribution without which there would be no miracle. A miracle is not God working for us, rather God working with us. All God needs from us is to bring the little we have—our poverty, our inadequacy. Start somewhere. That was the way of Mother Teresa. She focused on one needy child at a time and soon she was feeding 2,000 needy children. Light a candle instead of curse the darkness. Sponsor a child in the Congo, give to the Missions, do some volunteer work. Do not complain you don’t have enough. You will never have enough. Though the economy is said to be bad, I read somewhere that American men spent $29 billion dollars—at the heart of the pandemic last year—to view naked women on the internet. American women spent $48 billion to fix finger and toe nails, to procure lipsticks and other make-ups. About the same amount was spent on ear, nose, and tongue piercings as well as tattoos and age-defying creams. (Mind you—I’m never against beautifying the body).
We do have more than enough to feed the hungry of the world, if only we can control our excesses and stop wasting money on not so useful endeavors. Jesus asked his disciples to gather the fragments left over, not only to show that the earth’s resources should not be wasted, but also to show that the poor and the weak are to be provided for. The Eucharist bears ample evidence to this. We gather what is left from Mass and place them in the tabernacle to be used later to feed the sick and the needy of God’s people. The remaining host does not stop being Jesus (as Protestants think). The fragments left over is Jesus ever-present to us from whom we draw life, hope, and sustenance for our world.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo