The story we heard in the Gospel of John today — about Jesus feeding the 5,000 — stands out in the Gospels. The Gospel writers clearly thought this story was important. It shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but John also includes it.
In the Gospel writers’ hands, the feeding of the 5,000 is a parable about what we are called to do and who we are called to be. If we are going to follow Jesus, at some point, he is going to turn to us and say: “You give them something to eat.” And it matters how we respond to his command.
God has already given us a world out of nothing, already provided sun and earth and water and seeds. God provides something out of nothing. That is the basic story of creation. But this story is different. Jesus does not make something out of nothing here. No — he takes what God has already provided. He draws out the resources that are already present in the community.
As Andrew points out, all they can find is five barley loaves and two fish belonging to a boy in the crowd. But then, Jesus gets them to see what is there with new eyes. The disciples are coming from a place of fear, of scarcity: there will never be enough! Six month’s wages would not buy enough bread to feed them! What Jesus shows us is that whatever we have, whatever God has already given us, is always enough. If we look at it in the right way. If we decide to share. If we let, go of our fear and stop holding onto to what “ours” is so tightly. If we can do those things, we absolutely have enough bread to feed the whole world.
That is how Jesus wants us to see the world: 5,000 people on the lakeshore is not a problem. Whatever we brought with us is what we have to share, and there is plenty for everyone, and more left over besides. This is a pretty compelling picture of what the Kingdom of God is like.
Here is another way of looking at this story about feeding the five thousand it is the first supper, instead of the last supper. It is important to remember that the last supper is not the only Eucharistic feast in the Gospels. Every time Jesus broke bread with friends, it was a thanksgiving meal (for that is what eucharist means—thanksgiving).
Jesus follows the same pattern at this first supper as he does at the last supper. “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready.” Take, bless, break, give: those are the actions of the eucharistic feast. Jesus wants us to take what we have, whatever it is, whatever is already here, and bless it: in other words, give it to God. And then break it open, divide it up, and give it away. Joyfully. So that all will have enough.
Jesus does this with bread, every time he shares a meal. And he does this with his life: lives it for God, breaks it open, gives it to us. And this is what Jesus wants with our lives too: You give them something to eat. It is not enough to simply pray that God will change things, will feed the hungry and clothe the naked. God needs us to participate in this eucharistic action. God is calling us to take our lives, and bless them, and be broken open, and then given away in service of others.
Take, bless, break, give. No matter how hard or impossible this seems, the end result is worth it: everyone ate until they were satisfied, and when they gathered up what was left over, they filled twelve baskets. This vision is possible. We already have what we need, right here in our midst. In this Eucharist, we are made one Body with the Lord, as we hear in today’s Second Reading. Let us resolve again, then, to live lives worthy of such a great calling. The Kingdom is waiting to be born. Will you join in this eucharist?