Throughout his public life here on earth, Jesus drew large crowds to follow him on his travels around the land of Israel. The miracles that Jesus worked and the preaching and teaching that he did caused the crowds to follow him so that they could listen to him and see for themselves the miracles that he worked.
One such crowd was the one that followed Jesus up the mountain on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. In today’s gospel reading St. John gives us his eye-witness account of what happened there. As he recounts these events, it seems to me that Jesus does three things. First, he shows that he is aware of the need of the people for food. They had followed him to an elevated place, probably a difficult climb for some of them, and now they were hungry. The very openness of the place, which made it suitable for teaching such a large crowd, also ensured that it was far from towns and places to eat. Jesus was not so absorbed in his preaching that he failed to note the developing problem of the need for food. How to feed such a large crowd in such a remote area? Secondly, Jesus has compassion on the crowd. He didn’t reproach them for coming such a distance without bringing enough to eat. Rather, he wanted to help them. Jesus realized that the crowd was captivated by his words and teaching and probably followed him for a greater distance than they had intended when the day began. Thirdly, Jesus does help the crowd by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish. Each person in that large crowd ate and satisfied his hunger.
Here I see a difference between this miracle and many others that Jesus worked. Most of the miracles worked by Jesus in his public life involved one person or a small group of people. That is, only one person or a small group were the direct recipients of the miracles. The vast majority of the crowds were only spectators to the miracles. They were eye-witnesses and their testimony helped bring others to believe in and follow Jesus. But the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish was different. On this occasion every single person in the crowd was a direct recipient of the miraculous provision of food by Jesus.This miracle has often been called a foreshadowing of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in which we partake of the body and blood of Christ. When we come to Mass we come to listen to the words of Jesus and to show that we are his followers. At Mass we also participate in the great miracle of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. When we receive Communion, each of us is a direct participant in the miracle of the Eucharist just as the crowd following Jesus participated in the miracle of the loaves. Our Lord has made it possible for us to participate in the miracle of the Eucharist. He is calling us to come and participate. We can choose to participate often, even daily. We need to ask ourselves what our response should be to this call from the Lord.
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