We hear some gospel narratives so often we stop paying attention to what a particular passage actually says. This is especially true of Jesus' bread miracles. It's the only miracle included in all four gospels: twice each in Mark and Matthew, once in Luke and John. Though scholars agree all six narratives describe the same event and have something to do with the Eucharist, each evangelist uses the miracle to emphasize different dimensions of the early Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Today's Lucan account of the event treats a eucharistic dimension we rarely address. It's also the one Mark deals with in chapter 6, the first mention of this bread incident.
Most of us, in describing the miracle, speak about Jesusmultiplying the loaves of bread and pieces of fish for the huge crowd. But in the earliest narratives, Jesus' disciples do the actual feeding.
Listen carefully to today's pericope. "The Twelve approached him and said, 'Dismiss the crowd so they can . . . find lodging and provisions, for we are in a deserted place here.'" In other words, we're facing a situation beyond our control.
Jesus' response to their suggestion seems ridiculous: "Give them some food yourselves!" They come back with one of Scripture's most sarcastic lines: "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Faced with the same command, young people today would simply laugh and yell, "No way!"
But the Twelve's sarcasm doesn't stop Jesus from having his followers feed the crowd. "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd."
To the disciples' amazement, "They all ate and were satisfied." Unbelievably, the leftovers "filled twelve wicker baskets." Notice Jesus' role. He only instigates and blesses. His followers do the actual feeding.
Accustomed to participating at Eucharist in a relative passive role, it's difficult to return to the early Christian expectation that each person helps feed the community, no matter how little he or she thinks they have to offer. In I Corinthians 14, Paul reminds his readers, "When you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything should be done for building up." Quite different from what most of us experience or are expected to do during our eucharistic moments.
That's why Paul, in our second reading, takes us back to our earliest tradition about Jesus' Last Supper words and actions, reminding us that those who "eat this bread and drink the cup . . . proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."
Though we're more comfortable and secure just sitting back and letting ourselves be fed as Abraham's men are fed by Melchizedek in our Genesis passage, Jesus expects his followers to help do the feeding. Such assistance entails a death, giving ourselves to others even beyond our capabilities, giving though we believe someone else has much more to give. Paul believes such giving is one of the central ways we proclaim Jesus' death during the Eucharist. Instead of sitting back, watching someone else do all the work, Jesus expects his followers to join in the feeding.
During those rare occasions in our parish when no one adds any insights during dialogue homilies, I mention that someone might be leaving the celebration hungry today, someone who needs more than I, the presider, have to offer. No matter how little we think of ourselves, we're blessed by Jesus. If we just work up enough courage to share ourselves, we'll discover the "leftovers" are more than we started with.