17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish has been recorded by the four evangelists because of its preeminence in the biblical tradition among the early Christian communities. For this year in Cycle B, we will reflect on the account written by St. John in chapter six of his gospel. Since it is a very long theological discourse on the Eucharist, the Church divides the 71 verses to be read through five consecutive Sundays.
There have been many interpretations on how the miracle was done but our concern is not much on the “how” but rather on the “why”. Re-reading it in the contemporary time, what does the miracle tell us? Is it still relevant to us today?
Let us take a look at the socio-economic situation during the time of Jesus. The Israelites being under the oppressive Roman rule, were in the brink of economic tragedy. Life was very hard. Except for the ruling and religious class, everybody was poor. Because of this, the longing for the prophet who was foretold in the Old Testament was all the more relevant: a prophet who will give an end to the oppressive structures, who will give them back their freedom and most especially who will provide food on their tables. The sight of Jesus, his voice, his message, his miracles triggered this longing among the people hence the popularity of Jesus. For them, finally the prophet has come who will save them from the shackles of their slavery and most especially their poverty.
The miracle of the multiplication did not happen from out of nothing. Jesus, although in control of the situation, still asked His Apostles, what could be done. He gave them the opportunity to cooperate with Him to solve what in their eyes was a huge economic problem. Let us take a look at some of the symbolisms in the miracle. The small boy: symbol of innocence and charity; the barley loaves: being bread of the poor and dried fish, symbols of poverty. These were given to Jesus and out of these, the five thousand men were fed with twelve baskets of left over.
Two thousand years after this miracle, the world has not changed so much as to the economic need of the people. In the midst of the advancement of science and technology man still long for the “prophet” who can solve the crises besetting him. We created many fictional characters like Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America and other super human beings which symbolize our deep longing to go beyond ourselves. We are entertained by their powers and generated multi-billion dollar movie industry. But after we watch them, we are back to our emptiness and our longing for our own personal super-hero.
Like the Israelites, we find in Jesus our super-hero but more than what we expect from Him. Yes He is concerned about the need of food for our tummies but more importantly the spiritual need of our souls. This is why He continues to perform the same miracle of the multiplication again and again to satiate our hunger both material and spiritual. But just like the miracle He performed, He still needs our cooperation for that miracle to happen here and now. We need to offer our own “barely loaves and dried fish” no matter how poor and rich we are. Jesus takes our offerings, blesses them, transforms them and gives them back to us in the form of blessings. This why we gather as His disciples during the Eucharist and from our humble offerings, He transforms our hunger into a celebration of life.