This week’s Gospel reading focuses on one of Christ’s most famous miracles—the miracle of multiplying bread and fish to feed five thousand men and as many as fifteen thousand to twenty thousand people in total with just five loaves and two fish.
The miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish is found in all four Gospels, signifying that it was considered one of the most meaningful miracles for all the Gospel writers. The miracle occurs when the apostles are asked to bring the small amount of the bread and fish they have to Christ and trust that he can satisfy the hunger of the large crowd of people. More than just keeping the crowd’s hunger at bay, Christ superabundantly satisfied them as twelve baskets of food were left over.
This miracle also serves as a sign pointing towards Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist. His Body and Blood are present after the words of consecration spoken by the priest. In the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine. This wonderful truth is honored today by the Church with the feast of Corpus Christi, which is Latin for “Body of Christ.”
Unpack the First Reading
The Church gives us this text from Genesis on this feast on which we celebrate the gift of the Holy Eucharist. From the New Testament era itself the Church has seen in the mysterious figure of Melchizedek a prophecy of Christ and his gift of the Blessed Sacrament. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the argument is made that Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood founded at the time of Moses because the priest Melchizedek blessed Abraham (then still called “Abram”) long before the Exodus. Since “the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Hebrews 7:7, RSV), Abraham, as well as his descendants among the Levitical priesthood, must be inferior to Jesus, who, in fulfillment of the verse from Psalm 110 has been made “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 [RSV], cited in Hebrews 5:6 and 7:17).
Psalm 110 was understood as a prophecy of the son of King David, and so also of Jesus as the rightful Davidic heir. The verse 4 reference to Melchizedek was understood by the first Christians as referring to the priesthood of Jesus. This Jesus, who had also brought out bread and wine at his Last Supper and said over them, “this is my body” and this “is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19, 20), had mysteriously re-established the ancient priesthood of Melchizedek (a name which means “righteous or rightful king”) and also entirely superseded it by making his sacrifice of bread and wine the very offering of his own body and blood on the cross.
Unpack the Second Reading
In this passage we see St. Paul testifying to what we call in Latin “traditio” or in Greek “paradosis” of the Holy Eucharist. He says that he hands on (paredoka) about the Eucharist what he had received from the Lord. In the Church we call this the passing on of the Tradition, that work by which “the Church in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 78). As regards this ancient Tradition of the Eucharist, this is particularly the case. The Holy Eucharist that Paul is teaching about here is the Holy Communion that enables the Church to be and to remain the Communion of Saints. The holy bond that unites us to one another in communion (koinonia in Greek) is our participation (also koinonia in the Greek, see 1 Corinthians 10:16) in the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
That is, his body and blood, given for us on the cross and in the Last Supper is what makes us his body the Church. That is the ancient Tradition of the Church and what Jesus meant in John 6 when he said, “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world;” to which those present replied, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:33, 34).
Unpack the Gospel
In Luke’s Gospel there are two instances of Jesus blessing, breaking, and giving bread: this miraculous feeding of the five thousand in Luke 9, and the story of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. The first is a prophecy of, and the second harkens back to, the gift of himself in bread at the Last Supper in Luke 22. In that passage, Jesus breaks and gives bread, but only after he “gave thanks.” “Giving thanks” (eucharistein) is, of course, the root of our word “Eucharist.” Just after this miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his coming Passion, that he must be “delivered into the hands of men” (9:44, RSV) and “suffer many things” (9:22, RSV). Then, near the end of chapter 9, Luke tells us that Jesus’ “face was set toward Jerusalem” (9:53, RSV).
In Luke 24, after Jesus was made known to the two disciples “in the breaking of the bread” (24:35), Luke tells us that these two, who had been walking away from Jerusalem in despair after Jesus’ death, now “rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem” (24:33, RSV). In Luke’s two-part work, Luke – Acts, Jerusalem is the center of the action, the place Jesus goes to gain our salvation in Luke and then the place from which the apostles launch the proclamation of the Gospel of that salvation in Acts. Jerusalem is the center also because it represents for Luke the place of Eucharist, where Jesus, “when he had given thanks (22:19, RSV), allows himself to be broken and given over into our hands for the life of the world.
Reflect & Discuss
Watch the short Opening the Word video on StMichael.FORMED.org. Then reflect and discuss the following questions:
In the Gospel reading today, the crowds have been listening to Jesus all day and they are now hungry, as the apostles point out to him. What does Jesus ask the disciples to do?
Clearly, the apostles felt overwhelmed when Jesus told them to feed the crowd.
Have you ever been challenged by God to do something that you thought you could never do? How does the gift of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist help us to do the works of God that are even beyond our means?
Reprinted from Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.