Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
In the Gospel, Jesus works his fourth sign, the multiplication of the barley loaves and fish. This miracle takes place on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee and shortly before the second Passover of Jesus’ public ministry. The annual celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem commemorated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The center of the feast was the seder meal, in which the Exodus story is retold, psalms are sung and a lamb is eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Jesus will give new and greater meaning to the Passover, for he “is the true ‘Lamb of God’ (1:29), whose redeeming work will accomplish a new deliverance from the slavery of sin (8:31-36) in a sacramental and liturgical meal (6:53-58; 1 Cor 5:7-8)” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, 172-173). As a sign, the multiplication of the loaves anticipates the Last Supper, when Jesus will transform the feast of Passover into the memorial meal of the New Covenant.
In multiplying the loaves, Jesus shows that he is greater than Moses and the prophet Elisha. Moses led the people of Israel on the Exodus and God gave them manna to eat in the desert. Elisha multiplied twenty barley loaves for one hundred men (2 Kings 4:42-44). As the New Moses, Jesus leads the New People of God in a New Exodus and promises to give them bread from heaven. The miracle of Jesus is greater than that of Elisha, as he begins with fewer loaves and multiplies them for a larger crowd. After the miracle of the loaves, the people recognize Jesus’ greatness and proclaim that he is the messianic Prophet foretold and promised by Moses (Deut 18:15-19).Saint Bede interprets the Gospel passage allegorically and sees the five loaves as the five books of the Torah and the two fish as the Prophets and Psalms. When Jesus receives these from the Jewish people, he breaks open their deeper, spiritual meanings to refresh the multitudes (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, 173).
The Alleluia verse invites us to go deeper and look beyond the sign of the multiplication of the loaves. It proclaims: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”. Like the early Church, we too are nourished at the two tables: the table of the Eucharist and the table of the Word. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early Church devoted itself to the breaking of the bread, the teaching of the Apostles and prayer. The Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel. They wanted to give what they received; they wanted to nourish the people of Israel and the Gentiles who longed for true, spiritual food and drink.
The Apostles are flogged by the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop preaching and speaking in the name of Jesus. The efforts of the Sanhedrin are futile: the Apostles rejoice that they had been found worthy to share in Christ’s suffering and continue their ministry both in the temple and their homes. They preach and teach in the name of Jesus and proclaim that he is the Christ. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; he has delivered the people from spiritual slavery and death; he is the Prophet whom they should heed; he is the New Moses, who has gives them heavenly bread.
Gamaliel, who was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3), offers sage advice to the members of the Sanhedrin. If Jesus is a false prophet and not the Messiah, the Christianity will implode like the movements led by Theudas and Judas the Galilean. If, however, Christianity comes from God, then every action against it on their part is a fight against God and rejection of his divine will. Two thousand years’ later, the growth and holiness, the fruitfulness, catholic unity and stability of the Church continue to be signs and motives of credibility (CCC, 156, 812). They are signs that point us to faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work. As Christians, we are called each day to work for the extension of Christ’s kingdom, to remove hypocrisy – which undermines credibility – from our lives and collaborate with God’s grace, to bear fruit that lasts, to grow in communion with our brothers and sisters, and to anchor our lives more firmly in God and his promise of eternal life.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].