Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—c.1620
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Hearing today's Gospel, one might be inclined to understand it as just one more story about the miracles Jesus performed. One might be tempted to think that our Lord multiplied the loaves simply because He had compassion on the hungry people around Him, or, possibly, just to prove once again that He was the divine Son of God. It is a good idea, therefore to read the rest of the Chapter from which today’s selection was taken. This is usually a good idea, since the Church rarely has us read more than 12 or 15 verses at a time from the Gospels. Reading the rest of the chapter is a particularly good idea in this case, as Saint John's 6th chapter tells us a great deal about the Most Blessed Sacrament.
In fact, only a few verses further along, our Lord chides those who follow Him only because they “have eaten of the loaves and have been filled” (v. 26). They are admonished that they should “not labor for the food that perishes, but for that which endures unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you” (v 27). He reminds them that the manna that fell from heaven to feed their ancestors as they fled Egypt came from God. He tells them that “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v 33) the manna was only a symbolic bread; one that only reflected a future reality.
He then told them something quite startling. He said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (v 35). It “is the will of My Father … that whoever beholds the Son and believes in Him, shall have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day”(v 40).
“Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and have died…. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread, he shall live forever…. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you…. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me, and I in him" (v 49ff).
So, here we have our Lord, with the Passover drawing near, telling the Jews that the Exodus of their ancestors, which the Passover sacrifices commemorated, was just a forerunner of things to come. That the paschal lamb that the Jews sacrificed in Egypt and smeared their doorposts with its blood to be delivered from the Angel of death, was just a forerunner of the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed on the Cross to give His blood to bring eternal life. The manna that rained down from heaven—little white flakes of bread—was just a forerunner of the bread of life—the Sacred Host—that would bring life to the world and raise us up on the last day.
Now, there is another section in Sacred Scripture which we also should be sure to read completely. Or, rather, there is a section in each of the other three Gospels. Strangely enough, this 6th chapter is all Saint John had to say about the Blessed Sacrament. We have to go to the other Gospels to read and understand the institution of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the true Lamb of God. We will be doing that, beginning on Palm Sunday, and then on Tuesday, and Wednesday during Holy Week—from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in that order.
Those churches which retain the traditional order of readings during Holy Week will read the Gospel accounts of our Lord's crucifixion, beginning with the account of the Last Supper. It is important that we do this in order to see our Lord's words to the Jews today fulfilled. On Holy Thursday night He took bread and wine and gave them to His apostles, saying that they were His Body and His Blood—the same Body and Blood that would given over and poured out for sins of many. He gave His apostles the power to do the same for those who, separated by distance and time, could not be in the upper room that night to receive Him. And then He walked out into the night, shortly thereafter, that He might literally be given over by the Jews to the Romans; that within hours His Blood would be poured out.
During Holy Week, the Church has us read these Gospel accounts in their entirety so that we might understand that the Last Supper, the Mass, and the Sacrifice of the Cross are one and the same thing—that every time Mass is offered, even centuries later and thousands of miles away, the same Lamb of God pours out His Blood, so that we may eat His flesh and drink His blood, and have eternal life within us.
Unfortunately, you won't hear these same extensive readings in every Christian church this Holy Week. They are not just in a hurry, trying to save a few moments. There are many who would like to deny the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and the real presence of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. They would like to make the Holy Eucharist into some sort of “happy meal” where everyone shakes hands and thinks happy thoughts about “Jesus our brother.”
I'll close by saying that those who contradict Christ and deny the reality of His Sacrifice in the Mass, and deny the reality of His real presence, had their forerunners in this 6th chapter of Saint John's Gospel which we have examined so briefly today: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?!” they asked (v 53). “This is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?” (v 61) “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (v 67). Many of His disciples—not much different from what we see in our time.
But rather than being discouraged by the lack of faith we see around us, we must adopt the answer that Saint Peter gave when Jesus asked him if he too would turn his back and leave. He said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of everlasting life, and we have come to know and to believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God” (v 69‑70).
“Lord,” we might say, “we have come to know You by reading Your holy Gospels and by eating the Bread of Life. We too have come to know and to believe all that You promised.”
 Gospel: John vi: 1-15 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=50&ch=6&l=1-#x