Reflections on the Daily Readings
from the Perspective of Creighton Students
February 15th, 2014
Bio| Email: AnnaFerguson@creighton.edu
“Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd.” MK 8:6
When I read the gospel for today, I almost started laughing—not to be disrespectful but because of gospel that I had been assigned to reflect on. The Distribution of the Fishes and Loaves. Nearly every Christian could give you at least a decent summary of what this story is about. It’s one most of us have heard over and over again in Church and beyond.
So how do you look at one of Christianity’s most beloved Bible stories with fresh eyes? How do you reflect on a story that—for better or for worse—seems to be sucked dry of its meaning and analyzed over and over again, and then respond with fresh insight?
The Bible never ceases to surprise me. Just when I think I know what a passage is relating, just when I think I have received all it has to tell, I discover another layer to be peeled back. It’s like spelunking in an endless cave: With the right tools and mindset, you can always go deeper.
Normally when I hear this story, I am drawn particularly to Jesus’ compassion for the people—an element of the story that Mark especially enunciates in his gospel. This time what surprisingly stole my attention was the sense of missioning and Communion that the gospel underscores.
We hear of Jesus having pity on the crowd of weary, hungry travelers who journeyed far and stayed long just to be with him. Concerned for their wellbeing, Jesus consults with the disciples about feeding them. To me, this appears to be a test. Do the Disciples think they can find enough food to feed the four thousand? Absolutely not. Does Jesus know that they will before he even asks them? Yes.
With just seven loaves and a few fishes, we are invited to have our doubts quietly shattered along with the Disciples’. The process, though, is what is truly amazing.
Jesus gathers the seven loaves, takes them in his hands, gives thanks, blesses them, and gives them to the Disciples to distribute. These actions foreshadow the Last Supper. They mimic the Communion of all Christians, and especially the Eucharist, the pinnacle of the Catholic Mass.
Interestingly enough, for John’s gospel, this story is the climax of the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist. Indeed, the recounting of the fishes and loaves shares common themes across Mark—a Synoptic gospel—and John, and links itself directly to the Last Supper Narrative.
In Mark’s telling of the multiplication, Jesus missions his disciples—teaches them how to serve as he taught them—by handing them the food to give to the crowds. Jesus could have done this himself, yet he chose to teach his followers a two-fold lesson: One of faith and also service. And Mark, like John, has strong undertones of the Last Supper narrative.
For John’s Gospel, this narrative specifically focuses on the institution of the Eucharist—or giving his body and blood to his disciples—since he does not do this in John’s Last Supper account. What John does tell us, though, and what no other gospel includes, is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It is here, for John, that Jesus missions his disciples by teaching them how to serve.
Through service and Communion, and a reversal of emphasis, Mark and John are linked. For me, recognizing these themes becomes all the more clear when I can see them patterned and portrayed throughout other gospels.
As a theology major, these technical parallels are interesting, to say the least, but what I think we all can gain most from Mark’s passage is this: the best kind of leader and mentor not only gives of him or herself to others, but also teaches his or her followers how to do the same.
Some of the best mentors, professors, co-workers, supervisors, and bosses that I’ve had have done this for me. It is the people who give themselves to me, who invest in me, and teach me how to do something to the best of my ability by living that example and giving me the tools I need to physically do that myself, who have had the most impact on me.
These leaders, like Jesus, help me thrive and inspire me to do the same for others. At Creighton, the Jesuits talk a lot about Ignatian Contemplation—or using your imagination to pray. What if we took some time to close our eyes and imagine Jesus placing the fishes and loaves in our hands? What would we do with those gifts, so symbolic of the ones we’ve been given in real life? How would we use what we have, emboldened by Christ’s confidence in us, to help and give to others?
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