In this eighth week after Pentecost, we have as the Gospel reading St. Matthew’s account of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Mt 14: 14 -22). This miracle comes after the execution of St. John the Baptist. Upon hearing the news of his cousin’s death, Jesus, by boat, departs to a deserted place alone with his disciples. But his solitude did not last long — a large crowd followed him from the surrounding towns and villages. Looking at the crowd’s condition, Jesus has mercy on them and heals their illnesses.
The hour grows late, and the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd that they might buy food in the surrounding villages. But, Jesus has something different in mind. He offers a surprising and perplexing suggestion to them: “You give them something to eat!” Only five loaves of bread and two fish were in in the disciples’ possession. This limited supply did not hinder our Lord’s next action: in that grassy area he commanded the crown to sit down. Jesus not only healed their illness, but intended to feed them to their satisfaction. He served them not only the simple staples of bread and fish, but gave of himself (in typological fashion) to those reclining to be filled and sustained. The five loaves of bread point to him because Jesus the Bread of Life. Additionally, the two fish also refer to him: the Greek word ichthus (fish) was understood by the early Church to serve as this acronym, Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.
With what is laid out at this point, I ask one to think of the Last Supper (which serves as the institution of the Eucharist). Jesus’ actions are similar in this miraculous feeding. He takes the gifts offered to him, and after he looks up to heaven, he blessed them, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute to those awaiting a meal. I find in agreement with this understand of this miracle in the words an apostle who was with Christ that day. St. John, in the sixth chapter of his gospel, sees this parallel and alters Jesus’ actions in the Feeding of the 5,000 to correspond directly to his actions in the Last Supper. If one examines St. Mark’s account of the Last Supper, one will note that St. John has Jesus’ words and actions to correspond to his actions and words found in St. Mark’s recording of the Last Supper (refer to another posting of mine which details this subject in detail Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part One: The Feeding of the 5,000 (6: 1 – 15)). With the above in mind, we can imagine Jesus saying quietly to himself: “Take, eat, this is my Body which will soon be broken…”
The Eucharist offers its own similarities: the actions of bishops and priests are the same with the Bread which has become his Body for our holy consumption. We have this from the Divine Liturgy in the part of the Anaphora knowns the Fractioning: “Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God: broken yet not divided; ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof.”
There are other parallels. As that crowd assembled from differing places to be before Christ, so do we assemble before Christ from differing places. We assemble together to come before Christ as the Body of Christ. Here, in and as the Church, the assembled ONE Body of Christ will receive by faith the ONE Body and Blood of Christ. We assemble together before Christ: young, old; male, female; tall, short; working, retired; of varied races, ethnicities, and life experiences. We share the Peace of Christ together as ONE Body to receive his ONE Body and Blood.
Let’s examine St. Paul’s epistle which was read and heard today (1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18). In this reading we learn that in ancient Corinth there were divisions stemming from the question, who was baptized by whom? The faithful in that city were missing the big picture: no matter who baptized them, they were all baptized into Christ. St. Paul calls them out on their divisions as he would call us out on today’s cultural, societal, economic, and WORSE — political divisions. Such divisions, especially political divisions, have no place here, and will ultimately be of no importance when we stand before Christ enthroned!
Recently at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church two of our deacons’ sermons have addressed divisions, opinions, and the need to uphold and support one another in our common life together in Christ. We are all in Christ, and make up his one Body, the Church. So, whether assembled together for the Eucharist, or scattered back to homes and work places, we are to uphold one another in spite of differences. This is our calling, that we, the ONE Body of Christ can, in love, peace, and strength, always come together to receive in love and peace the ONE Body and Blood of Christ who is our Lord, God, and Savior.
The following is a link to the corresponding sermon:
As an introduction, the entirety of the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel is to be taken as a whole. It is not to be fragmented into isolated parts that have no connection with one another. This can be stated because an inclusio holds the chapter together: the Greek phrase meta tauta (“after these things”) begins the chapter, and the same phrase begins chapter seven of this gospel. This phrase brackets the chapter together. Taken all as one, St. John’s sixth chapter is his teaching about the Eucharist.
The first event recorded by St. John in the sixth chapter is the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as recorded in verses 1 —15. This miracle is recorded in all four gospels. However, St. John interprets it, and presents it, differently than the accounts found in the three synoptic gospels. He sees this miracle as a New Testament type of the Eucharist.