Homily for Friday of the Second Week of Easter by Fr Henry
Today’s gospel reading about the feeding of the five thousand has special significance this year, when so many people are deprived of the Eucharist. Its significance is underline by the fact that it is the only miracle of this kind which appears in all four gospels – and twice in Mark.
The feeding is narrated in such a way that it is clearly a preparation for the Eucharist. John even hints this to us by saying that the festival of the Passover was near. It is the Eucharist of the Messiah with his disciples: Jesus blesses the bread and distributes it just as he did at the Last Supper. The reaction of the crowds tells us its significance: he is the prophet who is to come into the world. He is like Moses who gave his people bread in the wilderness, and more exactly like Elisha, who fed a hundred hungry followers from ten loaves, despite the same sarcasm from his close disciples as Philip shows in today’s account. The numbers are, of course, symbolic. Four or five thousand is a gigantic number for the sparse population of those days. To the Hebrew mind whenever you have ‘thousands’ it means an almost limitless number, as we sometimes use ‘millions’. Remember the hundred and forty-four thousand saints in the Book of Revelation. In Mark’s account they sit down in goups of hundreds and fifties, which in contemporary literature is the grouping of the messianic army. The twelve baskets are symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, the chosen people. So it is Jesus welcoming us all to the endless plenty of the messianic banquet, and suitably placed at the beginning of paschaltide.
I am especially struck by the phrase that they ate ‘as much as they wanted’. The only limitation on what we receive at the Eucharist comes from ourselves. Remember the almost crazy profusion of wine at the marriage feast of Cana. If we really want to be wholly and devotedly united to Christ, that is what we receive. If we want to be gently linked to Christ on the fringe, that is what we are given. It all depends on whether our love is casual or whole-hearted. I am reminded of that phrase in the third Eucharistic prayer, ‘those who were pleasing to you at the parting from this life’. Our life is spent opening ourselves to the love of God, and it all depends how open we are. The love of God is unlimited, but how limited is our response?