We all have to face it. Many of us enjoy parties. Some of the semi-obligatory occasions are Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and the list could go on.
A major portion of the party enjoyment comes from the fact that someone else is providing the ingredients. In the Gospel for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:1-15), Jesus provided the ingredients for the “party” which was actually a free lunch. It went something like this.
A large group of people followed Jesus to hear more of his message, but it was well past lunch time. Jesus noticed this need and responded to it quickly. He saw that they were hungry. First, he told one of his closest disciples to hasten to the nearest store and see what food he could by.
But that disciple noted the size of the crowd was about 5,000 or more and realized that nobody had that kind of money to feed all these people.
Secondly, another of his chosen disciples, as if to belabor the obvious, told Jesus that there was a young lad nearby who had five loaves and two fish. But he also added, “What are these among so many?”
Then Jesus took over the issue completely. He took the five loaves and two fish, blessed them and asked his disciples to distribute them. Surprisingly, not only did the people have enough to eat, but there were about twelve baskets of food left over! The people realized that a miracle had taken place.
Now, what does the Gospel say to us personally? First of all, Jesus responded to a need. He saw the people in need, and responded to that need as best as he could. We ourselves see others experiencing a need one way or another. The big question here is “How soon do I respond to that need, if I respond at all?” Are we aware that other people have needs even though they don’t outwardly manifest it?
Secondly, it is well to keep in mind that Jesus responded to that need with “bread” and “fish.” Why is that significant? Because since the beginning of Christianity “bread” and “fish” have been key symbols.
The “bread,” since New Testament times, has often symbolized the Eucharist. We are reminded of the Last Supper when Jesus took the bread, blessed it and gave it to his apostles. The word “blessed” comes from the Greek EUCHARISTIA meaning “gratitude,” “thanksgiving.” (Cf. Matt: 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-23; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 for similar accounts of the institution of the Eucharist).
The “fish” has long been a symbol of Christian identification. When early Christians met, they would draw a fish which explained that they were Christians. The Greek word for fish is Ichthus in which each letter stands for the beginning of a word that means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
So, we have the bread and the fish signifying the Eucharist and our Christianity via our Baptism. Every time that we go to Mass we have the opportunity for a “free lunch” with fellow Christians. The Eucharist will provide us with encouragement and support to respond to the needs of others. The miracle will be if we decide to respond positively to those needs of others.