An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Luke 9:11-17, June 2, 2013
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
IT HAS BEEN noticed that there is a growing popularity of perpetual Eucharistic adoration in the country. Probably there is no diocese in the Philippines where one cannot find one or two adoration chapels. And if one asks those who frequently visit them, he will likely be told that it is there that they pour out their hearts before the Lord, offering their thoughts, actions, asking favors from him, or simply enjoying the nearness with him. The devotion is of course a praiseworthy custom, because the adoration of the Sacred Host in these chapels is firmly founded on the belief that the Lord is truly, really, and substantially present in it. However, it would be even more praiseworthy if we, Christians, are led to a wider understanding of what the Eucharist is all about. For example, we can be taught that the Eucharist is an experience of the presence of the Risen Lord who wants us to reach out to others, especially the poor and the needy, in loving service.
Today’s Gospel on the miracle of the loaves can enlighten us on this aspect. To begin with, the account of the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:11-17) is the only miracle story of Jesus’ Galilean ministry that is recounted in all the four gospels (John 6:1-15; Mark 6:30-44; Matt 14:13-21). It is obviously a symbolic miracle. With his inauguration of the Kingdom of God, Jesus now provides a foretaste of the Old Testament promises about God feeding his people in the Kingdom: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Isa 25:6). In the story that gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom is all about, Jesus is the host, welcoming the uninvited and intrusive crowd. In unfolding the meaning of the Kingdom, he cares for his people who suffer from hunger and want. The kingdom of God is thus not wholly spiritually; it is a community where all bodily and material needs are satisfied. Luke brings home this point by linking the miracle to the Eucharist, which is the microcosm of the Kingdom of God.
To be sure, the linkage between the account of the miracle of the loaves and the Eucharist can be seen in the way Luke describes the feeding of the five thousand and in the way he narrates the institution of the Eucharist. The parallels are so obvious that one is led to conclude that the eucharistic liturgical formulations colored the account of the multiplication of the bread. The wording matches almost verbatim with that in Luke’s account of the institution (Luke 22:19). The sequence of the verbs “having taken,” “he blessed,” “he broke,” “he gave,” immediately recalls the Eucharist. Moreover, the sequence could be compared with the meal scene that concludes the encounter with the Risen Lord at Emmaus which is doubtless eucharistic (Luke 24:29-31:35). This implies that for Luke the meaning of the Eucharist is to be seen in the feeding of the five thousand. Equally important, one should not fail to point out that the blessing and the breaking of the bread which Jesus did in Bethsaida (9:11) is, as Luke recounts, continued in the practices of the early Church: in the agape meals where sharing is the common feature (Acts 2:46) and in the distribution of goods to those in need (Acts 4:35). These reflect the responsibility given by Jesus to the apostles to nourish the Christian communities: (Luke 9:13).
What is Luke’s point in linking the miracle with the Eucharist? The evangelist seems to be saying that as part of the realization of the kingdom of God, the community of the reconstituted Israel, God’s people, is not only being healed psychologically and spiritually, but also being nourished eucharistically. There are three interconnected meanings of eucharistic feeding, but all of them have something to do with what ought to happen in the community in which God’s kingdom is being realized. First of all, the life of the community is centered on the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, but this celebration cannot be isolated from the ministry of feeding the hungry; otherwise, the liturgy will be reduced to a ritual that is divorced from life.
For this reason, it is not enough to receive communion without mortal sin; it is equally important that the reception leads to the sharing of resources with the hungry and those in need. Second, this also means that satisfying the hunger of the community members is not in itself a Christian ministry. Even Communists, who do not believe in God, still less in Jesus, feed the hungry. Rather, action on behalf of the hungry, the poor and the disadvantaged must be motivated by the Eucharist and one’s faith in it. And third, the feeding is done in the manner of the Eucharist: it is really a breaking of one’s bread, not just an act of giving that one does simply because he no longer needs the resources. Rather, it is a form of giving in which part of the giver dies, just as the Eucharist symbolizes the dying of Jesus.
For this reason, the miracle of the loaves teaches us that the Christian community must express the life of the Kingdom in the sharing of resources among the members. When resources are shared, miracles happen. Hoarding, monopoly, exclusivity may be commended in the business world, but they do not have any place in the Christian community, for they are anti-Christian values. To partake of the Eucharist is to imbibe the value of sharing, of giving, of losing and of dying. Without these values, the Christianity of the community is a sham. In fact, the reason why Paul in the 2nd Reading (1 Cor 11:23-26) upbraids the Christians in Corinth is that, in their agape meals, the rich do not share with the hungry poor (1 Cor ll:21). Selfishness destroys the community; it is an anti-Kingdom value. It depreciates the significance of the Eucharistic celebration. Indeed, selfishness robs the Eucharist its meaning (11:20), is a contempt for the community and an embarrassment of the poor (11:22). The purpose of sharing, of course, is not to have Christians who are filled, but to create a society where those who have share with those who do not have. That the Eucharist is central to our faith demands that we envision a Christian society that brings about solidarity with the poor and the disadvantaged as well as universal brotherhood.