This stained glass image of the multiplication of loaves and fishes is found in St. Mary Church, Deal, part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch. Monitor file photo
This stained glass image of the multiplication of loaves and fishes is found in St. Mary Church, Deal, part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch. Monitor file photo
Gospel reflection for July 25, 2021, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, and for the next several weeks, we leave the ordinary reading of Mark’s Gospel and switch to the Gospel of John, specifically chapter six, where we hear John’s account of Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish in order to feed a large crowd. While the details of the account are similar to those found in the other Gospels, it will become apparent in subsequent weeks why we are hearing from John instead.

The crowd that came to hear Jesus, those very sheep searching for a shepherd, received much instruction from him. One gets the impression that Jesus spoke for a very extensive amount of time. The most important aspect of this moment in Jesus’ ministry is the miracle and its multi-layered meaning.

This is the miracle that overshadows all others, because as Jesus feeds a crowd of over 5,000 men, women and children with only a few loaves and fish, he not only anticipates the heavenly banquet, he foreshadows the Eucharist as well. It is also important to note that instead of using the term “miracle” for the mighty acts of Jesus, John uses a word meaning “signs” instead. These signs, as recounted in the first 12 chapters of the Gospel, are not always miracles, but they always point to the divine nature of Jesus, his unique relationship with the father and also draw our focus to eternal life.

Perhaps this is why the evangelists tell this miracle more than the others. Each Gospel presents this miracle, and Mark and Matthew each have two separate occasions when Jesus multiplies loaves and fish. There must be, then, some theological reason why they place such an emphasis on this miracle. Certainly, this miracle lacks the drama or awe-inspiring power such as raising someone from the dead, or curing a blind person, or restoring the hearing in the deaf. Jesus heals multiple lepers – 10 at once – and he also expels the demons from many who are possessed. Yet, it is the simple act of feeding a large crowd of people that garners so much attention. Is it harder to multiply bread than to raise the dead?

While all of the miracles point to the Kingdom of God, it is the multiplication of loaves and fishes that points us to heaven itself. The banquet that is heaven, the eternal sharing in the presence of God, is expressed often in the Scriptures in terms of bounteous food. It is not so much that Jesus fed the crowds with so little, it is that there is so much left over that is so powerful.

Unlike the other miracles of Jesus, this one likely went largely unnoticed by the crowds at the time it happened. Jesus has been teaching them and then, Jesus pauses, says a prayer of blessing, and begins to pass around the baskets of bread and fish through the crowd. At some point, we must expect, some in the crowd began to wonder where the bread and fish had come from. They are in a deserted place and there were no large markets readily available.

Those well-versed in the Jewish tradition understood quickly what had happened, but also the implications and meaning of this miracle.

This is the clearest and simplest sign that the Messiah is in their midst. For us, this points us to the Eucharist, the ongoing present reality that Christ is with us. We will learn more about this as we hear the proclamation in the weeks to come.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.