Today’s reading is John 6:1-21 (NABRE):
Multiplication of the Loaves.
1 After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee [of Tiberias]. 2 A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish feast of Passover was near. 5 When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit].” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. 12 When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. 14 When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” 15 Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Walking on the Water.
16 When it was evening, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. 20 But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” 21 They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.
Have you been slacking on your Lenten commitments? I know I have; it seems like every time I have a 40 Days in John blog post due, I write and post it later and later. (My apologies for this post being two days late). Perhaps the novelty has worn off for us. Perhaps we’re feeling a bit lazy with the start of spring break. Whatever the reason for our slacking on our Lenten commitments, today’s readings offer the perfect motivation to get us back on track.
In the first half of today’s passage, we read about Jesus performing the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Jesus takes five barley loaves and two fish, gives thanks, allows the food to feed the crowd of five thousand men (not including the women and children that may have also been present), and then has his disciples collect twelve wicker baskets full of left-over food. Some account of this miracle appears in all four Gospels; in fact, this is the only miracle story to appear in all four Gospels. Perhaps for this reason, I have always been very familiar with this miracle. Yet, when I read the passage today, a new dimension of the meaning of the miracle is revealed to me. Today, my reading of the passage reminds me of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist (Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and blood) at the Last Supper, which occurred on the night before Jesus was crucified.
Of course, there are important differences between the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The men in the crowd in today’s passage eat regular barley loaves; Jesus has not transubstantiated the loaves to be his own body, as he does at the Last Supper. Today’s passage features a large communal meal; the Last Supper, in contrast, is an intimate meal shared among Jesus and his twelve original disciples.
Despite these differences, the similarities between the miracle in today’s passage and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper are great enough to allow the former to foreshadow the latter. In both cases, Jesus takes it upon himself to feed those that he is with; he does not wait for the crowd of people, for his disciples, to complain of hunger. Both cases suggest that the food, whether an abundance of food or the spiritual food (Eucharist) of Jesus’ body, is available only through Jesus. Jesus gives something of himself in order to provide the food. Both cases point out, whether explicitly or implicitly, the abundance of food that remains after all have had their fill. In today’s miracle story, the abundance is quantified as “twelve wicker baskets full,” while after the Last Supper, the abundance is much more implicit. Catholics believe that Jesus’ body and blood are truly present in the Eucharist that we continue to consume today at each daily Mass and Sunday Mass all around the world. In the case of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the remaining abundance of the food, Christ’s body and blood, is truly infinite.
Let us now turn our attention to the second half of today’s passage, which recounts Jesus’ miracle of walking on water. Jesus’ disciples have already “rowed about three or four miles” (John 6:19) when, all of a sudden, they see Jesus walking on the sea alongside the boat. Naturally, the disciples “began to be afraid” (John 6:19). Jesus tells his disciples, “’It is I. Do not be afraid’” (John 6:20). The disciples offer Jesus a place in the boat, but they discover that they have immediately arrived at the shore. Again, this is a miracle story that I have always been very familiar with. Yet, again, when I read the passage today, a new dimension of the meaning of the miracle is revealed to me. Today, my reading of the passage reminds me of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. In both cases, Jesus’ disciples are in complete awe, even to the point of fear, that Jesus has appeared to them in a way and at a time that they are not expecting and, furthermore, in a way and at a time that is not humanly possible. Normal humans do not walk on water. Normal humans do not rise from the dead. Jesus clearly must be divine, the Son of God. The miracle in today’s passage, Jesus’ walking on water to his disciples, foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection at Easter and his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples.
As amazing as the two miracles in today’s passage are, they cannot compete with the miracles that they foreshadow. As incredible as it is that Jesus feeds more than five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish, even creating twelve wicker baskets full of left-over food, this does not equate with Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when Jesus transubstantiates bread and wine into his body and blood, a miracle that produces an infinite excess such that it can be performed today and every day at Masses all around the world. As incredible as it is that Jesus walks on water to greet his disciples in the middle of the sea, this feat does not equate with Jesus’ rising from the dead, and the awe that Jesus’ disciples experience when he walks on the water does not equate with the awe that they experience when he rises from the dead. While the miracles in today’s passage may foreshadow Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, the miracles we read today are modest in comparison to those that they foreshadow, those that will come.
This fact of modesty should motivate us to continue our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent. If what we read today is only a modest hint at what is to come, then I know that we must surely be anticipating the coming glory of Holy Week and Easter.
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Junior in Eliot House studying Human Evolutionary Biology.