For five consecutive Sundays, starting today, we will read chapter 6 of the gospel of John—the longest chapter of said gospel (71 verses) – about the Eucharist. This insertion of John’s gospel is due to the fact that Mark’s gospel is too short to cover all the Sundays of Year B.
The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four gospels. This shows how important this event was and how deep an impression it made on the early Christian communities. In the gospel of John, the multiplication of the loaves is related to the holy Eucharist. After feeding the crowd with material bread, Jesus, as we will see, goes on to explain to the people about the bread of life that came down from heaven—his own body. Perhaps this is the reason why John has omitted the account of the institution of the holy Eucharist during the Last Supper and has replaced it with this lengthy discourse.
To begin with, Jesus shows compassion for the people, even though they follow him for the wrong reason — not for the love of Jesus or his word, but for the love of themselves: “because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.” Just the same, Jesus has pity on them and takes responsibility for them.
Even though Jesus could solve the problem all by himself, nevertheless he sought help from his disciples: “Where can we buy enough food for them?” Obviously, the disciples were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem staring at them: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit.” Then a young boy offered his five barley loaves and two fish. Utterly insufficient, of course. But that is all that Jesus wanted: a gesture of solidarity, to let us know that all he needs is a gesture of good will, and then he will do the rest. Jesus seems to be telling us: When confronted with a problem or crisis situation, don’t pass it all on to me; do whatever you can — no matter how little or how inadequate. Then I will come in. I am here, not to work miracles for you, but to work miracles with you.
Hunger is still one of the plagues of our time. We are confronted, not with five thousand but with hundreds of millions of hungry people. Over 800 million people across the world suffer from hunger. More than 16,000 children die of hunger or under-nutrition every day — one child every five seconds. Hunger is a man-made problem. According to the Food Aid Organization (FAO), the earth can feed 36 billion people—six or seven times the present world population.
Developed countries blame the plague of hunger on the fast growth of the world population — which needs to be curbed. And so, instead of giving aid to increase food production, to create jobs, to improve the infrastructures, they send to the poor countries birth control gadgets and contraceptive programs. Meantime, rich countries spend huge amounts of money in arms production (used to kill), and throw away or destroy large amounts of surplus food in order to maintain high prices. Hunger is indeed a man-made problem, brought about, not so much by lack of food as by lack of solidarity.
Pope Francis has something to say in this regard: “Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”… To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” (Encyclical letter Laudato si’, n. 50). You can say it more loudly, but you can’t say it more clearly.
Like the disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel, we feel sorely inadequate to tackle this enormous problem of hunger; however, let us resolve to do our little something. Let us share our five loaves and our two fish. Only then have we the right to ask the Lord to do the rest.